5 Activities for Outdoor Lovers in Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia is a fabulous place for outdoor lovers. Though just minutes from the urban bustle of Washington, DC, it offers more than 1,500 miles of trails, beautiful unspoiled waterways, and some of the most accessible natural rock climbing on the east coast.
Framed by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the lush tidewater coastal plain, the region has long been famed for its natural beauty. But modern development makes it a place where you can kayak through a breathtaking sandstone gorge beneath one of the east coast’s largest waterfalls in the afternoon, and see a concert downtown the same night.
We know the area because we get to call it home now. One of our newest treetop adventure courses sits in Fairfax County’s lovely South Run District Park, amidst 192 acres filled with hiking and horse trails through fields and forests. It’s connected by many trails to Burke Lake Park, home to a pristine 218-acre lake owned by the state’s
Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
We have a bounty of outdoor opportunities right around us. But we are strong believers in the importance of a community of outdoor lovers. So give us a few minutes to tell you about the other wonderful wilderness experiences in Northern Virginia.
Here are five of our favorites.
Rock Climb in the Mather Gorge
The Maryland/Virginia border in the D.C. suburbs holds some of the most beautiful views either state can offer. The Potomac River cuts through dark grey sandstone cliffs ranging from 40 to 80 feet in height on either side, which are forested right to the edge. The gorge is mostly contained within Great Falls National Park, so it’s protected from development.
On the Virginia side, you’ll find some of the best simple day climbing on the east coast.
Top roping is the rule here, both to protect the rock and because finding an appropriate anchor tree is easy. It’s a great spot for beginners – more than 80 routes are 5.6 or below (under the Yosemite Decimal System used by most climbers, 5.0 is the easiest route, and anything below 5.7 is appropriate for beginners).
And the views? You’re climbing over the swirling waters, with a glance of the enormous Great Falls off to your right.
Tackle the Whitewater Below. We won’t leave that beautiful geology just yet.
Because the other spectacular way to spend a day on the river is exactly that – a day on the river.
The Potomac narrows at Mather Gorge, and below the spectacular Great Falls, it tumbles fast over rock formations that make for some spectacular white water.
The gorge offers class II and III rapids. If you’re new to the sport, local outfitters like Potomac Paddle Sports offer guided rafting. Experienced kayakers, though, work through the Potomac Whitewater Racing Center, home of more than 50 national team athletes, a world champion and several Olympic medalists.
Test Yourself on Burke Lake Park’s Fitness Trail
The American Hiking Society rates Burke Lake Park’s fitness trail as one of the ten best in the United States.
The 4.7-mile loop around the water is on simple packed dirt, but it holds 18 well-marked stations for full-body workout activity, including vault bars, boards with footholds for crunches, and a “log hop” course that makes runners hop in a slalom motion and gets the hip flexors burning.
While it’s a workout, the view keeps it invigorating and not exhausting. You’ll see people boating and fishing in the lake, spot white tailed deer in the woods, and pass a busy Frisbee golf course.
What you won’t see is a single housing development, despite being just half an hour from a major city.
Should you choose to test yourself at every stop, expect a 60-to-90-minute workout.
Canoe the Beautiful Rappahannock
The Potomac may be the region’s most popular waterway, but it’s far from the only one worth a paddle. The lovely Rappahannock cuts through a little further south, and offers a more relaxing experience, though with a bit of excitement thrown in.
It’s perfect for a family canoe trip. The rapids, where they do exist, are just challenging enough to be tricky and fun, but not truly dangerous. And then there are long stretches where the water is calm, moving you through pine and hardwood forest.
This is the region’s best nesting ground for Bald Eagles, and you’ll catch sight of them in the canopy if you keep an eye out.
The water is shallow, but an easy paddle. The best stretch of it is the 24 miles from Kelly’s Ford to the pull-out near Fredericksburg.
Hike the Seneca Tract of the Potomac Heritage Trail
The Potomac Heritage Trail isn’t limited to Northern Virginia. Running 710 miles, it connects parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. But there is a lovely stretch of it near Great Falls that provides varied enough terrain to keep it interesting without being too strenuous for little ones.
Wooded sections make this hike best when the fall colors are at peak, and packed dirt trails that get muddy fast make it best on dry days.
But you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views, and a bit of history, as signage along the way documents George Washington’s attempts to build a canal to bring coal down from the Ohio Valley.
We know that Fairfax County Virginia is an extremely active community and we are thrilled to become a part of the outdoor recreation scene. We hope to see you soon in the trees!