Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Park: Great History Hike Leesburg VA

Updated on November 7, 2023 by Julie McCool

Visit Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park in Leesburg Virginia to hike and explore Civil War history, including one of the smallest national cemeteries in America. The park combines scenic nature and fascinating history making it one of the best things to do in Leesburg VA.

Ball's Bluff Park's shady trails cover varying terrain, from gently sloping hills to a steep descent to the Potomac River. Historic sites in the park are well-marked and cover a small but significant Civil War battle. It's a great destination for anyone but is especially popular with history buffs and casual hikers.

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Ball's 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 lead to the banks of the Potomac River and a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail.

Balls Bluff Battlefield Trail in Leesburg VA
Ball's Bluff Battlefield Trail in Leesburg VA

Find more Northern Virginia hikes and parks in our guide to Must See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History.

Hiking the Battlefield at Ball's Bluff Trails

A few miles of trails connect through the park so you'll have several options for the length and focus of your hike.

Ball's Bluff Battlefield trail sign
Ball's Bluff Battlefield trail sign

The Battlefield Interpretive Loop is .8 miles on a mostly level dirt path through woods and open fields. This trail is a great option for anyone interested in Civil War history (it even kept my friend's teen engaged).

Interpretive trail at Balls' Bluff Battlefield in Loudoun County Virginia
Ball's Bluff Battlefield Interpretive Trail

Begin your hike at the interpretive area near the parking lot. Signs here include maps and a summary of the Battle of Ball's Bluff. This area is also used for group tours and presentations (more info below).

interpretive area at Ball's Bluff Battlefield
Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park

Maps and tour booklets are usually available, or you can find an online tour brochure here.

One of the most interesting sites at Ball's Bluff Battlefield is the third smallest National Military Cemetery in America. The cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall and gate, which was open during our visit.

Ball's Bluff is one of the smallest military cemeteries in the US
Ball's Bluff National Military Cemetery

The cemetery includes 25 headstones where the remains of 54 Union soldiers killed during the Battle of Ball's Bluff are buried.

Interestingly, the only sitting member of Congress to die in battle also perished here. U.S. Senator Edward Baker from Oregon, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln's, led the California Regiment that was defeated at Ball's Bluff. His death had lasting political implications described in the History of the Battle of Ball's Bluff below.

25 headstones mark the Civil War dead at Ball's Bluff National Cemetery
Ball's Bluff National Cemetery Headstones

All the remains in the cemetery are unidentified except for Private James Allen, who fought with the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

A headstone marks a Union fatality at Ball's Bluff Battlefield
Union Fatality at Ball's Bluff

Cannons and additional signs near the cemetery help tell the story of Union and Confederate clashes during the battle.

Cannons mark the site of the battle of Ball's Bluff
Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park Cannons

For a longer hike around the park's perimeter, take the Orange Trail down to the Potomac River. From here you can follow the Potomac Heritage Trail along the river, returning on the Red, Yellow, or Blue Trail.

Potomac Heritage Trail at Balls Bluff Battlefield
Potomac Heritage Trail at Ball's Bluff Battlefield

If you hike to the river you'll encounter some steep and rocky sections so use caution. After rainstorms, these trails are slippery and the banks of the Potomac get very muddy. In good weather, the trails here are a nice option for birding and a quiet nature hike not far from Leesburg's historic downtown.

In the spring, you'll find beautiful wildflowers, birds, and other creatures, especially near the river.

Keep an eye out for millipedes and other nature at Ball's Bluff
Giant Millipede at Ball's Bluff

Most of the trails start at the parking lot and are well-marked. There are no facilities, and the open battlefield can be pretty hot in summer. Bring plenty of water and stick to the trails to avoid ticks in the open fields.

However, trails are mostly shady so Ball's Bluff Battlefield made our list of 8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia.

History of the Battle of Ball's Bluff

The Battle of Ball's Bluff was fairly small compared to the more well-known conflict at Manassas. While the casualties were low, the battle resulted in political controversy and consequences that affected later conflicts.

A mistaken report of a Confederate camp prompted General Stone to send Union troops across to the bluff, under the command of Colonel Edward Baker. A battle ensued with Confederate troops pushing the Union troops back toward the bluff and river.

Cannon and cemetery wall mark this Civil War battlefield in Northern Virginia
Civil War Battlefield in Northern Virginia

By the end of the battle, the Union forces were nearly destroyed. Abraham Lincoln's lifelong friend, Senator and Colonel Edward Baker, was dead. Baker's death, and rumors about the battle, prompted Congress to arrest General Stone and charge him with disloyalty and treason. Union commanders would later fail to act for fear of similar retribution from Congress.

A map of the Civil War battle at Balls Bluff
Ball's Bluff Battle Map

Visit the American Battlefield Trust website shares a detailed account plus 10 interesting facts about the Battle of Balls Bluff.

Tours and Events at Ball's Bluff Battlefield

Guided tours are a great way to explore Ball's Bluff Battlefield and learn more about the people who fought here.

Battlefield tours are held at 11:00 and 1:00 on Saturday and Sunday, from early April until late November. Take a guided tour around the battlefield to learn about the tragic Battle of Ball’s Bluff on a fateful October day in 1861. The tour is free and no registration is required. Tours are one to two hours and require a mile of walking on uneven ground.

In addition, special events are held occasionally during the year. For example, the park sometimes hosts a reenactment on the battles anniversary in September. You can also join in trail maintenance and other volunteer projects on American Battlefield Trust Day in April.

Visit the NOVA Parks website for the latest information on Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park events and tours.

Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park is at the end of Ball's Bluff Road in Leesburg, VA. Access to the park is from Route 15, just north of Leesburg Virginia. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk.

If you have extra time, consider visiting nearby Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Park. Red Rock Park offers more shady trails and interesting Leesburg history.

Or extend your visit and explore more area history with a weekend getaway to historic Leesburg Virginia. There are lots of tasty Leesburg restaurants to visit after your hike.

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Balls Bluff Battlefield hike with history in Northern Virginia
Bull's Bluff Battlefield Park, Leesburg VA