Hike Seneca Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail in Northern VA

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

Trail Map for Seneca Park in Great Falls VA
Trail Map for Seneca Park in Great Falls VA

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.

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

Trailhead in Seneca Regional Park, Great Falls VA
Trailhead in Seneca Regional Park, Great Falls VA

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 crossing is over a metal bridge that should be passable even after rain.

Stream beside the orange trail in Seneca Park
Stream beside the orange trail in Seneca Park
Exposed ledge on the orange trail at Seneca Regional Park
Exposed ledge on the orange trail at Seneca Regional Park

[box type=”note”]Find more NoVA hikes and parks in our guide 20 Must See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History[/box]

Potomac Heritage Trail in Seneca Park

As you approach the river, you’ll reach a level dirt road. Cross the road and follow the path to the Potomac River.

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

When you reach the river, you join the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT), a network of trails extending over 800 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and DC. Fairfax County contributes much of our Potomac riverfront to the PHT including Seneca Tract to Great Falls in the north, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon in the east.

[box type=”info”]Find more riverside hikes in our guide to Potomac Heritage Trail Hikes in Northern Virginia.[/box]

Turn right on the PHT and 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 pass sections of stone wall built in the 1700s by George Washington’s Potowmack Canal Company. Keep an eye out for a historic sign and a bench with a nice view of the Seneca breaks, a small section of rapids.

1700s canal wall at Seneca Park Great Falls VA
1700s canal wall at Seneca Park Great Falls VA
Seneca Park Patowmack Canal sign
Seneca Park Patowmack Canal sign

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 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

Before you leave the parking area, read the interesting historical signs about the crossing at Rowser’s Ford, “J.E.B. Stuart’s Most Difficult Achievement.” 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen successfully crossed the Potomac here, under 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. Happy hiking! Please share your tips and feedback in the comments below.

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.

This article was published in 2014 and updated in 2019.

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