Rocks and water Difficult Run

8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia

Here are 8 great summer hikes in Northern Virginia, with shady trails many with cooling water and relaxing stops nearby. Summer in the Washington DC region can mean steamy weather and tick-laden fields. But you can still enjoy nice summer hikes if you know where to go.

Our picks for summer hikes in Northern Virginia feature mostly shady trails and pretty views. We don’t have many swimmable streams or lakes in the area, but some of these hikes are near waterparks.

These summer hikes vary in distance and challenge level. Many of them are easy, short walks that are ideal for a family outing.

8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia

1. Great Falls Loop Hike, Great Falls

Mather Gorge from River Trail Great Falls

Potomac view from the River Trail in Great Falls Park Virginia

This challenging 3-mile loop takes hikers through a less-visited section of Great Falls Park. The hike begins at the Difficult Run parking area and follows a shady section along Difficult Run. From there, a steep climb leads to the Ridge Trail in Great Falls Park. Next, a steep section of the River Trail offers stunning views of the Potomac River and Mather Gorge. Cool your feet in Difficult Run on your return trip, but be careful of the fast-moving current. The stream access is difficult and not great for young children.

Difficult Run falls and rocks

Difficult Run falls and rocks

2. Bull Run – Occoquan Trail, Clifton

A summer hike on Bull Run - Occoquan Trail in Clifton Virginia

A summer hike on Bull Run – Occoquan Trail in Clifton Virginia

The 17-mile Bull Run – Occoquan Trail follows the stream from Bull Run Regional Park in the north to Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. Our favorite segment begins at the end of Yates Ford Road in the lovely town of Clifton. Follow the access trail until you reach the river, then head north or south on the mostly level but sometimes rocky trail. The trail is shady and you can stop to cool your feet in the river. At the end of your hike, enjoy a relaxing glass of wine at Paradise Springs Winery, just across the street from your starting point.

Outside seating at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton VA

Outside seating at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton VA

3. Seneca Park Potomac Heritage Trail, Great Falls

A shady trail in Seneca Park, Northern Virginia

A shady trail in Seneca Park, Northern Virginia

There are many wonderful segments of the Potomac Heritage Trail for a summer hike close to Washington DC. We especially enjoy the woodland and riverside trails in the Seneca Regional Park area of Great Falls. From the parking lot at the end of Seneca Road, you can follow several different trails through the woods, toward the Potomac River. Once you reach the river, follow the Potomac Heritage Trail west or east. At the western end of the park you’ll find benches for relaxing and a stone wall of the Patowmack Canal. The canal was created by George Washington to help connect a new nation through trade and commerce. Nearby is a hidden trail and a rope swing over a quiet section of the river.

Bench by Potomac River, Seneca Park Potomac Heritage Trail

Bench by Potomac River, Seneca Park Potomac Heritage Trail

4. Balls Bluff Battlefield and Red Rock Wilderness Overlook, Leesburg

Cannon and cemetery wall Balls Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg VA

Cannon and cemetery wall Balls Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg VA

Visit these two parks in Leesburg, to enjoy nature while exploring local history. Balls Bluff was the site of the first Civil War engagement to take place in Loudoun County. The park has an excellent interpretive trail that explains how the battle unfolded. Other trails include sometimes steep, wooded hikes to the Potomac River and a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail.

Nearby, Red Rock Wilderness Overlook also offers wooded hiking along a bluff over the Potomac River. At the parking area you’ll find the ruins of the Paxton Farm, with interpretive signs explaining the history of each building.

Potomac overlook view Red Rock

Potomac overlook view Red Rock Wilderness, Leesburg VA

5. Lake Fairfax Park, Reston

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston Virginia

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston Virginia

You’ll find a variety of hikes at Lake Fairfax. Take a short summer hike, on the level dirt trail over the dam and along the lake. Or follow steep trails through the woods that are popular for off-road biking. After your hike, reward yourself with a cooling visit to the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole. The popular water park features slides, floats, sprays, and a lazy river. There is also a carousel, playground, picnic area, and other fun for families to enjoy.

Water Mine pool Lake Fairfax Park

Water Mine pool Lake Fairfax Park

6. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Centreville

Trail at Ellanor C Lawrence Park in Centreville VA

Trail at Ellanor C Lawrence Park in Centreville VA

Fairfax County’s Ellanor C Lawrence Park is another nice option for a family summer hikes with a little learning fun. Take one of several shady trails through the woods. Stop by Walney Pond to look for fish, turtles, and birds. And explore the remains of several interesting, historic buildings. The visitor center offers a closer look at snakes, turtles and other park denizens.

Fishing at Ellanor C Lawrence Park, Centreville Virginia

Fishing at Ellanor C Lawrence Park, Centreville Virginia

7. Mason Neck State Park and Pohick Bay, Lorton

Marsh platform view Mason Neck State Park in Northern Virginia

Marsh platform view Mason Neck State Park in Northern Virginia

You’ll find a wonderful variety of mostly level trails at Mason Neck State Park perfect for summer hikes. Each trail offers a chance to spy bald eagles and other birds in Belmont Bay and the surrounding marshes. From the quarter-mile Marsh View Trail, to the 4 mile out-and-back hike to Kane’s Creek, you’ll find shady, well-marked trails. The Visitor Center rents canoes and kayaks so you can also get out on the water.

After your hike, head to nearby Pohick Bay park and take the kids for a swim at Pirate’s Cove, one of the largest, outdoor freeform pools on the east coast. Pohick Bay Regional Park also offers boat rentals, mini-golf, and hiking trails.

Pirate's Cove water park at Pohick Bay

Pirate’s Cove water park at Pohick Bay

8. Burke Lake Park, Burke

Burke Lake from the loop trail

Burke Lake from the loop trail

The 4.5 mile trail around Burke Lake makes our great hikes list in every season. In summer, the wide dirt and stone-dust trail is mostly shady, except for an open stretch along the dam. Sturdy strollers and bikes can navigate the trail. There are lots of birds and other nature to enjoy, so take your time. In summer, the park operates a miniature train that is a lot of fun if you’re traveling with young children. The park marina rents boats, the fishing is great, and a carousel, mini-golf, disc-golf, and other activities are available too.

Canoeing on beautiful Burke Lake in Northern Virginia

Canoeing on beautiful Burke Lake in Northern Virginia

What’s your favorite spot for summer hikes in northern Virginia? Share your tips in the comments below and happy hiking!

Looking ahead to Fall? Check out our list of 8 Great Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia and 8 More Great Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia.

Follow Fun in Fairfax VA on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram for more great hikes, places to visit, and things to do in Northern Virginia and surrounding areas.

Virginia USA Washington DC hiking and travel. 8 great summer hikes in Northern Virginia close to Washington DC.Virginia / DC hiking and travel. 8 great summer hikes in Northern Virginia near Washington DCThis article was published in 2015 and updated in 2018.

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12 Responses to “8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia”

  1. bemomstrong June 29, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    This is great. my husband and I are always looking for a great hike!
    emma
    bemomstrong.com

  2. Lori @ TheHealthMinded.com July 3, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    Some I have done and had a great time and some new ones, too! Thanks for the suggestions and happy 4th!

    • Fun in Fairfax VA July 5, 2015 at 10:56 am #

      You’re welcome Lori. Hope you get to try some of the new ones; let us know what you think. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. HikingWoman July 11, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    I’ve done all but one of these. I am dying to know where the hidden rope swing is because I have been to Seneca Park a couple of times and haven’t seen it…..

    • Fun in Fairfax VA July 11, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

      The rope swing is near the western end of the park. Look for a spur trail off of the PHT just before it heads back uphill and away from the river. Never tried it ourselves but looks like fun. Happy hiking!

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