By Lyda Gould
If your four-legged furry friend is just raring to lead you along the trails of our area’s great parks, SPCA NOVA volunteers Mary Portelly, Barbara Deathe, and I have tested several and have come up with our Top 10:
Prince William Forest
One word: huge. It’s hard to run into other adventurers on the paths of this 15,000-acre park with 37 miles of hiking trails. There’s something for everyone with trails for every level of fitness and hiking experience. This is surely a get-away-from-it-all hiking treat.
Riverbend Park to Great Falls
Our SPCA NOVA volunteers have hiked this trail many times with their dogs. It’s an out-and-back hike south between the Riverbend Park and Great Falls Visitor Centers. There are scenic Potomac River views as you go, and it’s considered easy with one moderate section at the Aqueduct Dam
Tip: While you can walk the trail in either direction, our volunteers recommend starting at Riverbend Park because parking is free there, but there’s an entrance fee to get into Great Falls Park with your car.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Located in the Potomac River near Key Bridge, neither cars nor bicycles are permitted on this island. It’s a pleasant short walk with three trails, each named for the habitats they run through: the Swamp Trail, the Woods Trail, and the Upland Trail. Be sure to visit the memorial hidden in the middle of the island!
Tip: On weekends, arrive early as parking is limited.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath
Enjoy history and nature here! This trail, also known as the C&O Canal Towpath, parallels the Potomac River on the Maryland side. It is steeped in American History, running 185 miles from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. All sections make for great hiking with a dog. You can access the Towpath from a number of locations in Maryland, including the Carderock Recreation Area in Potomac, White’s Ferry in Poolesville, and Point of Rocks. For a fun day trip, you can also start in Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., by walking around the historical community, then crossing the train tracks to hike along the C&O Canal.
Spring Wildflower Hikes
If you’re a wildflower enthusiast, we have two trails for you. First, there’s another Riverbend Park trail (we love ‘em!). Take the Potomac Heritage Trail upriver this time to be treated to spectacular wild flowers in early April. Second, try Bull Run Park, famous for its Virginia Bluebells, though this trail can get crowded.
Turkey Run Park
This park offers a number of trails that pass through habitats that make up the Potomac Gorge ecosystem.
Great Falls Cow Hoof Rock
This one offers spectacular river views. Start out on the Great Falls River Trail going downstream, then follow to Cow Hoof Rock; continue hiking up until you reach a T-junction with the Ridge Trail and take a right. This trail ends at the Old Carriage Road, which is a great way to hike back.
Lake Accotink Park
Located in Springfield, this four-mile loop offers a very nice trail around a 55-acre lake. If you’re looking to bring kids, this park also offers an antique carousel and picnic areas.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Just downstream from Great Falls Park, this trail offers a great place for dogs to swim, provided they’re on a long lead as park staff do enforce leash laws.
Tip: Parking lots at entrance points are small and get crowded. Arrive early or late in the day.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
Located in Chantilly, this park offers approximately four miles of trails through forests and along meadows. You can start your hike at the Walney Visitor Center, Middlegate/Cabell’s Mill Complex, or Walney Pond.
Remember: Ticks abound in wooded forests, particularly in Northern Virginia, so please be sure to check yourself and your pet when you get home. We also recommend using regular flea and tick prevention on your pets.