Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hiking Northern Virginia's Prince William Forest Park

The pictures below were taken by my wife Laura during a hike we took last month in Prince William Forest Park.  It was a hot July day, but on the shady trail it stayed fairly comfortable.

Typical path - South Valley Trail
Located in Northern Virginia near the Quantico Marine base, Prince William Forest Park is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, and features over 15,000 acres of piedmont forest.  A $5 entrance fee grants you access to the park for one week. Since it is right off I-95 exit 150, and in close proximity to densely populated areas, you'd think the park would get a lot of use but we've always found trail traffic to be very light.  In fact, on this last visit we only crossed paths with a couple other walkers during our 8-mile ramble. 

With over 37 miles of hiking trails, options are numerous. Maps are available at the visitor center and the rangers can help you plan your hike.  Soon after you leave your car and hit the trails the park can become surprisingly rustic.  This is no nature trail.  The scenery and conditions could often pass for a more moderate Appalachian Trail.  Of course it's Northern VA so you're never that far from a road or people, but it's easy to think you are somewhere much more remote.

Waterfall in distance
 For our route, we drove in to parking lot A and made a loop from there.  We walked along the South Valley Trail from Parking Lot A all the way to Mawavi Road.  The South Valley trail parallels a creek for much of the way and is probably the best overall trail in the park.  If you keep going past the intersection with High Meadows Trail, as we did, you'll come across a nice waterfall near the Mawavi Cabin Camp.  We stopped near the waterfall for a picnic lunch by the creek.

We continued walking on South Valley Trail, but turned right once we got to Mawavi Road, which is actually a gravel forest road.  Mawavi Road led to the paved "Scenic Drive" road, where we turned right and walked along the road until it met up with the Meadows Trail.  No cars, only bicyclists, were on the road.  Still, we were happy to get off the road and turned left onto Meadows Trail - a nice trail that takes you past the Taylor Farm Site.  We then turned right at Taylor Farm "Road" (it's more like a path).  That led us back to the South Valley Trail where we briefly re-tread some of the way we had been earlier until were back at the car.  About 8 miles altogether I estimate.

Prince William Forest Park also features 8 primitive campsites as part of its Chopawamsic Backcountry Area.  This is a separate part of the park and you have to get a permit from the visitor center to camp there.  You also can't drive in; you have to hike in a couple miles to get to your site.  This type of camping is very rare for Northern VA and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

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