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!

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.

Shenandoah National Park in Luray, VA!

Shenandoah National Park in Luray, VA!

Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite National Parks located in Virginia. My family and I head to Skyline Drive often to see the foliage and any animals that might be walking around. We’ve taken the boys on many hikes throughout the park but are waiting to camp with them until they get a little older.  The park has several activities for everyone from active to passive. When we frequent the park we hike one of the many trails throughout the park. But you can also horseback ride, bike, camp, backcountry camp, fish and observe wildlife

Address: 3655 E Highway 211, Luray, VA 22835

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The hiking in Shenandoah park includes 500 miles of trail with 100 of them being the Appalachian Trail. There are different skill levels of hiking trails available including the tougher Old Rag Mountain which I hiked about two years ago. This trail is not for young children or pets with its high drop offs and small waterfall crossings. In our last visit we headed out on the Elkwallow Trail which was just off the Elkwallow convenience store, restrooms and small parking lot. It was easy for the little guys and we even found a couple salamanders on our way.

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 The other activity we love to do in Shenandoah National Park is driving along Skyline Drive to check out the awesome views and assorted wildlife along the drive. We’ve been fortunate enough to see a bear, turkeys and of course of tons of deer. If you’re not into hiking or camping, a drive along Skyline Drive is also a great option to getting close to nature without being in the middle of it. In addition to the Drive there are a couple visitor centers along the way to visit, Dickey Ridge and Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center with exhibits and information desk. For food options, check out the several food stops along the Skyline Drive by clicking on this link.

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As you can tell my family and I just love Shenandoah National Park. If you’re going to make a day of it you can also check out Luray Caverns which is not that far from the National Park. Luray Caverns is another spot we love to head with the boys with it’s great stalactites and stalagmites. If you’re looking for a fun family outing or just a great hike with friends check out Shenandoah National Park in Luray, VA!