Updated on February 12, 2024 by Julie McCool
Beautiful hikes on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton cover the most scenic part of a 19-mile woodland and streamside trail in Fairfax County Virginia. Hikers can follow a mostly easy 3-mile loop through the woods and beside Bull Run, or create shorter or longer hikes with connecting trails. The Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton is easy to access, great for kids, and is one of the best hikes in Northern Virginia.
I have hiked the entire Bull Run Occoquan Trail (BROT), in sections, and the central portion in Clifton is my favorite part of the trail. Most of the trail is level and close to the water making it a fun hike for kids but also perfect for an adults or solo outing. Plus, the trailhead is right next to a great Fairfax County winery in one of the prettiest small towns in Northern Virginia.
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Hiking the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton
The trailhead for the central portion of the 18-mile Bull Run Occoquan Trail is at the end of Yates Ford Road in Clifton Virginia, across from Paradise Springs Winery. There is a large, free parking area for the trail that can handle about 20 cars. However, there are no restrooms or facilities at the parking area.
Note that if the winery is busy, the lot sometimes fills up. Winery visitors are not supposed to park here but they often do.
A Bull Run Occoquan Trail sign marks the trailhead leading to the stream. The drive to your right leads into Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, which offers outdoor programs for kids and team-building for adults. Hikers can use trails in the park, but restrooms and other facilities are not open to the public.
Clifton Bull Run Occoquan Trail Loop Hike
Here is a pretty and mostly easy 3-mile loop hike on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton. This route is mostly level but it includes a couple of steep climbs and some rocky sections.
From the trailhead at the end of Yates Ford Road, follow the yellow-blazed trail into the woods. The trail follows a ledge along the edge of an old road that has eroded to a deep cut.
Turn left onto the red-blazed Union Mills Trail at the first trail junction. The trail climbs a bit through the woods and then descends steeply. In just under a mile you'll reach Bull Run.
Turn right at the junction, heading north on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail. For the next 1.3 miles, you'll be hiking next to the stream with frequent water views. The trail surface is dirt most of the time but there are a few rocky sections.
As you head north the views of the water open up and the trail gets closer to the stream. In just over half a mile you'll reach a junction with the Old Road Trail. You could turn right here to return to the parking area but continue straight to hike the prettiest part of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail.
As you hike north you'll pass the remains of a former dam and hydro plant that once provided electricity to Clifton and Manassas. The hydro plant began providing electricity to Clifton in 1928 and operated until 1940. Today, nothing remains but the graffiti-covered concrete and stone structure next to the trail.
Further on, a few benches next to the trail offer a place to stop and enjoy the view. There are also flat rocks jutting into the water where you can sit and cool your feet. Be cautious though, as the current can be quite strong.
The trail passes some short but fun rock scrambles and a nice stand of laurel that should bloom in June. Colorful foliage lines the banks in October making this section of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail one of the best fall hikes in Northern Virginia.
When you reach the next trail junction turn right to return to the Hemlock Overlook parking area. This steep trail, marked with yellow blazes, passes through Hemlock Park to return to the parking lot. There are more pretty mountain laurel blooms on this trail in June.
The trail continues through fields in Hemlock Overlook Park. Stay left when you see the road to Hemlock's Lodge and activity center, following the trail back to the parking area.
Alternate Clifton Bull Run Occoquan Trail Hikes
Here are four alternate routes for hiking to the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton VA. Options 1 and 2 are shorter routes. Options 3 and 4 cover longer sections of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail. If you have a friend with a second car you can tackle these as one-way hikes. Otherwise, you'll have a longer out-and-back.
1. Old Road Out and Back
For the shortest and easiest hike to the Clifton Bull Run Occoquan Trail, follow the yellow-blazed Old Road Trail straight from the parking area to the stream. This trail is shorter and not as steep as the Red Trail from our loop hike. When ready, return the way you came.
2. Clifton BROT 2-Mile Loop Hike
If you prefer a shorter loop hike, eliminate the Red Trail described above. Instead, follow the Old Road Trail straight to the stream, then turn right on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail and return on the Yellow Trail through Hemlock Overlook Park.
If you'd rather hike downhill on the steepest part of this loop, reverse the direction and hike counter-clockwise. It can be a little tricky to find the right path through Hemlock Overlook so we prefer to hike this shorter loop clockwise.
3. Bull Run Occoquan Trail South to Bull Run Marina
To hike a longer and steeper section of the BROT, hike down to the water on the Old Road Trail and turn left. From here it's a 4.5 mile hike to Bull Run Marina, another major access point for the BROT.
Heading south, the trail starts level and close to the water. Before long the path moves away from Bull Run and into the woods. The rest of the hike includes some steep sections where you descend and then climb to navigate small stream crossings.
Bull Run widens as you head south and get closer to the marina. You'll have some water views from the ridge, especially during cold months when there is less foliage. It's a pretty hike except for a short stretch that skirts the edge of the Kincheloe Soccer Park.
4. Bull Run Occoquan Trail North
Another longer hike option follows the Bull Run Occoquan Trail north to a parking area on Route 28 or the trail's end in Bull Run Regional Park.
For either option, follow the Old Road Trail from the Yates Ford Road parking area down to the stream. When you reach Bull Run, turn right and follow the trail north as far as you'd like. It is about 5 miles to hike from Yates Ford Road to the Route 28 parking area. Continue another 2 miles to reach the northern end of the BROT in Bull Run Regional Park.
About the Bull Run Occoquan Trail
The Bull Run Occoquan Trail (aka the BROT) follows the Bull Run Stream Valley and Occoquan Reservoir along the western edge of Fairfax County. The trail stretches 19.7 miles from Bull Run Regional Park to Fountainhead Regional Park. The trail is managed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and delivers a pretty slice of nature in busy Northern VA.
Use these guides to hike other sections of the BROT:
- Northern Bull Run Occoquan Trail Hike in Northern Virginia
- Bull Run Occoquan Trail: Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina Hike
Bull Run Occoquan Trail Essentials
Find more information and any trail closures on the NOVA Parks website.
- The Bull Run Occoquan Trail is open daily, from dawn to dusk.
- There is no admission fee and parking is free to area residents. Non-residents pay an $8 day-use fee at Bull Run Regional Park.
- The entire trail is open to hikers, runners, and leashed dogs.
- Mountain biking is allowed, but only on the southern trail section between Fountainhead and Bull Run Marina.
- Equestrians can use most of the trail and there are bypass trails available to avoid any obstructions.
- Fountainhead and Bull Run Park have restrooms, but there are no public facilities on other trail sections.
- 5000 acres of woodlands surround the trail, including beautiful mature hemlock, sycamores, pines, beech, and other trees.
- Revolutionary and Civil War sites on the BROT include a section of the Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route and a Civil War emplacement.
Things to Do Near the Clifton BROT
Ready for some fun after your hike? Here are three of our favorite things to do near the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton.
Historic Downtown Clifton
Enjoy post-hike fun with a visit to charming and historic Clifton. The walkable downtown is full of lovely architecture highlighted with interesting signs. There are several excellent restaurants, local shops, and a tasty ice cream shop in town. Clifton is one of our favorite day trip destinations in the DC area.
Paradise Springs Winery
Enjoy one of the best Hike and Winery Outings in Northern Virginia with a post-hike visit to Paradise Springs Winery. Fortunately, the Yates Ford parking lot is right across from Paradise Springs, the oldest winery in Fairfax County. The winery has a beautiful tasting barn, a large porch, and loads of outdoor space. The huge lawn is dotted with picnic tables that are popular with groups and families.
The winery has a small menu of crackers and cheeses and sometimes offers food pairings from local restaurants. Paradise Springs Winery is open daily from 11:00 to 7:00, to 9:00 on Fridays. Check the winery website for event listings.
Fairfax County Scenic Drive
The main road through Clifton, and several connecting roads, are Virginia Scenic Byways. We created this Fairfax County Scenic Drive route to include Clifton and other interesting stops.
Our scenic route includes Burke Lake Park, another great hiking destination, and Occoquan Regional Park. Cross the bridge over the Occoquan River to reach historic Occoquan another of the best small towns in Northern Virginia.
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