On the Fairfax County, Virginia side of Bull Run, several parks and an 18 mile trail provide an environment for outstanding hiking, horseback riding, and trail running. Every April, the northern section of the trail gives visitors an unforgettable display of Virginia bluebells.
About the Trail
Just 25 miles west of Washington, DC, the Bull Run–Occoquan Trail begins just north of Manassas, VA and follows Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir downstream to Fountainhead Regional Park. Anyone in the Washington, D.C. area exploring the trail is given a wonderful experience in nature without having to drive farther away to the mountains. Hikers, equestrians, and runners cross over picturesque small streams, traverse rolling hills, and pass by historic Civil War sites. Although bicyclists are prohibited from riding on the Bull Run—Occoquan Trail, mountain bikers are not entirely left out of the fun, as there is a separate technical mountain bike trail network at the southern end of the park system in Fountainhead Regional Park.
The Bull Run—Occoquan trail has numerous access points, from Bull Run Regional Park at the upstream terminus to Fountainhead Regional Park at the downstream end. In between, visitors can access the trail at Route 28 south of Centreville, at Hemlock Regional Park near Clifton, and at Bull Run Marina off of Yates Ford Road.
The Trail is maintained by volunteers with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. I maintained a section downstream from Bull Run Marina for a few years before moving further away.
Those accessing the trail at Hemlock Park should not miss stopping in the quaint town of Clifton, Virginia. The Clifton General Store is the perfect place to pick up snacks and cold drinks. The town also has two fine restaurants, the Hermitage Inn (French cuisine) and Heart and Hand (American cuisine), as well as the Canary Cottage, a bed and breakfast.
Each April, Bull Run Regional Park showcases the most impressive display of Virginia bluebells anywhere. Virginia bluebells are small, bluish-purple wildflowers that prosper in the wet soil lining Cub Run and Bull Run. The bluebell fields are concentrated on the north end of the Bull Run—Occoquan Trail between Rte. 28 and Bull Run Regional Park. Bull Run Regional Park employees set up a special Bluebell trail loop for visitors to enjoy the experience.
The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club hosts training runs and footraces each year on the Bull Run—Occoquan Trail, including a 50 mile trail run and a women’s half marathon held each year in the late summer. I’ve completed the 50 miler three times, including once with my wife. My wife has also finished the half marathon three times. The club’s trail runs provide participants with a fun atmosphere and a spirit of camaraderie that is not often found at competitive road races.