Updated on November 7, 2023 by Julie McCool
Take a Cool Spring Battlefield hike or bike ride by the Shenandoah River to beautiful views, interesting history, and a pretty waterfall. This unusual preserve in Bluemont Virginia is a hidden gem in Northern Virginia, perfect for hiking, biking, birding, fishing, and spending time outdoors for nature-lovers of all ages. While there is one very steep section to a spectacular view, the paved trail is mostly level and both bike and stroller-friendly.
Shenandoah University manages the property and has transformed the former golf course into an outdoor classroom for students and the public. In addition, signs on the Northern Loop Trail interpret the Civil War Battle at Cool Spring fought here in 1864. During the conflict, 13,000 Union and Confederate troops fought across the river, leading to over 800 casualties.
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Hike another beautiful Northern Virginia golf course turned nature area at Blooms Park in Manassas Park VA.
Cool Spring Battlefield Trails
Two paved loop trails, which were once golf cart paths, stretch across the Cool Spring property. Here is a map of the trails.
The Northern Loop Trail is the most popular and scenic. The 2.5-mile path skirts the woods and river, with one very steep section leading to a gorgeous view. A dirt trail at the northern end leads to a very pretty waterfall and a network of trails in the Rolling Ridge Conservancy. In addition, the Northern Trail includes signs interpreting the Battle of Cool Spring.
The Southern Loop Trail is a mostly level 2.5-mile paved path next to the river and the access road. The Southern Trail is not as scenic but it's a good choice for birding or a quiet walk, especially on busy weekends.
Begin your hike at the kiosk near the parking lot. Here you'll find a map of the trails and information about the Civil War battle fought nearby.
Northern Loop Trail Details
The paved Northern trail is actually two loops linked by a short connecting path. You can hike the loop in either direction, but the notes below assume you go counter-clockwise, turning right at the kiosk.
The trail heads north as it meanders through the meadow. You can still see hints of the former golf course terrain, but plants have grown in enough to create a natural landscape. For the first half-mile, the path climbs slightly as it hugs the hillside. Birds are common and hikers will likely see Red-winged Blackbirds, Sparrows, Herons, Cardinals. and more. Flowering trees and stone walls along the path add to the scenery.
In half a mile the trail reaches a connector, passing over a bridge to the second loop. Follow the path on the right to reach the best viewpoint, from what was once the 3rd tee. A warning though, this section of trail is extremely steep (up to 25% grade!) as it climbs to the view then descends again. If you have a stroller or bike, or just want to avoid the climb, take the path to the left.
The payoff for hikers who make the climb is a gorgeous view of the countryside and distant mountains. Keep climbing the trail to take in the view from several levels (former tees). When you're ready to continue, the trail descends steeply back to the river level.
Waterfall at Cool Spring Battlefield
Once you emerge from the trees at the bottom of the hill you'll see a sign for the Ridge to River Trail. Follow the dirt path into the woods to see a very pretty waterfall. In April, the path is lined with beautiful Virginia bluebells, Toadshade Trillium, and other spring wildflowers.
The waterfall and surrounding trails are part of the Rolling Ridge Conservancy which works with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to manage and protect the land. Cross the stream to reach the waterfall view. You can cool off your feet in the stream, but use care to stay on rocks and out of closed areas.
Retrace your steps to return to the paved Northern Loop Trail. Or, for a longer and more challenging hike, continue on the trail into West Virginia. From here you can connect to the Appalachian Trail and a quieter route to Raven Rocks.
Northern Loop Trail by the Shenandoah River
The last mile of the loop stays close to the Shenandoah River. You'll enjoy pretty views of the river and huge 100-year-old sycamores on this mostly level section. Fun fact: the Shenandoah is one of the few rivers in the world (like the Nile) that flow south to north.
There are some benches near the path where you can stop and enjoy the peace. Signs along the trail explain Civil War troop movements during the Battle of Cool Spring.
Keep an eye out for Great Blue Heron at the river's edge and in the trees. There is a heron rookery here and you may see the birds swooping in and out of their giant nests in the treetops. Walk down to the river near marker 3 for a pretty view before returning to the kiosk and the end of your hike.
The Cool Spring Battlefield trails offer visitors a pretty slice of nature with some unique features and history. It's an ideal place to enjoy an easy hike, a family-friendly bike ride, time for bird-watching, or a walk with your furry friend.
While it's only an hour from Washington DC, the Cool Spring property is peaceful and relaxing. You'll likely hear nothing but birds, bells tolling at nearby Holy Cross Abbey, and the cows lowing at the farm across the river.
Cool Spring Battlefield Essentials
Spring is a beautiful time to visit, especially from late March to mid-April when bluebells cover the banks of the river. There is little shade on much of the path, so heat and humidity could make this a tough summer hike. Fall foliage season is always a good time to hike and explore Virginia.
Here are a few essentials to plan your visit:
- Cool Spring Battlefield is at 1400 Parker Lane, Bluemont Virginia. From DC and Northern Virginia, follow Route 7 west and turn right on Route 709 just before you reach the Shenandoah River. Enter Shenandoah University River Campus in your GPS.
- Open daily, dawn to dusk.
- Admission is free and there is a large parking lot. There is a port-a-john at one end of the lot.
- Leashed dogs are welcome.
- Remember to leave no trace and take all trash with you.
- Camping, fires, and hunting are not allowed.
Check the Shenandoah University Cool Spring website for more information.
Fun Things to Do Near Cool Spring
Bluemont is one of our favorite small towns in Virginia. DC residents once summered here to enjoy the fresh air and cooler temps. Today the town is home to great trails, brews, and wine.
Cool Spring and nearby Twin Oaks Tavern Winery is the newest entry in our roundup of awesome hike and winery day trips. If you prefer beer, enjoy a hike and brew with views at Dirt Farm and Bear Chase. Or relax at two of the best wineries with views in Northern Virginia. Also nearby are the wonderful hikes to Bears Den Overlook and Raven Rocks. In fact, you can also reach Raven Rocks from the Ridge to River Trail we discussed above.
Only an hour from DC, the town makes an easy day trip to the countryside. But there are so many fun things to do in Bluemont that it is also an excellent weekend getaway. There are hotels in nearby Winchester, or you can stay in one of the many vacation rentals that dot the area.
Plan your visit with our guide to 15 Fantastic Fun Things to Do in Bluemont Virginia. Whether your goal is an easy stroll at Cool Spring Battlefield, or a longer stay exploring the Bluemont area, we wish you happy travel.