Peaceful Seneca Park Hiking and History in Northern Virginia

Seneca Park combines lovely woods, pretty streams, interesting Civil War history, and a stretch along the Potomac River that’s part of a designated National Scenic Trail. The park is popular with hikers, birders, and horse-lovers (there are designated trails for horseback riding). Leashed dogs are welcome on the Seneca Park trails, and we’ve seen many happy pups taking their humans for a walk here.

This hidden gem is part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park system and is located in Fairfax County at the western edge of Great Falls. While Seneca Park is not as dramatic as Great Falls Park, it is a wonderful place to hike with excellent trails and plenty of room to spread out.

Located eight miles upstream from the Great Falls of the Potomac, the park is named for the Seneca Breaks or Seneca Falls. This set of rapids is created by a 10-foot drop in the Potomac over a mile of erosion-resistant bedrock. (The park was previously referred to as Seneca Tract, and you’ll still find that name on park maps.)

This difficult to navigate section of the Potomac River still retains remnants of a channel of George Washington’s Patowmack Canal. The canal was built as part of the effort to make the Potomac navigable for trade, and this segment allowed boats to bypass the Seneca rapids.

Woodland Trails in Seneca Park

Drive all the way to the end of Seneca Road in Great Falls to reach the parking area and trailhead. The easiest path is past the gate and down the gravel road. Our recommendation is to head into the woods between the wonderful woven stick trail fence to enjoy one of several dirt trails.

The trailhead to Seneca Park, lined with woven branches, leads to excellent woodland hiking in Northern Virginia
Seneca Park Trailhead

There are trail maps at the parking area and up the short rise past the entry. Trails are marked with colored blazes but snap a quick picture of the map to help navigate.

Seneca Regional Park trail map
Seneca Park trail map

There are several trail options, all of which head toward the Potomac River. The orange-blazed Seneca Connector Trail is an easy .8-mile walk down to the river on a nicely wooded, occasionally steep path. There are a few narrow sections along the stream, but the only crossings are over metal bridges.

The wooded Seneca Connector Trail leads to the Potomac River in Seneca Park
Seneca Connector Trail
Find more NoVA hikes and parks in our guide 20 Must See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History.

Potomac Heritage Trail in Seneca Park

As you approach the river, you’ll reach a level dirt road. This wide path is great for strollers and popular with equestrians.

Horses on a bridle trail at Seneca Regional Park, Great Falls VA
Horses at Seneca Park

The path to the Potomac River is just across the road and a bit to your right. The narrow trail reenters the woods and crosses a small bridge where you’ll see the blue blazes of the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT).

If you turn right on the PHT, you could follow the river all the way to and through Riverbend Park and Great Falls Parks. (Though that would be a very long hike).

Turn left when you reach the river and you’ll enjoy pretty water views. There are two benches along this stretch of the trail where you can enjoy a peaceful break. Near the second bench are sections of a stone wall built in the late 1700s by George Washington’s Potowmack Canal Company.

Historic 1700s Patowmack Canal wall at Seneca Park
Historic Patowmack Canal wall

A bit further on there is an impressive rock ledge towering over the trail.

An impressive rock ledge towers over the trail
An impressive rock ledge towers over the trail at Seneca Park

The trail along the river in Seneca Park is mostly shady and level. The dirt path is lined with bluebells and other spring wildflowers in April and May. This area can be steamy, however, when the humidity rises in summer.

Potomac River levels vary throughout the year. In summer, water levels are very low because silty islands separate you from the main flow of the Potomac. If the Potomac River is high due to recent rains you’ll likely encounter a muddy trail so wear waterproof boots.

Spring bluebells line the PHT in Seneca Regional Park, Great Falls Virginia
Spring bluebells line the PHT in Seneca Park, Great Falls Virginia

Hike back the way you came or take one of the alternate paths back through the woods to your car. The yellow trail is very steep near the river. The blue and green trails have some nice hills and tend to be very quiet even when there are lots of hikers at the park.

History at Seneca Park in Northern Virginia

The Potomac Heritage Trail , a network of trails extending over 800 miles through .

A 1.5-mile segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail parallels sections of the river and a historic canal in Seneca Park. The designated National Scenic Trail is actually a network of trails explored by George Washington. This trail network extends 800 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and DC from the Ohio river basin to the Chesapeake.

Fairfax County contributes much of our Potomac riverfront to the PHT including Algonkian Park to Great Falls in the north, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon in the east. Additional trail segments are still being added to the network, including sections near Neabsco Creek Boardwalk and Mason Neck Peninsula.

If you hike to the river at Seneca Park, as described above, you can see segments of a historic stone wall lining a side stream. Built in the 1790s by George Washington’s Potowmack Canal Company, the wall was part of the canal system that allowed boats to bypass the Seneca rapids. A sign describes Washington’s goals for the canal.

Seneca Park Patowmack Canal sign
Seneca Park Patowmack Canal sign

In addition to George Washington history, the park is also the site of one of the most impressive achievements of the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. Informational signs tell the story of J.E.B. Stuart’s successful crossing of the Potomac at Rowser’s Ford, under the darkness of night and at great risk.

Near the parking area, interesting historical signs explain a dramatic crossing at Rowser’s Ford, “J.E.B. Stuart’s Most Difficult Achievement.” Here, 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen successfully crossed the Potomac under the darkness of night and at great risk.

Rowsers Ford sign at Seneca Park in Great Falls VA
Rowsers Ford sign at Seneca Park in Great Falls VA
Fording the river at Seneca Park
Fording the river at Seneca Park

There is no admission to Seneca Regional Park and parking at the end of Seneca Road is free. Seneca Regional Park is at 101 Seneca Road Great Falls, Virginia 22066. Find more information on the NOVA Parks website. Happy hiking!

Explore more of the Potomac Heritage Trail and Great Falls with these related articles:

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Seneca Regional Park in Northern Virginia offers hikers, birders, and equestrians beautiful woodland trails and an historic section of the Potomac River.
Seneca Park in Northern Virginia

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