By anyone's reckoning, it's a unique and glorious achievement for
one American county -- a trail over 40 miles long connecting the
entire county from one end to the other -- the Gerry Connolly Cross
County Trail (GCCCT of Fairfax County, Virginia.)
Just as the trail itself connects hill and vale, stream, meadow
and urbanized landscapes, its very creation united government
agencies with trail enthusiasts, environmentalists, citizen
activists and the private sector, no small undertaking for bustling
Fairfax County is an increasingly urbanized community. It's also
becoming a national tourist center, famous as FXVA! Interspersed
with colonial and Civil War landmarks are famous attractions such
as The National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
featuring scores of aircraft (including the space shuttle
Enterprise), Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts;
George Washington's Mount Vernon estate; and popular shopping
centers such as Tysons Corner Gallerias.
Bluebells and Bluebirds in a Utopia of Green
The Cross County
Trail runs through some of the county's most scenic areas,
beginning at Great Falls National Park on the mighty Potomac River
and extending south to the Occoquan River and Laurel Hill, formerly
known as Lorton Prison.
Here, hikers, joggers, equestrians, strollers and cyclists can
discover a natural wonderland. Springtime finds the woodland floor
adorned with carpets of wildflowers including bluebells, cut-leaved
toothwort, trout lilies and harbinger-of-spring. Increasingly rare,
many of these plants grow only in protected stream valley
environments. The trout lily, which blooms for only about two weeks
in mid-April, takes seven seasons before it is able to put forth a
Trees in the stream valleys like to get their feet wet. River
birch, sweetgum, pawpaw and species of willow and alder all thrive
in the rich, moist soils found in the trail's floodplain. But the
noblest of all must be the sycamore, whose smooth, light bark
stands out in sharp contrast to the darkness of the surrounding
forest. The sycamore may grow to a diameter greater than that of
any other deciduous tree of North America, reaching a span of 10
feet. Wildlife thrives on trail lands. Birds (including rare
raptors), deer, muskrat, fox and other critters abound.
It was in 1995 that hiking enthusiast Bill Niedringhaus walked
into the office of the Park Authority Trail Coordinator and
presented his idea for connecting existing trails.
Flora of the Cross County Trail
Connolly summed it up this way, "I think we're going to be
leaving behind for future generations a real gem. And it's a gem
that's going to be protected - a natural environment that's very
surprising in a county as rapidly urbanizing as Fairfax County
Most of our Cross County Trail lies within stream valley parkland.
This parkland serves many purposes, but one of the most important is
to protect our streams. The vegetation near streams helps to
intercept nutrients carried from surrounding land before it enters a
stream, and the roots of the vegetation help to prevent erosion.
A happy benefit of this for folks enjoying our trails is the rich
diversity of plants that adorn the trailside. Wood frogs, spring
peepers, American toads, and spotted salamanders are a few of the
amphibians that take advantage of vernal pools for reproduction.
The benefit of laying eggs in a vernal pool is that there are no
predators such as fish to gobble up the nearly defenseless tadpoles
or larval salamanders. Nature's gamble is that these amphibians
will develop fast enough to leave the pool before it evaporates. If
the gamble fails and the puddles disappear early due to a dry
spring for instance, a whole generation of amphibians may be lost.
This is just one example of how important it is to protect our
wetlands. We try to locate our trails away from sensitive areas
like vernal pools. When using our trails, please stick to the path.
Nature's amphibians need all the luck they can get!
"Citizen's advocacy is really the precursor to
Gerald E. Connolly, Then Chairman, Fairfax County Board of
The Cross County Trail is a strong symbol of community connections
for its involved citizens. Hundreds of volunteers give irreplaceable
time and talent to county non profits, fire stations, schoolrooms and
the Park Authority (the agency's eight nature centers and historic
sites boast 700+ volunteers, making it the envy of the nation). And
sometimes, citizens blaze trails.
Niedringhaus recalls, "In 1997, I got interested in trails
more broadly around Fairfax County. I did my homework. I learned
how to do the research in the courthouse and looked up
He obtained a large map of the county and highlighted all of the
public land green. It was then he saw a continuous green line
snaking down from the north to the south across the county with
maybe three or four gaps. With friends, he formed a group called
Fairfax Trails and Streams and spoke at the park bond hearings in
1998. "I think that was the first time they'd ever had anybody
testify for trails," he said. But Board of Supervisors Chairman
Gerry Connolly was very supportive and instrumental in keeping the
ball rolling at the top. With Fairfax Trails and Streams working
from the citizen activist standpoint, it all began to take
"I realized that Fairfax County had a jewel in its midst,"
Connolly said. "Why not work to connect these existing parcels
of land, acquire and obtain needed pieces of property and easements
to make one long trail?" The next day he introduced a
resolution to create the Cross County Trail. The county's entire
board supported it, providing additional resources and obtaining
Bikers and Riders Jump on Board
Dickerson, former president of the Hunters Valley Riding Club and a
member of Fairfax for Horses, remembers when she first heard of the
trail, "The county has been farsighted in setting aside places
like this, very proactive in trying to obtain the property and
establishing recreational uses."
Randy Kerr of MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts), became
involved in the effort. Kerr said that one interesting aspect of
watching the Cross County Trail take shape was the role volunteers
played. "It's all about connections," Kerr said.
"Bikes, hikers, neighborhood dog walkers. Not only using the
trails, but in maintaining the trails. Trails provide obvious
benefits throughout the county."
The Trail's Exquisite Stream Valleys
Much of Fairfax
County's Cross County Trail lies within green, shaded stream
valleys. Off limits to developers, the county's stream valleys
support biodiversity and wildlife. It offers a rough Appalachian
Trail-like experience. Some of it is stone dust. In some places
there is a lot of mud. "People call and complain that there's
snow on the trail. Well, we don't plow the trail. Get your
cross-country skis out. It's a natural, outdoor environment. It's
maintained, but it's not groomed. That's the beauty of it. That's
why it's great."
Stewards and Stream Valleys - The Trail Takes Shape
ourselves as stewards of the natural area, stewards of the land. We
work very hard to choose plant life we had to remove for the trail.
It's always a challenge, but then when we get a look at the trail's
end it's always been well done. It looks awesome. We're happy to
have been able to make it happen."
Manager of Park Authority Mobile Crew
By the fall of 2000, the planning team developed a blueprint to
connect the stream valley trails. The Park Authority Director and
the Park Authority Board worked closely with the Board of
Supervisors to secure funding. The board allocated $900,000, and
the county realized significant savings by doing things in house.
In the shadow of the Beltway in the Accotink Stream Valley, staff
from Park Planning and Development designed and managed the largest
construction project in the Park Authority's history, building over
a mile of asphalt and concrete trail, and installing three concrete
stream crossings. In swampy areas, volunteers and staff brought in
stone to stabilize the wet ground. Some areas required stepping
stones over creeks or culvert pipes under the trail to provide dry
places to walk or ride.
Park Authority area managers oversaw the trail markers. The signs
are made of recycled plastic and fiberglass, marking the trail from
one end to the other. The signs are durable and are buried deep to
deter vandals, one of the scourges of the park system.
CCT TRAIL MAPS
(ordered North to South)
Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail - 10
Leigh Mill Road to Potomac River
Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail - 9
Dulles Access/Toll Road to Browns Mill Road
Trail - 8
Lawyers Road to Dulles Access and Toll Road
Run Stream Valley Trail - 7
OakMarr Park to Lawyers Road
Stream Valley To Oak Marr - 6
Pickett Road/Blake Lane/Jermantown Road
Stream Valley Trail - 5
Rt. 236 to Picket Road
Park Trails - 4
Braddock Road Underpass to Underpass at Route236/Beltway
Accotink Park - 3
Lake Accotink Park to Braddock Road at Wakefield Park
Stream Valley Trail - 2
Fairfax County Parkway to Lake Accotink Dam
Stream Valley - 1
Pohick Road to Fairfax County Parkway
Hill Greenway - 0
Pohick Road to the Occoquan River
OTHER TRAIL MAPS
Cub Run Stream Valley
Route 29 to Compton Road
Lake Fairfax Park
Long Branch Stream
Wakefield Chapel Road to Olley Lane
Rocky Run Stream
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park to Fairfax County Parkway
Topography Map including trails
Burke Lake to Southrun Road
Sugarland Road to Town of Herndon
TOP REASONS TO USE THE CROSS COUNTY TRAIL (CCT)
Traveling the CCT is a beautiful way to see the variety of stream
valleys in Fairfax County and a good opportunity to view a cross
section of the county's topography and development.
You can access both the Vienna Metro and the
Franconia/Springfield Metro from connectors to the trail.
You can access the Washington and Old Dominion Trail from the
It's an excellent exercise venue away from the noise of the city
You can run with your child or your leashed pet, ride a bike or a
horse, skate, skip or take a leisurely stroll.
It's close by, running from the Occoquan River in the south to
the Potomac River in the north.
You can find a wide array of wildlife and fauna along the trail.
You will almost always see a deer, hear a bird or recognize a
favorite flower in bloom.
It's the perfect place to meet other trail enthusiasts and
discover opportunities to volunteer.
It's fun, and it makes you feel good!
FAQs – Cross County Trail
What is the Cross Country Trail?
The Cross County Trail is the primary multi-use north/south
trail in the county, passing through woodlands and open space
along much of its length. Users can experience a variety of
landscapes, from remote wooded terrain to ballfields and
developed parks, from wide stream valleys to rolling hills. The
trail surface varies too, with parts of the trail wide, paved
formal paths and others stonedust or even natural surface
trails more appropriate to hikers, mountain bikers or
equestrians. The trail crosses several streams and many of the
county's main east-west roads. Where no off-road route is
possible, the trail follows roadside trails or sidewalks. The
trail has multiple points of vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian
access. There are maps of each section, available on line or
through the Park Authority trails office. Interpretive and
directional signs are being installed to assist users in
understanding what they are observing and directing them to
parking, drinking water, points of interest, etc. This facility
crosses through all nine supervisory districts and the City of
Fairfax and is an important recreational amenity for all
citizens and visitors to Fairfax County.
What is the total length of the trail?
The trail is more than 40 miles in length, from the Potomac
River in Great Falls Park in the north to the Occoquan River in
Occoquan Regional Park in the south.
How long does it take to walk/ bike the trail?
The time on the trail depends on your traveling speed. The
paved parts of the trail are also easier to traverse than the
more rustic sections. A moderate rate of walking the trail is
between two and three miles an hour. There are groups who walk
or run the entire trail in one day. There are locations along
the trail where it is necessary to walk or carry a bike --
these include an extremely rocky section in the Pohick Stream
Valley as well as a number of unimproved and fair-weather
Does the trail link with other trails?
The trail is a north/south "spine" that connects
numerous trails throughout the county. Other trails will be
connected in the future. For example, the CCT route uses a
portion of the W&OD trail, providing a link to that major
east/west trail. The three stream valley trail systems (Pohick
Stream Valley, Accotink Stream Valley, and Difficult Run Stream
Valley) that are part of the trail continue into other areas of
the county beyond the connections of the CCT. The CCT links to
the Fairfax County Parkway trail. A connection into Prince
William County will be provided when the Lorton/Laurel Hill
extension is completed. Links to the Route 1 Bikeway Trail and
the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail to connect into
Loudoun County and into Prince William County are also
What other parks and park facilities are accessible
directly from the trail?
Occoquan Regional Park
The Laurel Hill parks will all be connected to the trail as
they are developed
Two recreation centers -- one at Wakefield Park (Audrey Moore
RECenter) and the other in Oak Marr Park
Lake Accotink Park
Athletic fields at Laurel Hill, Byron Avenue Park, Wakefield
Park, Eakin Community Park, Thaiss Park (the City of
Fairfax), and Oak Marr Park
Open play area at Tamarack Park
Picnic areas at Great Falls Park, Eakin Community Park,
Wakefield Park, and Lake Accotink Park
W&OD and Reston trails
Colvin Run Mill Park -- an early 19th-century
operating water wheel and gristmill
Great Falls National Park
What other parks or facilities are accessible from
the trail by side trails or other trail links?
South Run RECenter and Burke Lake Park can be reached via the
South Run Stream Valley Trail from Pohick Road
Both Franconia Springfield and Vienna Metro stations are
accessible from side trail connections to the CCT
Nottoway Park is accessible from the W&OD/City of Fairfax
Lake Fairfax Park and the Water Mine Swimming Hole lie along
the Rails to River Trail via a connection just south of Route
Clarks Crossing Park with athletic fields and trails is a
short distance east on the W&OD from Tamarack Park
Riverbend Park can be reached from the northern end of the
trail by following the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
through Great Falls Park
Where are drinking water, restrooms, and food
Drinking water, restrooms, and food are available at Occoquan
Regional Park, Lake Accotink Park, Wakefield Park, and Oak
Drinking water and restrooms are located at Colvin Run Mill
Park and Great Falls National Park
Portable restrooms are available seasonally at Byron Avenue
Park, Eakin Community Park and Thaiss Park
What are the rules of etiquette on the trail?
Share the trail -- respect others
Maintain proper control of bicycles at all times
Faster users pass on the left
Announce your passing -- "passing on your left."
Stay on existing trails
Stay off single-tracks when raining or muddy. Traffic on wet
trail causes damage.
Do not disturb vegetation or wildlife
Dogs must be leashed at all times
Trails and park closed at dark
What type of use is allowed on the trail?
The trail is multi-use in various sections. Pedestrians,
joggers, bikers, skaters and equestrians share different parts
of the trail. Some of the trail sections will not be
appropriate for some uses. For example, much of the Difficult
Run portion of the trail will not be surfaced and is frequently
muddy, with steep slopes and narrow passages. Many parts of the
Accotink Stream Valley portion of the trail are paved and not
appropriate for equestrian use. Motorized vehicles are not
allowed on any part of the trail. The exception is for Electric
Personal Assistive Mobility Devices (Segways and similar
What is the surface of the trail?
Different sections are surfaced differently to meet a variety
of needs. Pedestrians, hikers, joggers, bikers, skaters, and
equestrians share the trail as it is appropriate to their
activities. A large portion of the trail in the Accotink Stream
Valley is asphalt or concrete, while many sections along
Difficult Run remain natural surface or stonedust. Sections
along the roadways are concrete sidewalks or asphalt roadside
Which sections are paved?
Starting at the southern end of the trail:
One mile along the entrance road into Occoquan Regional Park
is an asphalt trail
Approximately 1 ½ miles of trail between Silverbrook Road to
Creekside View Lane is an eight foot wide asphalt trail with
several steep slopes, then a sidewalk and roadside trail to
the footpath down to the trail along Pohick Creek
One mile in Section 1 along Pohick Creek is paved from near
mile marker 34 to the Fairfax County Parkway.
Approximately 2 ½ miles of the trail is paved along the
Parkway and all the way to Old Keene Mill Road --The trail
then uses a sidewalk along Old Keene Mill Road and Byron
Avenue into Byron Avenue Park
Approximately four miles of paved trail runs from the north
end of Wakefield Park (Americana Park) to Thaiss Park in the
City of Fairfax. From Wakefield to King Arthur the trail is
either eight foot wide asphalt or 10 foot wide concrete.
Beyond that point to Thaiss Park, the trail is mostly six to
eight foot asphalt, but there are a few sections of
All 3.2 miles of section 6 of the trail are paved -- most is
sidewalk along roads, the final quarter mile in Oak Marr Park
is an asphalt trail
Approximately 750 feet of trail follows Vale Road, using the
old road alignment which is now an asphalt trail.
Approximately half a mile of trail that runs from Lawyers
Road to Twin Branches Road is asphalt
The three quarter mile section of trail that uses the
Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail (W&OD) is a
dual surface trail -- asphalt with a parallel stonedust trail
Approximately ½ mile of trail from the Dulles Access and Toll
Road to Browns Mill Road is asphalt
What roads are crossed by the trail and with what
Starting at the southern end of the trail:
Lorton Road crosswalk (to be added)
Furnace Road underpass (historic barrel bridge)
Silverbrook Road crosswalk (to be added)
Paper Birch Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Laurel Crest Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Bluebonnet Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Pohick Road crosswalk (spring 2006)
Fairfax County Parkway pedestrian signal
Rolling Road pedestrian signals
Hunter Village Drive crosswalk
Old Keene Mill Road pedestrian signal
Braddock Road underpass
Little River Turnpike (Rte. 236) underpass
King Arthur Road underpass
Woodburn Road crosswalk
Prosperity Road crosswalk
Barkley Road crosswalk
Pickett Road underpass (or don't cross)
Arlington Blvd (Rte. 50) pedestrian signal
Lee Highway (Rte. 29) pedestrian signal
Depending on which side of the road you travel along Blake
Lane, you will cross different streets, but all either have a
pedestrian signal or crosswalk and fairly light traffic
Five Oak Road pedestrian signal
Route 66 overpass
Chain Bridge Road (Rte. 123) pedestrian signal
Miller Heights Road crosswalk
Vale Road crosswalk
Lawyers Road crosswalk
Glade Drive not marked
Twin Branches Road crosswalk
Buckthorn Lane crosswalk
Hunter Mill Road crosswalk
Dulles Access and Toll Road underpass
Browns Mill Road crosswalk
Leesburg Pike (Rte. 7) traffic signal
Brian Jan Lane dead street/cul-de-sac, not marked
Leigh Mill Road crosswalk
Old Dominion Drive underpass
Georgetown Pike underpass
What sections of the trail are appropriate for
families with small children?
Any section of the trail could be walked with children;
however, some areas are rougher and require more care. Also,
there are some road and stream crossings that are difficult.
The following sections would be especially suited to families
with young children.
Accotink Stream Valley trail between Pickett Road and
Wakefield Park is flat, mostly paved and all stream crossings
are bridges. There are a number of road crossings that are
marked with crosswalks.
Lake Accotink Park trail between Braddock Road and the marina
is fairly level, stonedust surface, with bridges at stream
crossings. There is the added bonus of the fun activities at
the marina, including rental canoes and paddle boats, tour
boat rides, a carousel, and miniature golf.
Difficult Stream Valley trail between Miller Heights Road and
the right-ofway extended of Miller Road is stonedust surface,
gently rolling with lovely views of the stream valley.
Pohick Stream Valley trail just south of the Fairfax County
Parkway is paved, but has some steeper slopes and
fair-weather crossings. It is more appropriate for older
children, and is a wonderful stream valley experience.
How do I get to the trail?
The individual section maps show neighborhood connections,
parking, and amenities such as restrooms and water fountains.
Parking at major parks, such as Oak Marr, Wakefield, and Lake
Accotink is shown. There is also access to the trail from other
trail systems, such as the W&OD and the Reston trail
system. The CCT is connected to the Franconia/Springfield Metro
station via the Franconia Springfield Parkway Trail and to the
Vienna Metro station via the W&OD/City of Fairfax Connector
Trail. It is also accessible by Metrobus along most east-west
roads, including Georgetown Pike, Leesburg Pike, Lawyers Road,
Vale Road, Route 123/Jermantown Road, Lee Highway, Arlington
Boulevard, Little River Turnpike, Braddock Road, Old Keene Mill
Road, and Rolling Road.
What kind of maps have been created for the trail?
The trail has been divided into ten sections (plus an
additional section for the Laurel Hill Greenway - LHG) for
purposes of mapping. There are separate maps for the trail
within Lake Accotink Park and within Wakefield Park.
How is the trail marked?
Four types of signs are used to mark the CCT. All have the CCT
logo in red. There is a tan recycled four by four plastic post
with the logo -- these signs are installed so that the logo
side faces the trail, parallel to it. There are brown
fiberglass markers that are installed perpendicular to the
trail and may include red arrows, indicating angle of turn on
the trail. If there is a fork or intersection in the trail,
these signs should show you which way to go. If there is no
sign, generally stay on the trail you are on. A shorter brown
fiberglass marker looks the same as the markers described
above, but includes numerals to indicate the distance in miles
from the Potomac River, southbound. Both miles and half-miles
are marked except where the trail is not located on FCPA land.
A fourth type of sign is a six inch by six inch aluminum square
that is used along road right-ofways and on the grounds of
Great Falls Park. Additionally, the brown markers with road
names are installed near roads that don't have another easily
visible sign identifying them. Trailhead signs for each of the
ten sections have been installed, with an additional sign
planned for the LHG. These signs include a map of the trail
section and a "you are here" star. Interpretive signs
are also located along the trail on FCPA land and additional
directional and informational signs will be installed in the
Where are access points to the trail?
The trail is easily accessible from many neighborhoods in the
county. There are a number of connector trails from subdivision
streets and trails within the neighborhoods. Major connections
are shown on the trail map.
The trail also crosses several major roads and can, of course,
be accessed directly from any of them.
There are also trail connections within Laurel Hill Park,
Byron Avenue Park, Lake Accotink Park, Wakefield Park, Eakin
Community Park, Thaiss Park (the City of Fairfax), Blake Lane
Park, Borge Street Park, Oak Marr Park, Tamarack Park, Clarks
Crossing Park, Colvin Run Mill Park and Great Falls Park.
What should I do if I am injured on the trail?
If you have a cell phone, you should always carry it while on
the trail. For emergency assistance, call 911. If you have a
digitized cell phone, the emergency dispatcher can locate you.
How is the trail funded?
Various sources of funding are being used to develop the
trail. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors committed
$950,000 which has been used in initial development of the
trail. A Federal Transportation and Community and System
Preservation Grant of $233,842 has also been designated for the
trail. Fairfax County Park Authority bond funds of more than
three million dollars, approved by voters, have been used for
the trail development and stream crossing improvements.
Additionally, Federal Transportation grants in excess of one
million dollars have been designated for implementation of
sections of the trail. Additional funding will be sought
through grants and bond programs to continue trail
improvements. Much of the trail has been built and will be
maintained by volunteers. The assistance of dedicated
volunteers has been invaluable.
How can I help with the trail maintenance and
Contact one of our trail partner groups listed here. They have
adopted sections of the trail and are responsible for oversight
and routine maintenance for their individual sections.
Re-routings and other trail improvements are also coordinated
through these groups, so if you want to help, there are plenty
Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE) www.more-mtb.org
Fairfax Trails and Streams (FTAS) www.fairfaxtrails.org
Great Falls Trails Blazers (GFTB)
Hunters Valley Riding Club (HVRC) 703-620-4689
Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) www.waba.org
Trips for Kids -- www.tfkmetrodc.org
Clifton Horse Society -- www.cliftonhorsesociety.org