Trailhead Seneca Tract

Seneca Tract and Potomac Heritage Trail

Seneca Tract (aka 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).

Trail Map Seneca Tract

Trail Map Seneca Tract


Woodland Trails in Seneca Tract

Drive all the way to the end of Seneca Road in Great Falls to reach the parking area and trailhead. You can walk by the gate and down the gravel road or, our recommendation, head into the woods between a cool-looking trail fence and up a short rise to the trail map signs. The trails are marked with colored blazes, but you might want to snap a quick picture of the map to help navigate like we did.

Trailhead Seneca Tract

Trailhead Seneca Tract

We followed one of the orange-blazed Seneca Connector Trails down to the river on a nicely wooded, occasionally steep path. There are some narrow sections along the stream but the only crossing is over a metal bridge that should be passable even after rain. Older kids will enjoy climbing on the ledge and exposed bedrock beside the trail. Keep an eye out for snakes (this one’s not harmful) and other critters as you walk.

Potomac Heritage Trail

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.

Head right on the PHT and you can follow the river all the way to and through Riverbend and Great Falls Parks (though that would be a very long hike). Head left and you’ll pass sections of the old Potowmack Canal, spearheaded by George Washington, before passing into Algonkian Park.

The trail along the river in the Seneca Tract area is a mostly shady and level dirt path that gets steamy when the humidity is up. River water levels can get very low here because silty islands separate you from the main flow of the Potomac. If the water is high due to recent rains you’ll likely encounter a very muddy trail.

You can hike back the way you came or take one of the alternate paths back through the woods to your car. Before you leave, 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 Seneca Tract

Rowsers Ford Seneca Tract

Fording the river Seneca Tract

Fording the river Seneca Tract

For such a vast and interesting national trail network, the PHT has one of the most unusable online maps we’ve ever encountered (click the Trail Map option on the left), and there isn’t a lot of good online info about the Seneca Tract trails either. The Virginia Piedmont PHT map gives you the broader context, and the map at the top of this article shows additional detail of other Seneca Tract trails.

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