The Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina hike follows the Bull Run Occoquan Trail along the Bull Run Stream Valley and Occoquan Reservoir at the western edge of Fairfax County. The full trail is 18 miles long; a gem in the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) collection. It begins at Fountainhead Regional Park in the south and ends at Bull Run Regional Park in the north. The trail offers a peaceful hike through woodlands and along waterways at the edge of Fairfax County.
Reach the trail head for this hike on a Fairfax County scenic drive that includes several Virginia Byways.
Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina Hike
Our southeastern segment of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail weaves through the woods, climbs up and down ridges, and occasionally follows the edge of the Occoquan Reservoir. It’s six-and-a-half miles (one way) from Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina. Fortunately, there are public parking areas that allow you to break the hike into two-mile segments if you choose.
The trail is well marked and easy to follow thanks to the maintenance efforts of PATC. Frequent, steep hills will give you a workout and may not be a good fit for very young children. There are several stream crossings and waterside areas that will be muddy or flooded after heavy rains or snowmelt.
The trail begins at the main Fountainhead Regional Park parking lot on the right, near the mini-golf and restrooms. Near the start of the hike, stop at the Davis Lewis Cemetery on the left. Here you will see several grave markers from the 1800s and early 1900s, and some beautiful old cedars and boxwoods.
The trail is heavily wooded all the way to Bull Run Marina. You’ll get a nice workout from the climbs and descents as you move along the ridges. Most of the trees here are oak, mixed with stands of hemlock and pine. The trail is bordered by mountain laurel in many areas, which blooms in early June. Pretty pink, white, and grey granite rocks jut up from the forest floor. Just after the two-mile marker, the trail crosses Wolf Run Shoals Road and some very interesting history (details below).
The remaining four miles to the Bull Run Marina continue through the forest and along the reservoir. There are several stream crossings, with wooden bridges over the larger streams, though one bridge was washed out. A series of rocks made the stream passable, but it would be difficult to make it across dry with higher water levels.
History on the Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina Hike
Just after the two mile marker at Wolf Shoals Road you’ll reach the Fairfax Buckley Cemetery. According to the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association:
“Confederate veteran, Wellington Fairfax, and his family members are buried there… [including] four relatives who died in 1918, possibly as a result of the Spanish influenza outbreak. One of these, Robert Makely, was a member of the Independent Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization that traces its origins back to medieval times and the Royal Forests of the United Kingdom.”
There is a small parking area near the cemetery and additional space at the end of Wolf Shoals Road. You could turn back now and park here to start the next two-mile segment. We don’t know about security in the area; you might be better off breaking the hike into three-mile stretches, parking at the busier lots on each end.
Of course, no hike in the Virginia countryside would be complete without a little Revolutionary and Civil War history. At the end of Wolf Shoals Road, just off the trail, you’ll find both. An informational Civil War Trails sign describes the strategic crossing point nearby. Both Union and Confederate forces crossed the river here during the Civil War.
Nearby, a marker notes that the trail here follows a section of the 600-mile long Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route. This route from Virginia to New England was traveled by American and French forces before the climactic Battle of Yorktown.
We enjoyed the Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina Hike in early spring after a dry spell. The lack of foliage allowed for more views of the river from the ridges. In May and June, hikers will see wildflowers and blooming mountain laurel along the trail. Summer can be humid and buggy, but at least the woods provide good shade throughout the hike. This would also be a fun winter hike as long as the ground isn’t icy or very saturated.
If you begin your hike from the Bull Run Marina, park at the large lot across from the marina parking. (The lot is closed in the offseason.) The trail is easy to access past the building at one end of the lot.
Another of our favorite segments of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail begins at the end of Yates Ford Road. Happily, you can combine your hike with a winery stop: Bull Run Occoquan Trail and Paradise Springs Winery. After your hike, we highly recommend a visit to enjoy charming Clifton, Virginia.
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This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2020.