Don't let cold weather keep you indoors! These 8 great winter walks in Northern Virginia are perfect for a winter hike even when there is 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 we avoid trails with lots of natural stream crossings, which often stay cold and wet.
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.
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It's a good idea to check ahead for park and trail closures before you head out, especially in the winter. Some of the paved trails listed below are plowed but others are not.
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. (Note that the southeastern end of the trail gets steep and rocky.)
The River 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 show your National Park Pass (see tip above). The park also honors National Park Free Entrance Days, including Martin Luther King Jr Day in January.
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 a cozy spot to warm up after your outing.
Tip: Make a night visit in early winter for the annual Winter Walk of Lights. Once the holiday light show closes, visitors can enter Meadowlark Gardens for free in January and February.
4. Dyke Marsh and Mount Vernon Trail, Alexandria
One of our favorite winter walks at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve combines part of the paved Mount Vernon Trail with a .7-mile dirt trail and a long boardwalk.
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.
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, stick to the paved Mount Vernon trail and continue south 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 Park is a good choice on a 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.
6. Washington & Old Dominion Regional Park
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.
Stop in at Caboose Tavern, right next to the trail, to warm up with a tasty Virginia craft beer. The trail passes right through downtown, near some of our favorite Vienna restaurants.
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
The Mason Neck Peninsula 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 a monument to the former president.
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 trails 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 complete 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
Paved paths circle several lakes in Reston Virginia. For example, the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail circles the lake and connects to paths around Lake Audubon.
After your hike stop at Cafesano for some delicious pizza, or Red's Table for locally sourced food and craft beer. These are two of our favorite Reston restaurants.
Or take a walk around Lake Anne through Reston's first neighborhoods then warm up at the restaurants, brewery, and wine bar at Lake Anne Plaza.
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.
Winter hikes are fun and beautiful, but be sure to wear good hiking boots (we love these waterproof Merrell boots!) and use caution on slippery trails. Hiking poles (like these) can help but be sure they have winter tips if the ground is icy.
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
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