Here are 8 great winter walks in Northern Virginia that are enjoyable even when there is snow on the trails and a nip in the air. A little snow on the ground adds beauty to these winter hiking trails but always check ahead for inclement weather closures.
Our favorite winter hikes in Northern Virginia favor mostly level, sometimes paved paths with scenery that is made prettier with a dusting of snow. A nice boardwalk can be perfect in winter, but try to avoid trails with lots of natural stream crossings, which often stay cold and wet.
2022 Update: Most Visitor Centers are closed, while restroom facilities are open, at the parks listed below.
Winter Walks in Northern Virginia, Close to Washington DC
Here are eight favorite winter walks in Northern Virginia, all of them a short drive from Washington DC. We chose these trails because they generally hold up well to wet, snowy, and icy conditions. It's a good idea to check ahead for park and trail closures before you head out, especially in the winter.
Winter hikes are fun and beautiful, but be sure to wear good hiking boots and use caution on slippery trails.
1. Great Falls Park Overlooks and River Trail, Great Falls
We love to visit Great Falls Park when the weather is cold and snowy. Three waterfall overlooks are close to the Visitor Center and easy to reach. For a longer winter walk, hike the River Trail, then return via the Potowmack Canal Trail.
The River Trail is one of our favorite winter walks because there is not a lot of elevation change for most of the hike. The trail offers fabulous views of Mather Gorge year-round, and the hike is uncrowded in cold weather (unlike the busy days of summer and fall). The trail can be muddy and slick in places. Be extra careful crossing rocks and approaching the edge of Mather Gorge.
Our full guide to Great Falls Park River Trail Hike includes three loop hike options.
Tip: Admission to Great Falls Park is $20 per vehicle for seven consecutive days, except on annual free entrance days. If you live locally, invest in an annual National Park Pass, which also covers Shenandoah National Park, Great Falls Maryland, and parks across the country.
Combine your park visit with a Great Falls Scenic Drive on Pretty Country Roads in Northern Virginia.
2. Prince William National Forest, Triangle
As long as we haven't had a deep snowfall, you'll find good hiking, biking, and a scenic drive at Prince William Forest. There are 37 miles of beautiful hiking trails so you can choose your preferred distance and whether to focus on the park's geology, nature, or history. Or explore the park via a 9-mile scenic loop drive with dedicated bike lanes.
The 15,000-acre park has an interesting history, which you can explore in the Visitor Center and throughout the park. Hike the 1.4 mile Laurel Loop Trail through peaceful woods and along the South Fork of Quantico Creek.
For a shorter but steeper hike to the creek, take the Quantico Falls Trail to the cascades along Quantico Creek. You can easily extend your winter hike on connecting trails.
Prince William Forest has a $20 entrance fee, or enter free with your National Park Pass (see tip above).
Read more about hiking in Prince William Forest.
Tip: The bridge over the South Fork is very scenic and makes a great photo spot year-round.
3. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna
Virginia gardens are mostly dormant in winter, but the paved traIls at Meadowlark Botanical Garden offer a peaceful setting for winter walks.
Meadowlark is ideal if you have young children along (our twins are learning to walk in the pic above). You can explore the garden on stroller-friendly trails, and there are plenty of stops to entertain little ones. Walk down to the gazebo to check out the pond, stop in the Children's Garden, or impress bigger kids with the huge bell at the Korean Bell Garden.
Meadowlark plows portions of the main walkway after snowstorms, but deep snow or night freezes may leave even the paved paths impassible. For example, the paths were icy or snow-covered for a week after the January blizzard of 2016.
The Visitor Center offers an interesting place to warm up after your outing.
Read our full guide about what to see at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
4. Dyke Marsh and Mount Vernon Trail, Alexandria
The paved Mount Vernon Trail follows the Potomac River for 17 miles, from Teddy Roosevelt Island in the north to George Washington's Mount Vernon in the south. It's popular for biking but is also a good walking trail when the crowds are low.
One of our favorite winter walks combines part of the paved trail, a .7-mile dirt trail, and a long boardwalk over Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.
Find more winter hikes in 6 Beautiful Boardwalk Hikes in Northern Virginia.
Park at Belle Haven Park, and walk south on the paved Mount Vernon Trail. Turn left on the street where you entered the parking area. A quick right takes you onto the dirt trail into Dyke Marsh. The final segment is a boardwalk over the marshland. The dirt portion of this trail gets muddy so wear waterproof hiking boots or snow boots.
Plan your visit with our full guide to hiking at Dyke Marsh.
Tip: If you want to avoid mud, continue on the paved Mount Vernon trail and onto another boardwalk over the marsh. You'll have lovely water views and a good opportunity to see winter birds and eagles.
5. Burke Lake Park, Burke
The 4.7-mile loop trail around Burke Lake is a good bet on a sunny winter day as you'll enjoy lots of open water views. Much of the trail is stone dust or a wide dirt path, so it should be less muddy than many other winter trails.
After a good snowstorm, the snow gets packed down by hikers, joggers, and cross-country skiers who share the trail.
Get all the details in our full guide to hiking Around Burke Lake.
Tip: The miniature train, carousel and mini-golf all close in the winter, and the quiet should increase your chances of spotting birds and wildlife.
The 40-mile Washington and Old Dominion Regional Park, aka the W&OD bike trail, is a beautiful place for winter walks. There are many nice segments along the trail, but in winter we like the stretch between Hunter Mill Road and downtown Vienna.
This 3-mile segment passes over Difficult Run and past the Meadowlark Connector Trail. There are no road crossings until you reach the town of Vienna. If the ground is dry or frozen, you can hike on the parallel, dirt and stone dust bridle trail. Note that the bridle trail can be swampy after heavy rains.
Tip: The bike trail is plowed after snowstorms, but icy and snowy patches may leave it difficult to navigate on foot. That could be the perfect opportunity to break out your cross-country skis or snowshoes.
7. Mason Neck, Lorton
Mason Neck is a wonderful place to watch bald eagles and other birds in winter, when you won't be fighting humidity and bugs. Start your visit with a walk on the 3/4 mile paved Great Marsh Trail (head south on Gunston Road past the turn for High Point Road). The trail ends at a platform overlooking Great Marsh.
Next head to Mason Neck State Park and stop at the Visitor Center for interesting displays and advice on the hiking trails in the park. The Bayview Trail is a popular loop hike that begins near the center and includes a nice long boardwalk over the marsh.
Plan your visit with our complete guide to Mason Neck State Park.
Tip: Mason Neck State Park hosts some fun guided hikes and birdwatching events during the winter months. On January 1st, park entry is free and you can kick off the year's winter walks with a First Day Hike.
8. Theodore Roosevelt Island, Arlington
A Theodore Roosevelt Island hike offers an unexpected slice of nature at the edge of Washington DC. The park has a network of dirt paths, a long boardwalk, an interesting tidal marsh, and some hidden surprises.
This is an easy family-friendly hike over mostly level dirt and stone dust paths and a very fun boardwalk. However, when the Potomac is at flood stage the island can become impassable.
We like to hike around the island, take a leisurely stroll on that long boardwalk, and finish with a visit to the Roosevelt Memorial at the top of the island.
Check out our full guide to hiking at Theodore Roosevelt Island for more tips and photos.
Tip: Theodore Roosevelt Park is in Washington DC, but the only access is over a footbridge from Arlington, Virginia. Combine your visit with a scenic drive on the George Memorial Parkway. Nearby Arlington National Cemetery is a somber but beautiful place for winter walks and a time to honor fallen heroes.
Bonus: Winter Walks on Lakeside Trails in Reston
Enjoy pleasant and safe winter walks on the paved trails in Reston Virginia. Walk a loop around Reston's Lake Thoreau and extend it with the path at Lake Audubon.
Stroll the 1.5-mile loop around Lake Anne, then warm up at the Lake Anne Brewhouse, Coffee Shop, or one of the other businesses on the plaza.
Plan your visit: Local’s Guide to Top 10 Things to Do in Reston Virginia.
All of the Reston lake trails are paved, and many of them use sidewalks to connect between segments of the path. These are suburban paths where you're likely to encounter lots of residents and dog-walkers.
Hiking can be a little more challenging in the winter. Cold temperatures and wet ground can make trails soggy and slippery. Wear the right footwear and you won't have to worry about a little mud. We're fans of waterproof hiking boots by Merrell because they're sturdy but lightweight. Hiking poles are also helpful in winter when the ground is slippery.
Too cold for a hike? We've rounded up plenty of fun Indoor Activities in Northern Virginia to Escape Winter Cold or a Rainy Day. And you can relax after your hike at restaurants, breweries, and wineries with heated outdoor dining and drinking spaces.
If you love to hike, check these seasonal round-ups for more favorite Northern Virginia trails:
- 16 Favorite Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia
- 8 Great Spring Hikes in Northern Virginia
- 8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia