As the weather turns frigid, many people pack it in and hunker down indoors. But as long as it’s not icy or raining, parks in the region are a welcome respite from our living rooms and home offices. We asked Mark Whaley, park operations superintendent for NOVA Parks, for some ideas for outdoor pursuits this winter.
Why should people consider venturing out to the parks in wintertime?
NOVA Parks have so much to do in the winter months, even during the pandemic. Walking, hiking, biking and visiting our light shows are the most popular this year. Plus, all of these things can be done safely while practicing social distancing.
What are some popular trails that remain open and navigable this time of year?
Our most popular trail is the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, often called the skinniest park in Virginia. This paved trail between Shirlington and Purcellville gives visitors the opportunity to run, cycle or skate the 45-mile route along the former roadbed of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad; equestrians can ride the adjacent 32-mile gravel horse trail. Also very popular is the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, which can be accessed through Bull Run Regional Park In Centreville or Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax Station. It winds through more than 5,000 acres of scenic woodlands and is perfect for hikers or those on horseback.
How should you prepare for a hike?
I always recommend dressing for the weather and wearing layers. Visitors might also want to bring some water and wear sturdy footwear, especially if they plan to hike in the woods.
What about golfing?
NOVA Parks has three golf courses: Algonkian is situated by the Potomac River, Brambleton is a charming course in Ashburn and Pohick Bay is one of Northern Virginia’s most challenging and most scenic. You can book tee times online.
Can you go camping in the winter?
Our campgrounds at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville and Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton remain open throughout the year. Both offer tent, electric and full hook-up sites as well as rustic and deluxe cabin rentals. Visit our website for more information and reservations.
What other unique activities are offered this time of year?
NOVA Parks offers three wonderful holiday light shows and this year we are working especially hard to ensure the safest experience for our guests. At Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Vienna, visitors walk through a dazzling display of lights. With numerous photo opportunities and interactive displays like the “sing-to-me tree”, it’s the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville has become a tradition for many Northern Virginia families. It has 2.5 miles of holiday light displays you can enjoy from the comfort of your car, just turn off your headlights and follow the magical glow. At Ice and Lights — The Winter Village at Cameron Run in Alexandria, visitors can enjoy light displays and photo ops in the winter village as well as ice skating.
I enjoy history, so visiting NOVA Parks historic properties is one of my favorite things to do any time of year. The Carlyle House in Alexandria, Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park in Leesburg, Aldie Mill and Mt. Zion Historic Park are all great places to learn more about the history of our region.
Where should people go for the latest openings/closings and COVID info?
Please visit the NOVA Parks website, novaparks.com to learn about the COVID-19 CDC and Commonwealth of Virginia guidelines we are following and the latest about opening and closings.
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