Some days you just need to get out of the city.
You pack a PB&J in your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and fill up your water bottle, and you’re off. Warmer months and sunny days bring even more opportunity to take a much-needed breath of fresh air beyond the hustle-and-bustle of daily life.
Whether you’re simply seeking a peaceful nature walk, or are eager to take on a challenging climb, here are some of the places across Northern Virginia worth heading to the hills for.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on November 16, 2021.
Estimated 2.5 miles, Easy to varied difficulty; Fairfax County
The Potomac River’s presence in the DMV cannot be denied. Its curves and character throughout the area make it something to be appreciated, regardless of if you find yourself sailing on the coast of Alexandria, or peering across it from the Jefferson Memorial. The Potomac hike from the Visitor Center at Riverbend Park to Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park allows hikers to view the river from a personal perspective, watching its peacefulness go to a raging current over the falls, just steps off of the hiking pathway. The hike is a mostly level path and is best taken with eyes wide open. Riverbend Park: 8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls; Great Falls National Park: 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; $2 donation encouraged
Estimated 18-plus miles, Easy to varied difficulty; Fairfax County
Trails as far as the eyes can see. The longest natural-surface trail in Virginia showcases more than 5,000 acres of woodlands throughout NoVA that were purchased some 50 to 60 years ago by NOVA Parks, and where portions played pivotal roles in the Civil War. Hikers can observe wildlife from a distance, browse the various types of trees, or catch a glimpse of kayakers making their way down the Potomac River. 10875 Hampton Rd., Fairfax Station; free
Estimated 2.1 miles, Easy to varied difficulty; Prince William County
Taking a walk down memory lane takes on a whole new meaning when heading down High Meadows Trail in the Prince William Forest. Once you cross Taylor Farm Road, you’ll see for yourself how the street got its namesake. There is a visible clearing where the Taylor Family Farm once stood in the early 1900s as one of the last in the area, owned by Robert and Virginia Taylor who were born in the mid- to late-1800s. Their family grave site is also visible with two remaining headstones, and cleared forest land that was used for their corn, wheat, and oat crops. Prince William Forest Park: 18170 Park Entrance Rd., Triangle; free
Estimated 2 miles, Intermediate to varied difficulty; Loudoun County
The higher the vantage point, the better the sunset. If you’re one to detour off of the Blue Ridge Parkway to catch a picturesque end to a summer day, this hike is for you. Start at the base of the mountain and work your way up 1 mile to see a breathtaking view of the Shenandoah Valley as the sun starts to hug the horizon. The path is part of the Appalachian Trail and offers overnight camping accommodations. Want to catch the view without the dirty work? There’s a parking lot at the top of the mountain with the view just steps away. 18393 Blue Ridge Mountain Rd., Bluemont; free
Estimated 3.8 miles, Intermediate to varied difficulty; Loudoun County
Finding hiking hideaways with waterfalls can feel like grabbing your own heavenly oasis. This trail follows a small portion of the Appalachian Trail to an unmarked but well-worn path to a rushing stream and rocky waterfall known as Hollow Brook, and a bit further to the summit of Buzzard Hill. Beware of heading up after heavy rains due to the pathway being muddy and slippery, but otherwise it is suitable for all ages with a little hiking experience and sturdy shoes. Intersection of Appalachian Trail and Morgan Mill Rd., Ashby Run, Bluemont; free
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