The Dead Run waterfall hike is a shady, 3 to 4 mile, out-and-back. Most of the route follows a Virginia segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail, very close to Washington DC. There are some steep and slippery segments so this hike can be tricky when the path is muddy. Even when dry, the trail is rocky and uneven, so wear good hiking shoes.
Portions of the trail parallel the Potomac River. The view is mostly woods and streams, but you’ll have an occasional view of the river. The payoff at the end of the hike is a series of small waterfalls and cascades, some of which empty into swimming-hole sized pools.
Access to the Dead Run waterfall hike begins at Turkey Run Park in McLean, Virginia. Park in lot C-1 and follow the trail downhill, turning left at the fork on the Turkey Run Loop Trail. (You can actually go either way, but our directions add more stream-side views.)
The trail winds and climbs until you are near the George Washington Memorial Parkway. When you reach Turkey Run, cross it and follow the trail downstream. (Do not follow the trail under the highway.)
If the water level is high enough, there are pretty cascades and pools along the rocky stream. We hiked in mid-summer and the water was very low. Even then. there are some deep spots and small cascades.
Once you reach the bottom of the hill, head left toward the American Legion Bridge. The trail follows the Potomac River, and you’ll catch a few open views of the water and Maryland.
Most of the trail is a wooded walk with a few small stream crossings. There are also a few fallen trees across the trail, but they are easy to get around or under.
When you reach the sign marking Dead Run, turn upstream and follow the left bank as far as you want. There isn’t much of a trail here, so you’ll be climbing rocks and the edge of the hill as you go.
If your goal is to reach a waterfall and swimming hole, you could stop just above this spot. The small waterfall and cascade empty into a fairly large pool. It’s a nice place to relax and have a picnic. Visit in spring for a bigger waterfall and a much muddier path.
After exploring this section of the Dead Run waterfall hike you have a three options. You can double back the way you came, continue on the Potomac Heritage Trail, or follow the directions on HikingUpward to make it a loop.
If you’ve always wanted to see the American Legion Bridge from down below, now’s your chance. The Potomac Heritage Trail crosses the stream right by the Dead Run sign.
You can vary the return trip to your car a bit. Backtrack until you are back to Turkey Run, then cross the stream. Now you can either take the first right, on a short but steep trail to the parking lot. Or continue straight and explore more of Turkey Run Park,
The Dead Run waterfall hike doesn’t offer dramatic views, but it’s a nice dose of nature very close to Washington DC. If time and energy allow, you can extend your outing by combining this hike with other sections of the Potomac Heritage Trail.
Or continue the theme with another of our favorite Northern Virginia waterfalls—Scott’s Run Nature Preserve—just a short drive away. Whether you make your outing long or short, we wish you happy hiking in Northern Virginia!