Are you looking for the best hikes in Northern Virginia? This list of 10 hikes is for all experience levels. With one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, I strongly suggest hiking any one of these trails.
Whether you are interested in sandy beaches, scenic views, rock scrambles, or waterfalls, Northern Virginia has it all. There is a staggering number of fun trails in the area.
So, if it’s short family-friendly hikes with a waterfall view, or something more challenging that you’re after, you will find it here.
The summers are warm and humid in Virginia, with the hottest month being July. If you want to hike around this time, choose a hiking trail near a waterfall or lake to keep you cool.
Virginia is generally cloudy throughout the year and can get very cold in winter. Make sure you consider the weather before you set off.
The best season for Northern VA hikes will depend on the type of hike you ideally want to have. And the reason I’m saying this is because there’s a perfect hiking trail for every season.
Let’s Explore The Best Hikes in Northern Virginia
I have compiled a list of the 10 best hiking trails in Northern Virginia. Read on to find which of these trails will best suit you.
1. Prince William National Forest
I don’t know about you, but I find forests and rivers very peaceful and relaxing. So, when I came across Prince William National Forest, I got excited, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Prince William National Forest offers many options for hikers of all levels. The outdoor opportunities here are endless, with the choice of fishing, hiking, biking, or even camping. This is Northern Virginia’s best-kept secret that has welcomed generations of nature lovers.
The Laurel Loop Trail (1.4 miles) is a popular hiking trail for the entire family. It’s an easy trail and passes through peaceful woods, and goes along the South Fork of Quantico Creek.
You can also try the Potomac Heritage Trail that crosses a lovely bridge over Quantico Creek if you have enough time. You can walk for 4 or 5 miles on this path by combining North Orenida Roads, Pyrite Mine, South Valley Trails, and Laurel portions.
Doing this will allow you to enjoy the charming Autumn foliage. This site has rangers who can help you plan a perfect route for you and your family.
Location: 18100 Park Headquarters Road, Triangle, VA 22172
Contact: (703) 221-7181
Entrance Fee: Yes
2. Bull Run-Occoquan Trail
I love this park, particularly because it is pet-friendly. The park covers miles of natural surface trails with many challenges for an excellent workout, both for you and your pet. And it’s perfect for running, biking, horse riding, and offers some of the best hikes in Northern Virginia.
Bull Run-Occoquan Trail covers more than 5000 acres of beautiful woodlands, including Fountainhead Regional Park, Bull Run Marina, and Hemlock Park.
I crossed from the Paradise Springs Winery, after which I took the Yellow Trail that took me through a ravine. I took my time taking in the beautiful view of the attractive vegetation in this area before descending to Bull Run.
You can cover as much distance as you wish, then retrace your way back. The uneven rocky terrain eventually flattens out among the gigantic hemlock trees.
If you aren’t a fan of crowded areas, many people don’t follow this route, making it one of the best places to hike in Northern VA. Kids and dogs are allowed on the park’s lawn area. You’ll also get many water play opportunities.
And if you want a bite to eat or need a coffee, you can visit the Clifton Cafe for a memorable treat. Or, if you need to refresh yourself, pop into Paradise Springs Winery, which was the first winery in Fairfax County.
Location: 10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station, VA 22039
Contact: (703) 250-9124
3. Hazel Falls and Cave
If caves and waterfalls excite you, then Hazel Falls and Cave is definitely one of the hikes in Northern Virginia you need to do.
While it’s not as big as other falls in the Shenandoah National Park, it’s the hardest to reach. So there will be times when you’ll have the place to yourself. There are plenty of spots to sit and relax while you eat your lunch.
You can park at the Meadow Spring, just 33.5 miles from Skyline Drive, then trek the Hazel Mountain Trail through the White Rocks Trail and finally to Cave Falls. The last few miles of the track have a steep rocky descent that will add more fun to your trip.
If the weather allows, take a refreshing dip in the swimming hole before you set off for the uphill trek, a 1,000-foot elevation, to get back to your vehicle.
You will need to be physically fit to hike this trail. The park doesn’t have any markings or signs, so you must carry your map to help you find your way here.
If you’d like to extend your trip and make it an overnight adventure, you can check in at Skyland. This venue is known for providing the best blackberry pancakes and Mile-High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie.
They also have a monthly calendar for horseback riding, culinary events, astronomy, and live music.
Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Entrance Fee: No
4. Difficult Run at Great Falls Park
If you live in Northern Virginia and you love nature, you’ve probably visited Great Falls Park. What you may not have done is take on the Difficult Run. This is a challenging 5.1-mile hike trekking over boulders as you make your way to the peak (300-feet elevation) from where you can access the park.
Along with some of the best hikes in Northern Virginia this park has lovely forests, beautiful river views, stunning waterfalls, and a little bit of history thrown into the mix.
As you take this route, you’ll be supervised and guided by the National Park Service. This wondrous and wild watershed is home to foxes, beavers, snakes, herons, and muskrats.
You can cross Georgetown Pike at the parking lot to reach Difficult Run Stream, past boulders and rapids until you reach Potomac River’s confluence. Some parts of this hike are steep and rocky, adding to the challenge and fun of witnessing the most jaw-dropping views.
Location: 8801 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22102
Entrance Fee: Yes
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
5. Mason Neck State Park
If you like birds, you’ll enjoy another one of the Northern VA hikes is Mason Neck State Park. Located in Fairfax County, this park has the highest number of bird species.
Mason Neck State Park has a wildlife refuge where I could spot a bald eagle and other birds. Bald eagles are so prominent here; it’s no wonder there’s an Eagle Festival called Mason Neck, hosted yearly in May.
Starting at the nature center, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how conservationists developed the park in the late 1960s. Mason Neck State Park was the first sanctuary created specifically for bald eagles.
This park has made the recovery of bald eagle species quite remarkable, especially in the Virginia Tidewater region. This is because the birds mate here for life, and you’ll likely see the eagles hunting and then returning to their nests so their partners can take a turn.
Apart from the eagle, this park is full of other bird species, including egrets, herons, migratory songbirds, geese, and ducks. It offers scenic landscapes with lovely butterfly gardens.
Some boardwalks cross over swamps, sandy beaches, woody forests, wetlands, and wide-open views of Belmont Bay. Additionally, this park has several paths, a picnic area, a playground, and a special paved route.
Location: 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079
Contact: (703) 339-2385
Entrance Fee: Yes
6. Burke Lake
Burke Lake has hikes in Northern Virginia that are the perfect location for the whole family to come again and again. It’s the largest lake in Fairfax County, tucked away in 888 acres.
Whether you’re into cross-country running, disc golf or mini-golf, fishing, and boating, or riding on a miniature train, there is something for everyone here. There are also campgrounds available, so you have the option of staying longer.
Take a walk around the 4.7-mile loop trail that circles the lake. It is an excellent North Virginia hike all year round. Most of the trails here are level, wide dirt paths with many places to stop along the way for those who want to view the lake.
The park also provides plenty of opportunities to watch birds, frogs, turtles, and other creatures. The good news is that this park has a portion that is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Location: 7315 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, VA 22039
Contact: (703) 323-6600
Entrance Fee: Free for Fairfax County Residents,
7. Raven Rocks
Raven Rocks is a lovely trail that will take you through the best that nature has to offer. The entire Appalachian trail runs from Maine to Georgia, a distance of 2,189 miles. Covering the whole distance may take you more than a month.
However, a portion of the path in Virginia is just 5.8 miles with a 1550 ft elevation gain that can be done in a day.
Raven Rocks trail crosses Route 7, which is on the western side of Round Hill. It’s located at the Snickers Gap, just a few miles from Arlington. To get the most out of your trip here, you can set off from the trailhead parking and head north along the path for an out-and-back trek.
You can also take the commuter route on the southern side, then move north on the white-blazed path.
The path starts off gentle, but as you progress, you’ll get to a very steep and rocky terrain that will drain your energy, giving you that roller coaster feeling.
Before you hit 3 miles into your hike, you’ll get to a sign indicating West Virginia/Virginia border. You’ll be hit with the most breathtaking panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah Mountains, a little beyond this.
Location: 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont, VA 20135
Entrance Fee: No
8. Winkler Botanical Preserve
Winkler Botanical Preserve is among the best hikes in northern Virginia, especially if you want to go hiking with your family. Here you’ll discover the undulating paths and magical trails that only this trail can offer.
This small, tucked-away gem, located in Shirlington, has a surrounding community comprising high-rises that will provide you a worthy escape from the bustling metropolitan.
The path is right off route I-395. You’ll drive through apartment complex iron gates before entering this natural wonderland.
The Winkler family created this botanical preserve in 1981. The family planted hundreds of native tree species and saved the old ones. Today, the preserve is an excellent meeting place for students taking nature classes, but you are free to explore this beautiful area on your own.
There’s an easy one-mile hike loop around a two-acre pond that offers an excellent view of a beautiful waterfall. From here, you can walk to the high road leading to Hobbit House.
If you want to go to the river, you can choose the lower road. You’ll cross a bridge with beautiful lotus and lily flowers. Just remember there are no trails or maps, so you may get a little lost once in a while, but this all adds to the fun.
At the end of the trail, grab a meal at Copperwood Tavern, a nearby family-friendly food joint in Shirlington.
Location: 5400 Roanoke Avenue, Alexandria, VA
Entrance Fee: No
9. Old Rag, Best for Night Hikes In Northern Virginia
If you are a fan of night hikes in Northern Virginia, pack your bags and head to Old Rag. This is a popular trail found in Shenandoah National Park. Most local outdoorsy hiking enthusiasts know this trail so well because they like to guide people around and have hiked it themselves.
You can hike this trail during the day or at night. The night is the best time for a more magical, quieter experience and to avoid long lines at the narrow passages.
In winter, you can start your trip from Northern Virginia at 3.00 am, while in summer, you can set out at 1.00 am.
Make sure you have a packed breakfast, a headlamp, and at least two liters of drinking water. Every person in your team should have packed breakfast and water.
Once you reach the entrance of the Old Gate, it will take you about three hours to reach the top, with an elevation gain of 3,284 ft. By then, the sun will be rising.
This hiking trail extends about 9.2 miles and is challenging. It can be a little dangerous, particularly the adventurous rock scramble close to the top, requiring a push from below unless you are powerful on your upper body.
So it would be best if you were physically fit before you think of trekking this terrain. Once you reach the summit, many boulders will offer a spectacular 360-degree view of the beauty below.
While descending, it’s most likely that you will have exhausted your packed breakfast. Luckily, you can have lunch at Black Bear Bistro & Brick Oven, where beer, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas are on the menu.
Location: 600 State Route, Etlan, VA 22719
Entrance Fee: No
Difficulty: Extremely Strenuous
10. Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls in Montebello is among the best places to hike in Northern VA. It is also a major tourist destination.
It has a trailhead of about 185 miles when you start from Washington DC. The hikes are gorgeous, with a marvelous view overlooking the Tye River Gorge.
It is thought that the name “Crabtree” comes from William Crabtree, who settled here in 1777. And another pioneer is Allen Tye, who explored the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it has been said that he discovered the Tye River.
This trail is popular throughout the year because of its attractive waterfall views. You’ll love it more because the trails climb along Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical waterfall in the east.
Crabtree Falls is a series of 5 major waterfalls that cascade a combined height of 1200 feet.
When you start from the lowest parking lot, the hiking trail rises steadily, but it isn’t difficult to scale, especially for the first 1.8 miles as you move towards the top of the hill. As the path meanders along, your hike will open up to some incredible viewpoints along the way.
The paths are broken into sections of dirt and stairs switchbacks. This hike is fun and worth the effort.
Being a popular destination, it gets overcrowded on weekends, so my advice would be to visit here on weekdays.
Location: 11581 Crabtree Falls Highway, Montebello, VA 24464
Contact: (434) 263-7015
Entrance Fee: Yes
There you have it, the 10 best hiking trails in Northern Virginia. I hope it’s now easy for you to organize your hiking trip.
If you are a beginner, you can choose one of the family-friendly trails. They don’t require a high level of physical fitness but will provide you with all the fun.
As a safety precaution, before setting off on your hiking adventure, you should always make sure a family member or a friend knows where you are going and when you expect to be back. Also, make sure you are in the right gear and clothing for your hikes in Northern Virginia.