More than 390 parks cover 23,000 acres in Fairfax County, so there’s no shortage of places to hike, camp, bike, shoot skeet, or learn about America’s history. This guide will walk you through the seven most exciting parks to explore in McLean, Virginia.
The Best Parks in McLean, VA
Great Falls Park
The Potomac River is the backdrop for Great Falls Park, which is only a 15-minute drive from D.C., accessible via the Georgetown Pike (Virginia Route 193) and Old Dominion Drive. There is space for 600 vehicles, but this popular park fills up quickly anyway on busy weekends. Camping is not permitted. The spectacular waterfalls, which travel 76 feet over a series of large cascades, are rated Class 5-6 whitewater and are a popular destination for expert rafters.
The park has some historic spots, too. The Patowmack Canal in Great Falls was the first canal in the United States to use locks to raise and lower boats so merchants could get goods upstream. There are also native American petroglyphs on some of the cliffs overlooking Difficult Run.
A different experience awaits at Clemyjontri Park, a 2-acre park and playground at 6317 Georgetown Pike. It has a carousel set at ground level (with 14 horses), a picnic pavilion, walking trails, spinning teacups, and a trackless miniature train ride.
The park was designed to be a playground for children with developmental, mobility, and sensory disabilities. Ramps connect structures to help kids enter and exit the rides safely. The rubber surfaces allow wheelchairs to move around easily, and all play structures are wheelchair-friendly.
Turkey Run Park
Picturesque Turkey Run Park is a great place to explore the ecosystem of the Potomac George Rivers, although you are not permitted to swim or wade in the waters here. It’s located just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Interstate 495.
This park is open year-round and has a unique mixture of flora and fauna, making it an excellent choice for families to explore. There are walking trails crossing several different habitats, and the Potomac Heritage Trail runs through the park. You can see various wildlife here, including woodpeckers and smaller mammals, depending on the season.
Frying Pan Farm Park
Those curious about where Thanksgiving turkeys get their presidential pardons might want to check out the rural-themed Frying Pan Farm Park. This park is an authentic way to experience rural America as it was in the early 20th century, including old-fashioned tractors, milking machines, and mechanical bailers. There are also equestrian facilities, a 1920s-style carousel, barns, a picnic area, a replica farmhouse, and numerous farm animals.
The park includes Kidwell Farm, a working demonstration farm that recreates American rural life from the 1930s. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet a range of different farm animals, take a wagon ride, watch a cow being milked, or listen to friendly staff explain the workings of a farm in early America. Frying Pan Farm Park hosts fairs and carnivals in the summer and other seasonal festivals throughout the year. The Frying Pan Meetinghouse, built in 1791 as an old Baptist Church, is also worth investigating. It was used for town meetings and religious services, and is designated a state landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bull Run Regional Park
Campers might be interested in Bull Run Regional Park, a 1,600-hectare park located in Centreville, Virginia, just off Interstate 66. There are activities for the whole family, including picnic areas and campgrounds for tents and RVs. Other facilities include a shooting center, the Atlantis Waterpark, playgrounds, disc golf, and nature and equestrian trails. The park is open year-round, weather permitting. History buffs may want to visit Blackburn’s Ford (in the park), where Confederates fired on Union troops as they tried to cross the creek close to Route 28. There are also Native American trails and trade routes scattered throughout.
Bull Run became famous in the ’70s for producing and hosting large events, and park operators constructed a massive amphitheater in the ’80s that can accommodate over 10,000 people. Winter brings a holiday light show, the Bull Run Festival of Lights, which runs for more than 2 miles and is one of America’s largest light shows.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
The next stop could be Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, a 650-acre park in Western Fairfax County with historic ruins and natural habitats such as forests, streams, meadows, and a pond. You can take a 1-mile walk along Walney Creek from its source at Spring House all the way to Big Rocky Run. The visitor center has info about the natural and cultural history of the park, and it also offers lots of hands-on activities for children to enjoy. They can see live reptiles and amphibians, for instance, or learn about the historical and ecological background of the park. Visitors can indulge in some birdwatching and hiking or visit the pollinator gardens, the historic kitchen gardens, and other historical buildings.
The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge
Anyone who has ever wondered about America’s symbolic bald eagle may want to visit the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, which was established specifically to protect this endangered species. This park covers 2,276 acres of mature hardwood forest, 250 acres of freshwater marsh, and 6 miles of shoreline along the Potomac River. The marshland and forest change dramatically with the seasons, and you will see different kinds of wildlife year-round.
The refuge provides a safe habitat not only for bald eagles but for a whole range of birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants, including the Great Blue Heron and the white-tailed deer. You might see active beaver lodges and muskrats. In fall and spring, you will see migrating ducks and songbirds; in winter, you might see some tundra swans, ducks, and geese from Canada. You can explore the entire park by hiking the 4 miles of established nature trails and winding forest corridors.
This list of parks near McLean, Virginia, illustrates what a beautiful place this is to make your home. The area is attractive for its proximity to D.C. and so many other wonderful places to visit and explore.
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