If you haven’t heard of the latest trend out of Japan, take a moment to read up on forest bathing. A practice that got it’s start in the 1980s on the other side of the world is making waves here, and we’re lucky enough to have plenty of areas to partake in the practice that uses the simple act of walking through the forest as a way to boost your immune system and lower the levels of cortisol (that pesky stress hormone) in your body.
While the forest canopy is a big part of the benefits of forest bathing, area experts tell us anyone can get benefits just by being outside and taking in even a small amount of the healthy volatile chemicals, or phytoncides, that are secreted from evergreen trees.
So where to head for your forest bathing?
Theodore Roosevelt Island
This island became a memorial to commemorate America’s 26th president in the 1930s. Go hiking, kayaking, canoeing, watch wildlife or have a park ranger lead a program. You can reach the island by taking the George Washington Memorial Parkway or the Rosslyn Metro stop.
Not far from Old Town Alexandria and in view of both passing aircraft and watercraft, Dangerfield Island is a waterfront park that offers a tranquil setting amid a variety of wildlife. Though it’s not technically an island, it is bordered mostly by water and was Alexandria’s first permanent settlement.
River Farm Gardens
River Farm Gardens is the ideal setting for the American Horticultural Society, with its opulent gardens and views of the Potomac River. It’s also a popular place for visitors looking for an outdoor escape.
Old Town, the Metro-D.C. area’s largest preserved colonial neighborhood, is best known for its historic sites and centuries-old structures, but it’s also home to half a dozen interconnected riverfront parks paralleling the Mount Vernon Trail on the west and the Potomac River on the east.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park boasts trails, ponds, streams and meadows along with a nature center and historical buildings so visitors can see how families lived during the late 1700s.
Great Falls Park
Perhaps NoVA’s most dramatic and popular park, Great Falls is a must-see for Metro-D.C. area residents. Located just 20 minutes from Georgetown, the park attracts nearly half a million tourists and locals alike every year with its magnificent views of the falls. The park is best known for its waterfalls and rapids, which can be enjoyed from three overlooks (only overlooks two and three are handicap accessible). In addition to the falls, the park has 15 miles of hiking and walking trails, 10 miles of horseback riding trails and 5 miles of bike trails, ranging from easy to difficult.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Tucked between major thoroughfares and the Potomac River, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is 336 acres of serene woodlands with eastern hemlocks making up most of the canopy. There is also a tranquil waterfall along the pathways.
Mason Neck State Park
Located on Belmont Bay and the Potomac River, Mason Neck is known for its picturesque waterfront and has many trails that vary in length and difficulty. Since the park is home to 50-60 bald eagles per year, it’s nearly guaranteed to spot one of these beauties. Other unique winter bird-watching opportunities include the tundra swan and the great blue heron.
Huntley Meadows Park
A walk on the interpretive loop and easy boardwalk trail through the marshland will melt any winter blues away. Spot nests of raptors, beaver dams and resilient winter birds, such as woodpeckers, living in the park. The live animal and natural exhibits in the visitors’ center are sure to be a hit with little ones.
Try to spy deer, wild turkeys, foxes and more along the 11 miles of hiking trails in this Loudoun County park, a true respite from the surrounding industrial area.
Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park
The site of the largest Civil War engagement in Loudoun County, Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park is now a serene spot for natural wandering and contemplation. A gravesite marks the spot where 54 Union soldiers are buried, all but one of whom are unknown, and there is a monument to the fallen Confederate soldier Sgt. Clinton Hatcher.
Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park
Take in the views of the Potomac River as you traipse through this park with winding trails and historic buildings.
An amalgam of grasslands and marshes, this 642-acre stretch of land is a wildlife oasis and refuge that attracts a diverse range of migratory bird species. For those who make bird-watching an annual hobby, this is a perfect location between April and June to spot songbirds, raptors such as the common osprey and other aquatic birds. However, if the family is looking for something more down-to-earth, head toward the wetlands where you can spot otters frolic in their natural habitat.
Prince William Forest Park
Nestled in the far southeastern corner of Prince William County 35 miles south of D.C., the Prince William Forest is a sprawling 15,000-acre park managed by the National Park Service and a good choice for those who can’t make it to the mountains. As the name implies, the park is mostly forested and runs along Quantico Creek. Because of the park’s tremendous size, there are countless loop and out-and-back possibilities here.
Sky Meadows State Park
Scenic views that are the crowning jewel of Virginia are found at this 1,864-acre park with woodlands, pastures and a historic farm. There are 1.5 miles of bridle trails, 24 miles of hiking trails, 9 miles of bike trails and Appalachian Trail access.
William C. Whitney State Forest
In the center of Fauquier County is the William C. Whitney State Forest, 148 acres of serene environments for hiking, horseback riding and timber production.
Motts Run Nature Center
Motts Run is home to 860 acres of undisturbed nature and an 160-acre reservoir ideal for the true outdoorsman and nature enthusiast.