Here we highlight 5 Virginia Parks that are less well known than Great Falls (although Riverbend Park will take you to Great Falls) or Shenandoah. Four of them are state parks, while the 5th, Burke Lake Park, is maintained by Fairfax County. These parks are all fairly close to Washington DC, offer great hikes, and are well worth a short day trip.
Leesylvania State Park
From the VA State Park website: 'Leesylvania is nestled along the tidal shores of the historic Potomac River. Native Americans lived on this land for thousands of years. Capt. John Smith visited the area in 1608 on his voyage of discovery. It's also the ancestral home of Virginia's legendary Lee and Fairfax families. Listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, Leesylvania offers many land and water activities, including hiking, picnicking, fishing and boating. A universally accessible fishing pier, playground, boat launch, boat storage area, snack bar and store, visitor center and gift shop are available. A 20-station fitness trail and canoe and kayak rentals also are available.'
Burke Lake Park
Enjoy the roughly 5 mile trail that extends around the perimeter of Burke Lake Park. The trail is flat and suitable for biking. Fitness nuts will be especially happy, as the trail features a "Fitness Course" that according to the Burke Lake Park website, was voted one of the 10 best fitness trails in the country by the American Hiking Society.
Located just north of Great Falls Park, Riverbend Park features about 10 miles of hiking trails, as well as opportunities for cycling and kayaking. The Yelp reviews of the park are universally positive and hail the park's friendly atmosphere. Walk the Potomac Heritage Trail (~2.5 miles long) from nice views of the river and for access to Great Falls Park, where you can get a good view of the Falls without having to wait in one of Great Falls Park's long weekend lines.
Mason Neck State Park
Photo taken from the Bird Blind at Mason Neck State Park in 2012.
From the Mason Neck State Park website: "Just a short drive from Washington, D.C., this Northern Virginia park offers many outdoor activities and programs. It has hiking trails, 3 miles of paved multi-use trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch and a visitor center. Canoe, kayak and bicycle rentals are also available. Bird watching, especially for American bald eagles, and guided canoe trips of Kane's Creek and Belmont Bay are favorites with park visitors. The park's wetlands, forest, open water, ponds and open fields make it ideal for environmental study and wildlife observation. Nearby attractions include the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge, Gunston Hall and Pohick Bay Regional Park."
Mason Neck is quiet and well worth the 25 mile drive south of Washington DC. The trails are flat and very well marked. Check out our Mason Neck State Park hiking post for details on a 5.5 mile hike where you will see a good portion of the park. Make sure to check out the Bird Blind to look for bald eagles.
For more information, visit the Mason Neck State Park website.
Sky Meadow State Park
'Rich in history, this 1,864-acre park has scenic views, woodlands and the rolling pastures of a historic farm that captures the colonial through post-Civil War life of the Crooked Run Valley. Nature and history programs are offered year-round. Hiking, picnicking, fishing and primitive hike-in camping for families and groups are favorite activities in this peaceful getaway on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park has 10.5 miles of bridle trails, 24 miles of hiking trails, 9 miles of bike trials and Appalachian Trail access.'