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With 9,000 acres of national, state and regional parkland, the Mason Neck peninsula in Fairfax County, Northern Virginia is an overachiever of exploring fun. One of our FuninFairfaxVa Facebook friends described Mason Neck as “the hidden heaven in NoVA,” and we don’t disagree.
Hiking and bird watching are two favorite activities for exploring the peninsula, both in Mason Neck State Park and the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge. Both parks offer peaceful, shady hikes and gorgeous views of diverse waterways. The park refuge was one of the first in the country established specifically to protect bald eagles, and we were lucky enough to see adult and juvenile bald eagles at the state park during one visit.
Mason Neck State Park
Stop in at the Visitor Center for a trail map and a nice overview of the area, some interactive displays and touchable fun for the kids, and beautiful views of Belmont Bay.
Many first-time visitors and families like the mile-long Bay View loop trail, which combines views of the bay with inland exploration. The trail is popular for a reason, featuring beautiful scenery and long boardwalks as you transition from Bay to marsh to woods. The marshes here are particularly lovely when the foliage transitions to fall colors.
In spring and summer, we like to hike out the Kane’s Creek and Eagle Spur trails, which end at a bird blind overlooking Kane’s Creek. This is where we watched cruising bald eagles, red-winged blackbirds and dragonflies and enjoyed the peace. The hike to Kane’s Creek is 2 miles each way, shady the entire time, and moderately hilly so it’s good for active adults and kids.
For a shorter and easier view, stroll the quarter-mile Marsh View Trail, which ends at a large platform overlooking the marsh at the upper end of Kane’s Creek. The platform is shady, peaceful and a fantastic spot to watch the birds.
If you don’t want to hike, Mason Neck State Park also offers biking, boating, fishing, playground and picnic areas, and ranger-led activities. You can rent bikes and boats at the Visitor Center.
Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Driving out from the state park, we stopped at the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, on your right as you leave the park. The park’s name honors the activist who fought to preserve this area from threatened development, providing a refuge for bald eagles and other wildlife. The refuge is home to the 250 acre Great Marsh, one of the largest fresh water marshes on the Potomac River.
We hiked the 3-mile round-trip Woodmarsh trail—more wood than marsh—and were a little disappointed in the limited views of the wetlands.
For a better marsh view, you can also walk the paved, 3/4-mile Great Marsh Trail, accessible from further south on Gunston Road. There is a lage platform at the end of the trail with expansive views of the Great Marsh.
If you have the platform to yourself, like we did, you can soak up the silence and feel a million miles from the nearby burbs.