Hundreds of people rang in 2019 by taking a hike on Fairfax County Park Authority trails and nearly 280 of them submitted photos for this year’s contest – more than triple that of last year. For the first time, the Fairfax County Park Authority awarded two grand prize winners in the contest. With more than 16 percent of the public vote, Diane Willen’s sunrise photo of Burke Lake Park was named the People’s Choice Winner. The Park Authority also named Brian W. Knight the Judges’ Choice Winner. Judges felt that his photo of fiancée Christy Wahle striking a pose at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve perfectly captured the spirit of the annual First Hike initiative.
You can also browse all submitted photos by checking out our First Hike Fairfax 2019 Flickr Album. Two RECenter passes will be mailed to all entrants no later than January 31, 2019.
We’ve picked five family-friendly starter hikes at some really great parks in Fairfax County. This year, you’re also invited to head outside to any other Fairfax County Park Authority trail for your hike.
First Hike Fairfax kicks off the Park Authority’s Healthy Strides 12 Steps for a Healthier 2019, a year of healthy living ideas for you and your family. For more fresh ideas, visit the Healthy Strides web page and sign up for the e-newsletter with monthly tips to get you and your family energized.
Parking: Park at the large parking lot at the dam, accessible only via the front entrance to the park at 7500 Accotink Park Road. This road comes off Highland Street and is not recognized by some GPS applications. (If entering the park via 5660 Heming Avenue, the distance to the hike’s starting point from the Heming Avenue parking lot is about .2 miles.)
1/1/18 Operating Hours: Open daily sunrise to sunset (park grounds only; facilities closed)
Distance: 2 or 3 mile hike options (see below)
Where to start/stop: Begin at historic marker denoting the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Trestle. (The marker stands in the shadow of the modern-day train bridge, a short distance from the sharp bend in the park road.)
For the 2-mile hike:
Walk under the train bridge and continue along the asphalt pathway toward the grassy hill that extends along the length of the park road after the bend. (This hill is the impoundment hill for the lake.) Upon reaching the impoundment hill, you may choose to climb the flight of concrete steps that leads straight up, or stay on the asphalt pathway as it follows a gentle uphill grade toward the marina. In either case, you will reach a small picnic shelter, where you turn left and continue along the sidewalk. The lake will be on your left. Continue past the boathouse and amusements area of the park. On your left is a small beach with launch access for canoes and kayaks. At the far end of the beach, cross the pedestrian bridge that leads into the woods. The natural surface trail picks up here, continuing in the same direction going away from the marina. Continue on this trail until you pass the second informational kiosk heading toward Wakefield Park. At the first “Blind Curve” sign after this kiosk (you will see a single bench on your left just before the “Blind Curve Sign” which is located on your right) turn around and return to starting point. You will have completed two miles!
For the 3-mile hike:
Instead of turning around at the bench, continue past the second informational kiosk toward Wakefield Park. Continue on this trail. You will travel across the new part of the trail which is white concrete. At the second section of new white concrete trail you will see a marker saying “Ribbons of Green Protect our Streams.” Turn around at this marker and return to starting point. You will have covered three miles!
Features: Some sections paved, some natural surface. Grade varies from flat to moderate, views of woods and lake. Both hikes take place along the northern section of the loop trail, which coincides with the GC Cross County Trail.
Highlights: Lake Accotink Park's 493 acres include a 55-acre lake, wetlands, and streams offering unique views of waterfowl and marsh life. Birds often sighted include bald eagles, blue herons, green herons, white egrets, Canada geese, and mallard ducks. In warmer months, painted turtles can be seen sunning themselves on logs protruding from the lake bed. The park is also home to deer, foxes, beavers, and several species of snakes.
Helpful Comments: Loop trail users please note: The trail section by the dam frequently floods during rain events and there is no bypass. The park features a 3.8 mile trail that meanders around the lake, with a complete loop made possible by following Danbury Forest Drive to connect back into the park. The southern portion of the loop trail follows the original Orange and Alexandria Railroad track bed.
Parking: From the park entrance, bear left and enter the parking lot by the mini golf and go all the way to the back of the lot to park by the amphitheater.
1/1/18 Operating Hours: Open daily sunrise to sunset (park grounds only; facilities closed)
Where to start/stop:Start at the amphitheater near the Ice Cream Parlor parking lot and end in the same location. There are multiple points of entry to the trail and places to park. (e.g. lakefront, near the picnic shelters, etc.)
Features: Mix of gravel and concrete, but mostly gravel. Stroller, bike, and dog friendly. Wide paths to accommodate trail users in both directions.
Highlights: Burke Lake Park is just 25 minutes from Washington, D.C. The Burke Lake Loop Trail follows the shoreline 4.7 miles around the lake, with bays jutting out from the main body of water that provide a welcome sense of solitude.
Helpful comments: There is a point where the trail splits and goes towards the woods (left) or by the lake (right). Hikers want to stay to the right and walk by the lake.
Parking: Parking is plentiful at Cub Run RECenter, located adjacent to Westfield High School.
1/1/18 Operating Hours: Open daily sunrise to sunset (park grounds only; RECenter open 10a-6p)
Distance: 2 miles
Where to Start: Follow the wood chip path past the playground (to the right of the RECenter entrance) to the start of the trail. (For an ADA accessible option, go around the left side of the RECenter, past the water slide.) At the fork in the path, either choose left to go toward Old Lee Road, or right to go toward Stonecroft Blvd. Either direction is ½ mile out. Start out to the left and when you approach Old Lee Rd, turn around to go back the way you came. Pass the path entrance and continue all the way down the path until you approach Stonecroft Blvd. Turn around once again, to double back to the path entrance. You will have covered a 2-mile distance.
Features: Paved. Stroller, bike, and dog friendly. Relatively flat. Wide paths to accommodate trail users in both directions.
Highlights: Scenic bridge and stream (on the path to the right, toward Stonecroft Blvd.).
Helpful comments: This path is paved, but not marked. Since both sides are down-and-back, you stay close to the point of entry at the Cub Run RECenter, which is convenient for bathroom and water stops.
Parking: The Wetland Boardwalk is accessible by parking at the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center located at 3701 Lockheed Blvd, Alexandria VA 22306. The park entrance is located where Lockheed Blvd and Harrison Lane meet. The Hike-Bike Trail parking lot is accessible off of S. Kings Hwy, close to where the road intersects with Telegraph Rd. The address is 6901 S. Kings Hwy, Alexandria VA 22310. This trail does not connect to the Wetland Boardwalk.
1/1/17 Operating Hours: Open daily sunrise to sunset (park grounds only; facilities closed)
Wetland Boardwalk (& Interpretive Trail):The trail to the observation platform is a total of .6 miles. Total trail distance (to complete the entire loop) is approximately 2 miles
Hike-Bike Trail: 1.2 miles ( Directions)
*These are two separate trails that do not connect and have separate parking lots/entrances.
Approximate Roundtrip Time: 1 hour, without stopping (Wetlands Boardwalk/Interpretive Trail)
Difficulty: 2 of 10. Flat, stone dust trail through woods and well maintained boardwalk through wetland.
Where to Start/Stop: Wetlands Boardwalk Trail: Once parked, enter along the paved trail at the end of the parking lot. This will bring you by the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center (hours vary seasonally), and on towards the wetland.
Features: Bicycles not allowed on the boardwalk, but it is stroller friendly. The Hike-Bike trail is paved and recommended for walkers, runners, and bicyclists.
Highlights: Huntley Meadows Park has a beautiful, unique wetland habitat with incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, especially for birds. The park is home to many animals, including herons, egrets, multiple duck species, redheaded woodpeckers, deer, and beaver, among others.
Helpful comments: Dogs are welcome in the park (leashed), but are not permitted on the boardwalk. If using another GPS device, always enter the street address: 3701 Lockheed Blvd, Alexandria, VA 22306. The final destination should show the corner of Harrison Lane and Lockheed Blvd. If a GPS search is made for Huntley Meadows Park, by name, the GPS will almost always send the driver into neighborhoods that dead-end at the edges of the park.
1/1/17 Operating Hours: Park grounds are open from 7 a.m. to dusk, hours posted. (Nature Center closed)
Distance: 2-mile loop
Difficulty: 2/5 – The wooded portion of the trail is on a partial incline at some parts, and is not totally level. The shoreline portion of the trail is level and clear. Great for families with children.
Where to start: From the Visitor Center, follow the road (Potomac Hills Street) up back towards the park entrance. You will see the gravel entrance to the Follow the Hollows trail on the left (blazed orange). I found this was easier to find than the entrance on the right, but you can access the trail on either side to complete the loop.
Highlights: This scenic trail through Riverbend Park offers views of both the forest and the river. There are various maps posted along the trail to help track your progress throughout your hike. Additionally, there are several information boards offering educational information regarding local wildlife, etc.
Helpful comments: Although the Follow the Hollows trail is very family-friendly, the forest portion of this hike does not accommodate strollers well. I would not recommend this trail for families with members that require a stroller. However, this trail is very dog-friendly! This would be a great way to exercise your pet, as long as he or she has a leash. If 2 miles is too tiresome for your little ones, you have the option to cut the trail short where the shoreline meets back with the Visitor Center/parking lot. If not, keep on walking! The loop brings you right back out to Potomac Hills Street on the opposite side.
12000 Government Center Pkwy
Fairfax, VA 22035