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

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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.

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Difficult Run

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 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

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 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!

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!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, VA!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, VA!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, VA is a family favorite for us. It has a very interesting history going back to the 60’s. Once the owners and citizens around the tract of land learned it was going to be developed into 309 homes they stepped up to stop and building. In the end the land became property of the U.S. Department of the Interior which then handed it off to Fairfax County Park Authority. For a more detailed history of the Preserve, click here.

There are two entrances to the park, the west entrance is much larger but the east entrance is right off of  495.

Address: 7400 Georgetown Park, McLean, VA

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Today we parked at the East Parking Lot and walked along the trail until we hit the River Trail entrance near the West Parking Lot. The Nature Preserve river trail has several water crossings that have cement blocks to walk across if the water is high. Families who hike the trails would need to have backpack carriers or little ones that can walk on their own. There is a pretty steep incline and decline to the Potomac River but if the younger crowd just wants to see the creek and rock areas there are plenty of areas that are flat for them to hike on. My boys who are 4 and 5 got a little tired towards the end but we walked a pretty good distance and I swear they ran up the steep incline both coming and going. The Potomac Heritage Scenic Trail runs through the reserve. The hiking areas are really pretty in the Spring time with the natural flowers that bloom throughout the Preserve. Fall Time is even prettier when the leaves change. One thing you need to look out for is that water naturally runs through the preserve through a creek and you cross at several spots. When water is high it could be dangerous to cross so just pay attention when you head out to the preserve.

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If you’re into geocaching there are plenty of caches for you to find. When we were there a couple families were hunting for caches along the trail. A very lovely hike and if you make it all the way to Potomac River there is a small waterfall and riverbank to checkout. If you love hiking or just strolling through the woods this is an awesome place to take friends and family!

Accotink Stream Valley Trail in Fairfax, VA!

Accotink Stream Valley Trail in Fairfax, VA!

When we were tooling around Fairfax heading toward the different portions of Eakin Community Park we headed out onto the Accotink Stream Valley Trail. This portion of the trail is part of the larger Cross County Trail plan or CCT. The CCT is 40 miles long, running from the Potomac River in Great Falls Park to Occoquan River in the Occoquan Regional Park. There is some great facts about the CCT on the Fairfax County Park Authority website and other Trail Maps around the counties, if you’re curious and want more information click here.

Accotink Strean Valley Trail Map 

This portion of the CCT takes you along the trail from Pickett Road in Fairfax where you can enter the path at Thaiss Memorial Park all the way to Little River Turnpike (Rt 236) ending at Wakefield Park in Annandale.

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AREAS WHERE YOU CAN PARK Address: 3417 Pickett Rd, Fairfax, VA 22031

3400 ProsperityAve, Fairfax, VA 22031

8515 Tobin Rd, Annandale, VA 22003

We picked a nice day to head out on the 4.2-mile trail and just walk in the shade of the trees. The path is paved and flat with several small bridges to cross over. There were tons of people running, biking or just letting the kids run up and down the path. The wooded area along the trail was pretty moist from the past days of rain and we noticed it was kind of buggy in parts. I bet during the spring time or when there is a small breeze the bugs are not an issue. Homes can be seen from the parts of the trail and you do cross over a few roads but there are large crosswalks for pedestrian safety. Along the way are info signs with information regarding the trail or things like a description of poison ivy and why it makes you itch…:)

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There are a couple parks along this portion of trail, Thaiss Memorial Park which has a school aged piece of play equipment and Eakin Community Park which has a playground with slides and swings. There are restrooms at the Thaiss Memorial Park (porta potty) and Eakin Community Park (porta potty) at the Tobin Rd location.

My kids had a fun time running along the path, checking out the creek that runs under the small bridges and of course seeing the deer throughout the trail area. (HINT: There is a deer in this picture, see if you can find it….:) ) One thing I have to mention are the signs along the trail noting that Deer Management for Archery Hunters begins in Sept and runs through February.

Enjoy the outdoors in the middle of the suburbs!

Long Branch Nature Center & Park in Arlington, VA!

Long Branch Nature Center & Park in Arlington, VA!

We love the Arlington County Nature Centers and Long Branch Nature Center is pretty awesome inside. They have a large classroom, live animal exhibits, indoor Koi Pond with turtles and Children’s Discovery Room. Outside they have nature and paved trails along the stream plus a viewing pond. Here is a map to that shows you the Nature Center compared to the parks around the area.

Address: 625 S Carlin Springs Rd ArlingtonVA 22204 

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The kids had a fun time walking around the Nature Center. They have a lot of live animal exhibits including an indoor Koi Pond and Discovery Room. The best part is that the indoor space is a nice getaway from the weather outside with clean restrooms. They are closed on Mondays but open from 10-5 Tue-Saturday and 1-5 on Sundays.

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After spending a good amount of time at the Nature Center we headed out on the trails. Before we hit the paved trail we came across a small kids area with a sandbox and stumps to climb on. Inside the sand box were plenty of sand toys to play with.  Small nature trails surround the Nature Center or you can head out on the Paved Trail that leads to Glencarlyn Park and access to the W&OD Trail. The Glencarlyn Dog Park can also be accessed from the trail system too.

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A neat feature at the beginning of the trail was the Trail Tales. A children’s book is broken up into different signs and by the end of the trail the kids and you have read a full book. My youngest was running up to every post begging me to read the Beetle book.

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As you can tell by the pictures the area is just beautiful and my pics don’t do it justice. Here is a map to show you where the parks connect and also where the streams meet up. If you’re looking for a nice nature hike, bike ride or just a leisurely stroller walk check out the area around Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington,VA!

Cub Run Stream Valley Park in Centreville, VA!

A follower of NoVA  Outdoors, Suzanne Leonard, wanted to put together her review on a favorite park and trail system. Thank you Suzanne! Cub Run Stream Valley Park in Centreville is mostly a trail park but does have one playground area in all of the 800-acres. Here is a map of the area.

Address: 5501 Sully Park Drive, Centreville, VA 20120 (Look for the trail between Kamputa and Deer Pond Rd)

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So, how do you get to this awesome trail? There is a very hidden, but great access point on Sully Park Drive in Centreville. The public can park for free along Sully Park Drive, which features marked parking lanes along the entirety of the right and left sides of the road. Once parked, look for the very inconspicuous and barely marked trail entry point on Sully Park Drive between Kamputa Drive and Deer Pond Road. The trail immediately dips down a sharp little hill and, after a very short walk bordering housing, you will see the playground and basketball court before entering the truly wooded trail. Keep going until you hit the cement cylinder bridge crossing the stream to start really experiencing the park’s natural wonders.

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So, why venture to this hidden gem? It’s not only large—offering more than 800 acres of preserved natural beauty—but it also offers miles (5 miles north trail and 2.5 miles on the south trail) of paved, family friendly biking/hiking trails and is home to the largest Bluebell flower organism on the East Coast.

The trails are great for running, bike riding, or just taking a leisurely stroll. The park boarder is lined with residential neighborhoods, but once you commit to walking deeper into the trail system, the winding trails are surrounded by forest on both sides. There are many nice sights to see along the trail, including a historic stone bridge and picturesque Cub Run Stream, which in some places you have to cross via “fair weather” stepping stones.

The park’s most attractive sight is only available in April each year when the enormous stand of bluebells blooms for one to three weeks. Heralding in the coming of Spring, at this time of year the trees still all have wintery bare branches making the acres-wide carpet of striking blue bells truly breath taking. It is a great time to bring the family for a bluebell picnic along the stream’s bank and to capture some truly amazing family photos.

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Stick to the Northern side of the park to take in the largest swaths of bluebells in addition to the largest stretches of deep woods trails. There is also a small playground on the Northern side of the park and a basketball court. The playground is great for really little guys, as it is not very high off the ground and has a wide ramp for them to explore.

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Cub Run Stream Valley Park in Centreville, VA is a very large green area in Fairfax County surrounded by many different neighborhoods including Virginia Run, Sully Station and London Towne West. If you live nearby or are just looking for a place to get out into nature, check out Cub Run Stream Valley Park in Centreville, VA.

Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, VA!

Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, VA!

Occoquan Regional Park is a great park to visit.  This park offers over 400 acres and a few historical elements as well.  We will definitely be back to this park as our visit was cut short due to a rain storm.

9751 Ox Road, Lorton, VA 22079

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This park has so much to offer and is one of the few parks that serves as an entrance with multiple routes both regional and national.  Their are several trails such as the Occoquan Water Trail, Fairfax Cross-Country Trail and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Although we weren’t able to participate in the Roving Naturalist Program, this is a definite must do for our next visit.  This program offers guided nature walks, hikes, canoe and kayak tours and live animal programs.  Occoquan Regional park has athletic fields, batting cages, kayak rentals,boating and fishing .  We are looking forward to re-visiting this park and spending a day fishing.  You can fish largemouth bass, carp, crappie, catfish, striped bass and perch.  Fishing is allowed from the dock or shore line and of course by boat.  There is a boat launch (with boat fees).  There is a snack bar with a great view of the water (open seasonally).  Occoquan also has baseball, softball and soccer fields.  Here is a link to their field fees.

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Turning Point Plaza, a memorial dedicated to the suffragists imprisoned at the Occoquan Workhouse, part of the Lorton Prison Complex was open in 2008.

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**There are a few rentals that can be made at Occoquan Regional Park. See below. **

Waterfront Trellis

Shelter Rentals

Gazebo Rentals

Claude Moore Park in Sterling, VA!

Claude Moore Park in Sterling, VA!

Claude Moore Park in Sterling,VA has many things you can do at the 357-acre park. There are two entrances to the park including the northern natural hiking and picnicking entrance and the southern Sportsplex and Rec Center entrance. The Rec Center has a great indoor fun pool with a slide and play area. Adult fitness area, competition pool, basketball courts, rock climbing wall, indoor track, classes and camps. You can also find the Heritage Farm Museum when you drive past the Rec Center. The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum has great kids area where they can pretend to milk a cow, run a general store, and ride race horses.

******PAVILION RENTAL INFORMATION******

Address: 21544 Old Vestal’s Gap Rd. Sterling, VA 20164 

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We were more interested in the hiking and fishing portion of the park. We were also looking for new geocaches to find with the kids. There is a cute visitor center with different types of fish and amphibians for them to look at in the Discovery Room. Also there are clean indoor restrooms inside the visitor center. Outside you’ll find 11-miles of hiking trails, Lanesville Historic District buildings, 2-fishing ponds, picnic shelters and plenty of park benches and tables. We headed out onto the white trail loop then walked by the ponds, Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum then finished up on the green trail back to the car. You can pick up a trail map at the Visitor Center!

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The trails are definitely true nature trails so strollers and wagons are a no go but a good backpack carrier would work well for the little ones. The fishing ponds have nice platforms to sit at or you can fish along the shoreline of both ponds. Remember to have your VA fishing License handy because I watched the park authority check a few people while we were there. Have fun walking the trails and fishing at Claude Moore Park!!

 

Rust Nature Sanctuary & Manor House in Leesburg, VA!

Rust Nature Sanctuary & Manor House in Leesburg, VA!

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 802 Children’s Center Road, Leesburg, VA 20175

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On Tuesday we were invited to a preview of the Fresh Air Kids Program at the Rust Nature Sanctuary in Leesburg, VA. The Audubon Naturalist Society along with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority partnered last year to maintain the grounds and support more programs for the visitors of the Rust Nature Sanctuary. The house and grounds were preserved from development in 1995 and donated to the Audubon Naturalist Society in 2000. In 2011 Audubon Naturalist Society considered closing Rust but 2013 agreed to partner with the NVRPA to remain open to the public. The Rust Manor House on the grounds can also be used for weddings and social events.

Susanne from the Audubon Naturalist Society was nice enough to give myself and my boys a preview of what the Fresh Air Kids Program is all about. We started off upstairs in the Rust Manor and met Ziggy the resident corn snake. The large wall of exhibits is full of items found in nature and in the sanctuary. Most of the items can be handled by the children to learn a little more about the animals and insects.

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The boys were able to borrow binoculars when we headed out on the trail for our hike. But first we sat down outside on a blanket to read a book about how different animals move. We also met some earthworms and discussed their importance on the forest floor. Our hike took us to many different parts of the park including the meadow, the woods and the vernal pond. In the meadow we saw deer tracks, different bird species and several bird houses that were on the property. In the woods she talked about the different habitats of raccoon, rabbits and squirrels. Susanne also discussed with the kids how different animals camouflage themselves from predators. Down at the vernal pond Susanne was lucky enough to fish out a tadpole for the kids to see.

The Audubon Naturalist Society’s Fresh Air Kids spring program is a great way for the kids to get out in nature and learn a little bit more about what lives around us in Loudoun County. The kids will be outside almost the entire hour and half unless there is dangerous weather outside. Classes meet on Fridays from March 28th through May 9th. The kids are to bring a sack lunch to eat outside at the picnic benches too. To register you can call 703-669-0000 or email Susanne at susanne.ortmann@anshome.org.

The Audubon Naturalist Society also offers Summer Camp Programs at the Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg and Broadlands in Ashburn. For more information click here.

The ANS will  be offering a new revitalized program, Unplug and Play! Afterschool Programs. The program will combine science education and physical activity for students. In order for the program to succeed a minimum of 8 students is required. The class will be one day and run for eight weeks. Contact Christine Montagnese at 703-669-0000 and or email christine.montagnese@anshome.org.

Looking for a different options for children birthday parties, Rust Nature Sanctuary in Leesburg and the Broadlands Nature Center in Ashburn offers weekend parties year round. For more information on a nature theme party contact Christine Montagnese at 703-669-0000 and or email christine.montagnese@anshome.org.

The Rust Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful 68-acres to take your family hiking, nature programs, birthday parties, and summer camps. The Rust Manor House is a gorgeous venue for social events and weddings. If you live in the Leesburg area you should check out the Rust Nature Sanctuary and Manor Home.