These short walks have been a great way for us to get outside and active, without having to pack the car full of camping gear for the night. Both of our jobs have kept us relatively active, but some days (even weeks) at work were spent completely behind a desk. While driving the 2 hour drive to the Shenandoah Mountains is rewarding, it’s sometimes the last thing we want to do after a long week. These quick hikes, close to home, have held us over between our bigger adventures. These parks are not only a great way to see the fall foliage but have led us to really appreciate the efforts made towards conservation of public lands. Dan and I would be lost without these pockets of nature scattered throughout the DMV.
Part of the National Park Service and supported heavily by the Accokeek Foundation, Piscataway Park is a quick trip over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Maryland. There’s a reason why students all over the DMV come to this park for field trips. On a clear day, you will have views of George Washington’s Mount Vernon across the Potomac River. All the trails in the park combined come in at about five miles but we spread the trails out over a couple of visits because of the park’s proximity. The Paw Paw trail will get you the best views of fall foliage, but the Riverview and Pumpkin Ash Trails will reward you with views of the Potomac. The park also has a colonial farm, livestock (including pigs, sheep, chicken, cows), gardens, and educational programs. Don’t forget to check out the Accokeek Boardwalk.
We stayed in the Southern Tract during our visit to the Patuxent Research Refuge and hiked the Loop Trail and the Cash Lake Trail > Valley Trail > Fire Road Trail. It was a beautiful walk around the lake and through some foliage. Be sure to stay on the trails during hunting season! There’s plenty of wildlife and if you feel like spying on some birds, you can hide behind the wildlife observation blind. The best part about this place was that we had it almost completely to ourselves during peak foliage. We thought, “Where is everybody? They’re missing out on this!?”
Jones Point Park is special to us. It’s one of the first spots we went for a “hike” when we first started dating. The company we both worked for had the contract to make major improvements and upgrades to the park after the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. There’s a ton of history at the location, including a lighthouse from Alexandria’s shipping days. Walk about a mile into the heart of Old Town Alexandria for lunch, walk two miles to Belle Haven Marina and launch a kayak, or stick around and enjoy a picnic.
The best part about the U.S. National Arboretum is that every time we visit, we see something different. The worst part about this place is the lack of information available – especially quality maps. This is one of our favorite places to just wander aimlessly. There’s tons to see, but you may not know EXACTLY where you’re going. There are usually paper maps available at the trail entrances for each individual section of the arboretum (i.e. Fern Valley, Asian Collections, Friendship Garden etc.) but don’t count on it. They often run out. Follow the path and you won’t get lost. Be sure to check out the original National Capitol Columns while you’re there. We walked the trails of the Azalea section for this visit.
Huntley Meadows is a neighborhood staple and you’ll often find local families from the neighborhood going for afternoon walks. You could probably walk all the trails in this park in one day – but it’s worth a visit. The Heron Trail has an elevated boardwalk over wetlands which leads to an observation tower. It’s a great place to take a seat, look out over the water, and see the color change in the trees. Like other land in the area, this park has history tied to it. The land was once owned by George Mason and is now owned and managed by Fairfax County. The Norma Hoffman Visitor Center is worth a stop.
Comment below or shoot us an email if you have any recommendations for new spots to check out.