Updated on November 7, 2023 by Julie McCool
Prince William County is home to three important national sites plus a rich collection of historic small towns, beautiful natural areas, and delicious spots to dine and drink. The best places to visit in Prince William County let you immerse yourself in the history and nature of Northern Virginia. Prince William is a great destination for day trips near DC, whether you have a few hours to spare or time for a weekend getaway.
Prince William County National Parks and Museums
There are three major National Park Sites in Prince William County—a National Battlefield, forest, and museum—and all make excellent day trips from Washington DC.
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Manassas Battlefield preserves the site of two important Civil War battles, looking much as it did during the time of the conflict. First Manassas was the first major Civil War battle between two new armies. A year later, the armies clashed on this site again, and the Confederate victory at Second Manassas opened the way for the south's first invasion of the north.
At the park, you can check out the excellent displays at the Visitor Center, learn about the Battle of First Manassas on Henry Hill, and explore battle sites on a 20-mile self-guided driving tour. If time allows, hike the 5-mile First Manassas loop trail which travels important sites from the battle. A similar 6-mile trail follows the sites of the Battle of Second Manassas. Entrance is free.
Thirsty after all that exploring? The Winery at Bull Run is right next door to the Stone Bridge parking area. The winery includes its own historic buildings and artifacts along with tasty Virginia wines. Just 10 minutes west of Manassas Battlefield in Gainesville, Tin Cannon Brewing serves up a tasty selection of Virginia craft brews manufactured on-site. There are generally 9 to 12 beers on tap in a wide range of styles, so consider ordering a flight or two.
Another nearby option combines great food, craft beer, and fun indoor and outdoor spaces. 2 Silos Brewing at Farm Brew Live serves excellent pizza and more along with great beer, wine, and kid-friendly drinks.
The Museum of the Marine Corps is one of our favorite hidden gems in Northern Virginia. Here, immersive displays and multi-media experiences illustrate the strength and heroism of the Marines Corp throughout history. If you travel on busy route I-95 you probably notice the dramatic 210-foot stainless steel mast rising from the building. The angle of the mast mimics the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.
Visitors learn about important moments of American history from the perspective of Marines who participated in them. Immersive displays include an assault on Iwo Jima by Higgins Boat, a frozen mountain pass in Korea, and the aftermath of battle in Vietnam.
The Marine Corps museum also houses important artifacts, including one of the original flags raised on Iwo Jima. Outside, the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park offers a place to remember, reflect, and honor the service of all Marines. Entrance to the museum is free.
If you're hungry during you visit, you can eat in the Devil Dog Diner or the Tun Tavern. The tavern's colonial design copies the original Tun Tavern in Philadelphia where the Marine Corps was founded in 1775.
At Prince William National Forest, visitors can explore 37 miles of beautiful hiking trails and a 9-mile scenic loop drive with dedicated bike lanes. The 15,000-acre park has an interesting history, which you can learn about in the Visitor Center and throughout the park.
During the Great Depression, the CCC built the Chopawamsic Recreation Area to house children's ‘relief' camps. Here, low-income, inner-city children could experience nature and outdoor play. Today, Prince William Forest preserves the largest inventory of CCC structures in the National Park System. During World War II, civilian and military spies in the newly formed OSS (precursor to the CIA) trained in the park.
Hike the 1.4 mile Laurel Trail Loop through peaceful woods and along the South Fork of Quantico Creek. This is a popular hike that you can easily extend with connecting trails. We combined portions of the Laurel and South Valley Trails, with the Pyrite Mine and North Orenida Roads, to create a 4-5 mile loop hike. The woods are stunning in Autumn when colorful fall foliage fills the park.
Rangers at the Visitor Center are a great resource for planning your route. The park entrance fee is $20.00 per vehicle (waived on free entrance days) and you can use your National Park Pass. Camping is available at historic cabins and open sites for an additional fee.
Smaller Historic Sites to Visit in Prince William County
These historic sites in Prince William County interpret the changing fortunes of small towns and businesses from Colonial days through the Civil War. Manassas National Battlefield is the most well-known, but these smaller sites are definitely worth a visit.
In the 1800s, Ben Lomond was a successful and prosperous Virginia plantation. It was the enslaved workforce who created that prosperity, farming corn and wheat and caring for nearly 500 Merino sheep. After the Battle of First Manassas, the house became a Confederate field hospital treating wounded and diseased soldiers encamped in the area. In 1862, Federal forces occupied the area, ransacked the house, and covered the plaster walls with graffiti from floor to ceiling.
Today, visitors to Ben Lomond can learn about the enslaved people at one of Virginia's only remaining slave quarters. Inside the house, you can learn about Civil War surgical tools and procedures and see some of the graffiti left behind. In warmer months, you can walk through a beautiful rose garden at Ben Lomond. House tours are $5 for adults with discounts for military, students, and children. Check the website for special tours and programs.
If you're hungry, head to nearby, locally-owned City Grille, a relaxed neighborhood spot. Their popular Sunday Brunch Buffet includes made-to-order omelets with a variety of fruits, sides, and other breakfast fare.
The multi-building Brentsville Courthouse site interprets three centuries of life and growth in the town of Brentsville. The town was founded in 1820 as the Prince William County seat. Restored buildings include a Union Church, a one-room school, the County Courthouse and Jail, and the nearby Haislip-Hall house.
Interpretive signs and guides help visitors understand life in town, which was prosperous for some but very difficult for others. Court days were especially busy, and 12 African American slaves and free Blacks were jailed and executed here. Explore the natural area on a one-mile hike to Broad Run. Tours are $5 for adults with discounts for military, students, and children.
Before your visit, fuel up at Duck Donuts in Bristow Center wish fresh donuts decorated to order. There are other options on the menu, but there is nothing like enjoying donuts right off the line.
Just a few miles north of Brentsville is the site of another battle of the Civil War at Bristoe Station. visitors can hike a 1.5-mile interpretive trail that winds through the fields and woods. Here Federal forces repelled a Confederate attack, captured their artillery, and effectively ended Lee's Bristoe offensive. Admission to the battlefield is free.
Chapman-Beverley Mill and Bull Run Mountains
The Bull Run Mountains natural area preserves the unique nature and history of the most easterly mountain chain in Virginia's Piedmont. A popular overlook closed in early 2015 for recovery and restoration, but there are still miles of hiking trails. There are some interesting historic sites along the lower trails, including an old mill house, cemetery, and quarry trench.
Visit on a weekend to explore the dramatic ruins of Chapman-Beverly Mill. The mill is thought to be the tallest stacked stone building in the United States. The mill was gutted by fire in 1998, but the walls have been stabilized and the remaining building is impressive.
2021 Update: The mill is closed due to road construction. Target reopening is late June 2021.
After your hike, you can relax and recover at the nearby Winery at La Grange. The winery produces wines from vineyards on the property and other Virginia locations. Try a tasting in the restored 1790s manor house. Or head outside and sip your wine from Adirondack chairs facing the vineyard. There are picnic tables and a stone fireplace area behind the manor. If it's cold, you can relax on the enclosed sun porch or the cozy (and possibly haunted) basement.
If you're looking for a more substantial meal, try the tasty barbecue at The Bone on route 29 in Gainesville. The brisket is some of the best we're ever eaten. If you want something lighter try the Smokin' Salad, with smoked turkey or hickory chicken added. The Bone also offers a nice selection of craft beer, and there's a second location in Old Town Manassas.
The historic town of Occoquan was once a bustling merchant town with mills, foundries, and a busy port. Over time, changing trade routes and a devastating fire in 1916 shifted large-scale industry away from the town. Now Occoquan is a haven for art studios, unique shops, and peaceful views along the river. Popular town events include a twice-yearly Craft Fair and Haunted Occoquan tours.
Plan your visit: 15+ Fantastic Things to Do in Historic Occoquan Virginia.
Explore the history of Occoquan on a self-guided walking tour. Be sure to stop in the quaint shops you will pass along the way. At the end of Mill Street, enjoy the views from the footbridge and visit the small Mill House museum. River Mill Park is a nice spot to relax and take a photo with the large LOVE sign.
There are several nice spots to enjoy a meal in Occoquan, but we're partial to The Secret Garden. This lovely lunch spot really is a secret, tucked a few steps from the main street. The BLT and other sandwiches are reliably good, as are the daily specials. The quiet garden patio is one of our favorite spots for outdoor dining in Northern Virginia. In cold weather, enjoy a relaxing meal in one of the cozy rooms in the converted house.
The oldest chartered town in Virginia, Colonial Dumfries was established in 1749. It was a busy port city in the late 18th century, due to its ideal location for the tobacco trade. Famous Virginians like George Washington and George Mason frequently transacted business in Dumfries. The bustling town was once home to the County courthouse and jail. In time, land erosion, silt buildup in Quantico Creek, and the shrinking tobacco trade transformed the town into a much smaller settlement.
The Weems-Botts Museum shares the history of Dumfries and everyday life from colonial Virginia through the Civil War. The museum is packed with artifacts and information about the families that give the museum its name.
Parson Weems was the first biographer of George Washington, and Benjamin Botts was a prominent lawyer. In fact, Weems created the famous cherry tree story about young George. Around Halloween, the museum hosts Haunted Dumfries tours and other special events. Check the museum website for details.
Where to Stay in Prince William County on a Weekend Getaway
With so many historic sites and beautiful hikes, Prince William County makes a nice weekend getaway in the DC region.
We stayed at the Courtyard Manassas Battlefield Park during our three-day visit. The hotel is very comfortable and the location is excellent for exploring the sites described here. The suite-style rooms are large, clean, and quiet. In the lobby, a nice lounge has a full bar and circular booths with separate TVs. It's a perfect spot for game watching or hanging out with the kids after a day out.
With so much history and nature to explore, this area of Northern Virginia is worth visiting throughout the year. What's your favorite Prince William County destination?
Discover Prince William hosted our visit to some of the businesses mentioned here. As always, all opinions, text, and photos are our own.