Photography by Don Sweeney / FCPA

Huntley Meadows

A marsh habitat just outside Old Town

Just a 10- to 15-minute drive south of Old Town Alexandria, Huntley Meadows is Fairfax County’s largest park and is one of the biggest freshwater wetlands in the Metro-D.C. area. The park also boasts lowland woodlands and meadows. Most trails are informal and unmaintained, but there are 2 miles of paved trails and a spectacular half-mile boardwalk over the vast marsh. Two lookouts offer stunning views of the park. Over 200 species of birds have been identified here, and it’s common to see otters, beavers, turtles, frogs and even snakes in addition to dozens of bird species. Huntley Meadows is lovely year-round; in fall the marsh and the surrounding forests explode into yellows, oranges and reds; in winter the marsh grasses turn a deep gold, and in spring and summer the marsh bursts into life in all shades of green. Sunset is a great time to visit Huntley Meadows and take in the sights and sounds from one of the boardwalk’s several benches. During less-crowded times, visitors will be greeted by a chorus of buzzing insects, croaking frogs and chirping birds. The visitor center hosts year-round nature exhibits and is a great educational stop for kids. Huntley Meadows hosts lectures and educational events on a fairly frequent basis.

Visitors can also check out Historic Huntley, the house built for Thomson Francis Mason, located at 6918 Harrison Lane. He was George Mason’s grandson and served as mayor of Alexandria from 1827-1830. Tours are available at 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m. and run April through October.


Photography by Don Sweeney / FCPA

Hours: Dawn to dusk; visitor center hours vary
Fee: None
Size: 1,500 acres
Great for: Hiking, year-round ranger programs and lectures, boardwalk, wildlife observation platforms
Other activities/amenities: Biking, picnicking, picnic pavilion, visitor center, restrooms, water fountains
Know before you go: Dogs aren’t allowed on the boardwalk, so it’s best to leave pets at home unless you plan to stick to the wooded trails. Those interested in seeing wildlife should visit in the early morning or in the evening when animals are likelier to be out and crowds are thinner. Because Huntley Meadows is a lowland marsh, visitors should expect lots of mosquitos, so make sure to bring the bug spray. Note that the informal trails are mostly unmaintained, so visitors should dress accordingly, and those with young children may want to stick to formal trails. There are trail maps available at the visitor center. Where: 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria; 703-768-2525

Northern Virginia’s Best Urban Parks

(July 2015)