The Lake Thoreau Loop Trail is a 2-mile paved path that circles one of Reston Virginia’s four lakes as it meanders along neighborhood paths. The trail offers some lovely lake views and a good mix of hills and level trail, for a nice workout in a short distance.
Reston Association calls this route the Red Trail, and it is well signed and fairly easy to navigate. We like this walk in all seasons. The trail includes a mix of shade and sun, and the path is well-maintained and kept clear by the Association. The only time we did not enjoy this walk was after an icy winter storm when it is just too slick.
You will almost always see dog walkers and adult groups on the route around the lake. The Lake Thoreau loop trail is also a good option for a hike with kids, as long as they don’t mind tackling some hills. Some of the hilly sections are quite steep, so this route would be a real challenge with a stroller.
Find an alternate trail in our guide to Stroller-Friendly Trails in Northern Virginia.
Lake Thoreau Loop Trail Details
Park in the South Lakes Village Center to begin your walk, and you’ll have nice options for coffee, drinks, or a bite to eat when you return. Walk between Cafesano and Red’s Table to the lakefront and the start of the trail. You’ll often see families and couples enjoying this spot.
Turn right on the trail behind Cafesano, heading up a hill into a neighborhood. Keep a lookout for the signs that mark the trail route. Follow the arrows, heading left onto a path that fronts the northern end of the lake. Enjoy a nice view of the lake before the path loops up to Sunrise Valley Drive.
Turn left on Sunrise Valley Drive and follow the path steeply downhill and up to the Lake Thoreau Pool. Reston has 22 public pools, and you will likely find this one hopping on a hot summer day. At the top of the parking area, carefully cross Upper Lake Drive and head up the hill.
At the top of the hill, the path turns left, passing an open play-field. There is one tricky connection ahead. When you reach Upper Lake Drive, cross the street and turn left, walking a few yards then turning right back onto the trail. Keep an eye out for one of those helpful Red Trail markers.
The next section of the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail passes a tot lot as it curves to the left. Further on the golf course appears on your right, as you walk downhill to a small bridge. Stay left where the path forks, keeping off of the golf cart path.
The bridge offers a view of the western end of Lake Thoreau. This is an excellent place to spot geese, turtles, and small fish in the lake. Gather your energy, as you are about to climb the steepest hill on the walk. The path here is really steep, but fortunately not for long.
After you cross Purple Beech Drive the trail reaches the Purple Beech Recreation Area and turns left. There is a nice playground, and in spring and summer, the trail is bordered by lovely wildflowers frequented by butterflies.
Climb another, less steep hill and stay left, passing Lake Ridge Pool. South Lakes Middle School and High School fields are across the street on your right. This section of the trail meanders through neighborhoods and past some pretty gardens. There are quite a few street crossings, but they’re mostly driveways so traffic is not a problem.
When lake views open up to your left you are almost back to South Lakes Drive. Turn left at the corner of the lake and enjoy pretty views along the lakefront.
This is a popular fishing spot, and there are several benches and one picnic table available. Most pleasant evenings you’ll see people enjoying the lake on pontoon boats, kayaks, canoes, and SUPs. The lakefront is also a great place to catch a sunset.
When you reach the end of the lakefront turn left, back into the South Lakes Village Center, and the end of the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail. It could be time to reward yourself with a meal or drink at local restaurants Cafesano, Red’s Table, Lakeside Asia, or Flippin’ Pizza. The center also has a Starbucks, Chipotle, Subway, and Safeway.
Read our full guide to 10 Tasty Reston Restaurants now!
Tips for Your Walk on the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail
Visit the Reston Association website for information on this and other Reston paths, including this excellent Red Trail map:
- As we noted above, the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail does not offer continuous lake views. The final section along the lakefront has beautiful open views of the lake, but much of the trail is in wooded neighborhoods away from the lake.
- There are three tot lots along the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail. The tot lots are a nice perk if you have children along and they need extra motivation to tackle the next hill. Encourage your kids to explore more of the town with “tour guide” Robert E. Squirrel in the cute book Reston A to Z.
- If you would prefer a more level stroller and bike-friendly Reston path, we highly recommend a walk through the nearby Glade Stream Valley.
- All docks around Lake Thoreau are private. Enjoy views from the trail, but stay off the docks.
- The trail passes very near one of the tees at the Reston National Golf Course. I’ve never seen a ball flying my way, but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out.
- You will encounter crowds of middle and high school kids on the trail when school gets out. Go Seahawks! It’s the preferred route from school to Starbucks and the other stores at the South Lakes Village Center.
The South Lakes Village Shopping Center is located on Sunrise Valley Drive near Sunrise Valley Road, about a mile from the Reston Wiehle-East metro station. We hope you enjoy your walk around the Lake Thoreau Loop Trail. Strolling the pathways is one of our favorite things to do in Reston Virginia.
Plan your visit with our full guide to Top 10 Things to Do in Reston Virginia.