Seneca Regional Park in Great Falls, VA

Seneca Regional Park in Great Falls, VA

Seneca Regional Park is one of my favorite hiking spots in Fairfax County. You will find folks riding horses, mountain biking or hiking through the park. There are multiple signs throughout the park teaching patrons about the history of the park. The remaining portion of George Washington’s Potowmack Canal is also part of the parks history and can be found on the signs in the park.

Address: 101 Seneca Rd, Great Falls, VA 22066

Seneca Regional Park is part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. They have a great map of the trials including the Potomac Heritage Trail that runs along the Potomac River. The terrain ranges from small to medium hills with gravel and dirt trails. Parts of the trail along the Potomac can get muddy if it’s been raining. The Potomac Heritage Trail can be used to head to Algonkian Regional Park and Riverbend Park. On the day of the photos we had a few days of rain so the Potomac River inlets were pretty high. There are some great places along the river for the kids to see the river safely. Strollers would be a no go for this park but a backpack for the kids would be perfect. No restrooms at this park though.

Get out and enjoy a beautiful park just outside your doorstep!

Poplar Tree Park in Chantilly, VA

Poplar Tree Park in Chantilly, VA

Last week we checked out Poplar Tree Park in Chantilly, VA. This Fairfax County Park is located off Stringfellow Road between Route 50 and Route 29. The park is located amongst older single family homes and newer planned communites including townhomes, condos, and single family homes.

Address: 4619-4699 Stringfellow Rd, Chantilly, VA 20151

Poplar Tree Park is more of a sports park complex but it does have a set of equipment for the kids to play on. The park has 4 softball/baseball fields, two turf soccer/football fields, grass soccer field and walking/hiking trails. The park does have clean restrooms and not porta potties. The playground equipment is newer. But there was plenty of shade for the equipment during the morning hours.

I probably won’t return to the park but for a local community park this one has a lot to offer local sports clubs. The fields are in great shape with lots of bleachers for spectators.

Difficult Run Stream Valley Park in Mclean, VA

Difficult Run Stream Valley Park in Mclean, VA

Over the summer we went hiking in one of my favorite spots in Mclean, Difficult Run Stream Valley Park. Along Georgetown Pike not far from Great Falls National Park you’ll find a small parking lot. This parking lot is used for the Difficult Run Stream Valley Park. The Difficult Run Trail is part of the Cross County Trail and the last section that leads across Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.

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8801 Georgetown Pike, Mclean, VA 22102

Difficult Run

The trail heads along Difficult Run and has plenty of smaller trails that you walk along. The main Difficult Run Trail runs along the water way and is a large trail that would be rough with a jogging stroller so a backpack or little legs are the best way to get along. The views depending on the water level are very pretty. The day we went the water level was low and you could see lots of rocks.

Difficult Run

Difficult Run

Difficult Run

 The day we went we walked along the Difficult Run Trail which leads you under Georgetown Pike and into the Great Falls Park if you take the right trails. We headed along the Ridge Trail to the Old Carriage Trail. The best part of all this hiking is the signage and maps along the way. On the Ridge Trail you can find Equestrian turn outs where you can pen up your horses for a break. While we were hiking we passed several park rangers on bike and foot. If you are a geocacher there were plenty of caches to find along the way.

Difficult Run

Difficult Run

 This hiking spot is great for a casual stroll and or a rigorous workout. There were plenty of folks running and biking through the trails. Check it out when the weather is nice!

John Byers Park in Alexandria, VA!

John Byers Park in Alexandria, VA!

Williamsburg Manor Park recently renamed John Byers Park in Alexandria is a small natural park with Little Hunting Creek running through it. The playground equipment and basketball court are located towards Collingwood Road. The 25 acre park has a few hiking trails near the creek.

2213 Collingwood Rd., Alexandria, VA 22308

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“Old Sign Picture”

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The playground is located just off the Collingwood Rd. There is no parking lot and I was forced to park along the shoulder to get to the playground. The equipment is in decent shape but the unlit basketball court is sad shape and is need of a new net and paving. A hiking trail entrance is located along the tree line. We saw several people walking their dogs down the trail.

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A small park but a nice spot to stop and have the kids blow off some steam. There is plenty of grass in between the road and the play equipment if you have a runner….:)

Draper Drive Park in Fairfax, VA!

Draper Drive Park in Fairfax, VA!

A BIG Thank you to our Guest Reviewer, Allie Higgins, for reviewing Draper Drive Park in the City of Fairfax!

Allie Higgins is a mom of two young energetic boys who love to run and play.  Together, they enjoy hiking, biking, swimming and going to the many parks in the area.  Allie has been in the DC/NOVA area for over 10 years; she is writer/researcher and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University.

Draper Drive Park in the City of Fairfax was, until recently, only soccer fields and walking trails; however, the city has now added a playground that is a fun addition to the park.
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The playground area is set up on part mulch and part rubber surfaces and includes swings and the main play structures even have shade canopies for the equipment. If your children like to get dizzy, there are several spinning pieces and if they prefer to climb, there are climbing walls as well. Slides and monkey bars make this playground complete. There are numerous park benches and two porta-potties adjacent to the playground.
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 The soccer field is synthetic turf with goals and bleachers along the fields. Additionally, there is a paved run/walk/bike trail that encircles the park. I especially liked that you can see the entire trail from the playground. While my younger son was swinging, I could still watch my older son ride his bike around the loop. Similarly, if you are at the park to watch a soccer match, you can see the all of the fields from the playground, so that makes it fun for all! This is a great park to check out if you are in the Fairfax area.

Bluemont Community Center Park in Bluemont, VA!

Bluemont Community Center Park in Bluemont, VA!

If you have ever headed to Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA you most likely passed right by the Bluemont Community Center. Many times we have driven by and never stopped because the kids were pooped out from running all over the farm. This time my oldest insisted we stop in and see what  it was all about. They both were hooked when they saw the caboose located right next to the basketball court.

Address: 33846 Snickersville Turnpike, Bluemont, VA 20135

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The community center was a schoolhouse that opened in 1923 and ran until the 60’s. In 1988 community interest helped it become the community center it is today. The community center offers licensed preschool, childcare and after school programs. For more information you can find their phone number and info here.

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 The playground area has several newer looking pieces of equipment including swings, lots of slides and climbing apparatuses. It does have a small fence to keep the little ones inside. There is plenty of shade up against building and you can go inside to use the public restrooms during business hours. There is a preschool and daycare that works out of this facility so at times there may be extra kids playing out on the playground. A fun aspect of the park area is the old caboose that sits adjacent to the full basketball court. The kids can walk up and check it out. There are plenty of picnic tables if you want to pack a lunch or snack in the large grassy area.

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Bluemont

Bluemont Community Center Park is a  fun park located in beautiful Bluemont, VA!

Big Walnut Park in Arlington, VA!

Big Walnut Park in Arlington, VA!

Big Walnut Park in Arlington, Virginia is located in between homes and has plenty of parking on the street if you drive over. Bring your dump trucks! There is a great sand box for the kids to play in and normally folks have left their old trucks and sand toys for everyone to play.

Address: 1915 N Harrison StArlington, VA 22207

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Big Walnut

Arlington County has some really fantastic parks and the equipment is so different from the traditional swing and slides. In addition to the sand box there  is great climbing equipment. There are no swings at this park but plenty for the kids to do. There is a small merry-go-round with a compressed rubber mat flooring. Most of the ground cover is either compressed rubber or mulch. There is a fair amount of shade around the park including a small gazebo and older trees. In addition to the gazebo there are picnic benches or concrete steps to sit on. If you need a large grassy area there is a nice area for the kids to play soccer or even just tag. No restrooms at this park which is kind of a bummer.

Big Walnut

Big Walnut

Big Walnut

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Big Walnut

Big Walnut

I can’t say enough about Arlington County’s Parks. They are usually in great condition and the play equipment is unique and fun for all!

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park in Leesburg, VA!

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park in Leesburg, VA!

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park is a great spot to hike with the family. There is plenty of history throughout the park and tons of signs that can be read for information. Strollers would not make it in this area but a backpack for the little ones would work well. Every Saturday and Sunday from April 4 through November 29 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. a guided tour around the battlefield. The program is free and no advance registration is required. The tour focuses on the tragic Battle of Ball’s Bluff in 1861.

Here is a trail map of the park……CLICK HERE The Potomac Heritage Trail passes right through the park and continues in both directions along the Potomac River.

Address: Ball’s Bluff Road, Leesburg, VA 20176

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Balls Bluff

The 170-acre park has no restrooms inside the park but during the tour season of April to November there are Porta Potties in the parking lot. The park is a trash in and trash out park with no trash receptacles. Also be careful as you are driving in and out as the road is narrow heading to and from the parking lot.

My family and I really enjoy hiking in this park. The boys like to head down the trail to the river and I like that there are several different trails to take that aren’t too difficult for the younger ones. The boys really enjoy reading all the informational and trail head signs.

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Balls Bluff

Ball’s Bluff is a hidden gem in Leesburg. If you’re looking for small trails to start the little ones on, this is a good place start. If you’re also looking for some local history this is a great place to hike.

Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD!

Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD!

This is the start of our new series of Hiking parks near and around the DC Metro Area. The level of hiking will be aimed towards the older kids and adults. I would like to welcome Celeste Otsuka as our guest reviewer. Celeste does a lot of hiking, running and overall exploration of the best hiking spots that can be driven to over a weekend.

I live and work in Reston, VA, where I enjoy running on the many trails near my  neighborhood early in the morning with my obnoxious headlamp.  As a child, I fell in love with the idea of hiking after seeing the play “Into the Woods”, then quickly realized the two were not related.  Now, I largely solo hike on every type of trail – from those strenuous enough to include some difficult rock scrambling to what I term “nature walks”.  Seven backpacks later, I’m convinced I’m ready to start another big adventure. -Celeste Otsuka

First up in Celeste’s Hiking Series is Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD. Not very far from the VA line and a beautiful drive through Lucketts, VA and Point of Rocks, MD.

Address: 6602 Foxville Road, Thurmont, MD 21788

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On New Year’s Day, I set off for a First Day Hike.  The park I selected was Catoctin Mountain Park, which is located in Thurmont, MD (about an hour and 15 minute drive from the Reston, VA area).  The drive itself is quite scenic and really lended itself to the experience.  One should note that Camp David (yes THAT Camp David) is located on the Catoctin Montain Park grounds, however, it is not marked, and I’m not sure how happy they are when visitors actively look for it.

As it was New Year’s Day, the park’s Visitor Center was closed (as were all the restroom facilities on site).  Visitors to the park should always check the website, facebook, or twitter prior to going for any updates (including closures due to presidential visits).  Prior to actually coming to the park, I had selected the 8 Mile Loop from the park’s website.  I kept trail map up on my phone while I was hiking.  I have Verizon cellular coverage, and I never experienced any issues with dead zones and had LTE for most of my visit.  While the Visitor Center is likely usually well stocked with maps, it was not that day – so I was glad to have the map on my phone.

8 Mile Loop Map  http://www.nps.gov/cato/planyourvisit/upload/8mileloop.pdf

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Catoctin Mountain Park borders Cunningham Falls State Park (where Cunningham Falls is located).  The trail loop that I followed made a stop at the falls within the first two miles.  Note that Catoctin is a National Park and Cunningham Falls is a State Park – there are slight differences in park rules that visitors should be aware of.

As I went during winter and fairly early in the morning (I arrived to the park around 8:00am), there were very few other visitors, and I did not encounter other people on the trails until about 3 miles into my hike.  There are certain parts of the trail that offer a decent ascent/descent, but overall, if you hike the trail in a clockwise manner as I did, I found it to be a more moderate than strenuous hike.  However, the trail itself is very rocky, so I’d still suggest wearing hiking boots with good ankle support.

As far as scenery goes, the trail is heavily wooded with interesting rock formations that jut out over most of the trail.  There are several vistas and large rock formations of interest that are pointed out by the trail map.  Each location is well marked on the trail with distance markers.  The trail itself is fairly well worn, so even beginning hikers should have no problems navigating the trails.  The section of the trail that winds from the Park Headquarters back to the Visitor Center is both very rocky and somewhat underused.  However, that section is blazed with blue ties on the trees, so hikers can find their way through.

Prior to coming to the park, I did read reviews that the park is pretty riddled with ticks in the summer months, but in the winter, there were very few bugs in sight!  This is a great hike for a chilly fall/winter day.  I’d suggest going early to avoid crowds.

Potomac Crossing Park in Leesburg, VA!

Potomac Crossing Park in Leesburg, VA!

Potomac Crossing Park is the latest edition to Loudoun County. The park includes playground, picnic pavilion, and plenty of hiking trails. Located in the Potomac Crossing neighborhood it offers a nice sidewalks to walk to the park and a large parking lot for visitors.

Address: End of Shanks Evan Rd NE, Leesburg, VA

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The playground offers a nice array of different equipment for the kids to play on. A school-aged and pre-school aged equipment with are set up inside the mulch based play area. Also there is a neat slide that is set up at the top of small grassy hill that slides the kids back into the playground area. A modern day merry-go-round has the option of sitting and standing and was a hit with my kiddos. There is a large picnic pavilion available for rental and a porta potty near the parking lot.

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The best part of the park in my opinion is the access to the hiking trials. You can get on any of the trails and hit the Potomac Heritage Trail that travels up and down the Potomac River and also you can hike over to Balls Bluff Regional Park. Signage is available to point you in the right direction. The trails are all natural trails and not stroller friendly. If you have new little hikers a backpack carrier would be perfect. Most of the trail to a point is flat and would be fun for the walkers. As you get deeper into the park beware that as you get closer to the Potomac there is a straight drop off. Currently right now the trail along the bluff is covered in leaves and slick. We chose to skip this trail only because I didn’t have a second set of hands to make sure everyone stayed safe. This is only the trail closest to the river and there are plenty of other trails for the kids to enjoy.

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We did end up hiking over to Balls Bluff Regional Park since it was such a nice day and the trees were gorgeous. If you haven’t ventured to the new Potomac Crossing Park I would highly recommend coming and checking it out!