These Manassas hiking trails shouldn’t be missed if you love the great outdoors. They differ in length and degree of difficulty, but all provide a pleasant way to enjoy the scenery and history of this area.
Prince William Forest Park
Often described as the best kept secret in northern Virginia, this 15,000 acre oasis of peace and quiet appeals to those wanting to hike, bike, camp or simply enjoy nature. The park was established in 1948 although the land was previously known as the Chopawamsic Recreation Area and was originally used during the Great Depression to house relief camps for children. Prince William Forest Park boasts almost 40 miles of hiking trails, allowing you to take advantage of the delightful woodlands, trickling streams and variety of plants and birds that can be seen here. Almost all the trails can be accessed easily by the aptly named Scenic Drive, and whichever trail you choose, you’ll appreciate the quiet and the tranquility.
Birch Bluff Trail
From the bathrooms in the picnic area at Pine Grove, follow the red blazes along the Laurel Loop Trail about a third of a mile until you come to the Birch Bluff Trail. Continue following the red blazes until you see South Fork Quantico Creek and come to a clearing in the trees.
The creek will become wider as you continue to follow the trail alongside it for another ten minutes, and during January it is often partly frozen. Look for evidence of beavers in the area, as well as the rocky outcroppings in places. The next landmark you come across on the trail is a group of fallen trees surrounding a small cascade, once you continue around the bend. The Birch Bluff Trail ends a few minutes later back at the picnic area at Pine Grove, having connected with the Laurel Loop Trail, which is identifiable from its yellow blazes.
Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine Trail
Between 1889 and 1920, sulphuric acid was made from the pyrite that was mined here, and then used to manufacture fertilizer, gunpowder and soap. From parking area D it’s about a ten minute walk to the trail marker, along Pyrite Mine Road. The next stop is the North Valley Trail and the Quantico Creek, which is reached after a couple more minutes of walking. The Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine complex and other remains from the original mining operation sit alongside the Quantico Creek, and they can be reached by crossing over the bridge and taking the North Valley Trail southwards.
A key and a permit are needed to hike this moderate to difficult trail winding through the back country of Chopawamsic, both of which can be obtained from the visitor center. The path has yellow and white blazes; if you are camping, you should follow the yellow blazes to reach your campground, although if you are hiking the trail, you’ll want to keep an eye open for the white blazes.
Chopawamsic Creek and Brenkenridge Reservoir come into view after about a 25 minute walk. The remainder of this hike will take you across several tributaries of the Chopawamsic Creek and you’ll find yourself walking uphill through the wooded area after hiking downhill towards the creek for a few minutes. To return to the parking area it’s a hike of about one and a half miles.
Farms to Forest Trail
Look for the green and yellow blazes to show you the way on this easy to hike trail, and although this is a fairly short one, it takes in some interesting scenery. From the start of the trail at the Oak Ridge Campground, it’s just a few minutes to reach the point where the trail splits into two paths. To connect to the Forest Trail Extension Trail that will ultimately take you to Quantico creek, take the right pathway at the fork and continue for about 1.7 miles. However, to return to your starting point, continue straight on.
Lycopodium complanatum is better known as ground cedar and it’s recognizable from its horizontal stems that lie along the woodland pathways. Hiking the Farms to Forest Trail is a wonderful way to appreciate the plant’s green and flattened stems that can reach up to a meter in length. Farms once thrived in this area and it’s easy to picture them, thanks to the fairly open forest that lies along much of the trail.
It’s a walk of about 15 minutes to return to Oak Ridge Campground once you have passed the point where the Extension Trail crosses the Farms to Forest Trail. If you notice the small creek that meanders alongside the trail and through the woods, it’s the Quantico Creek. Water quality in this area is an ongoing concern and the creek is considered to be one of the area’s success stories. And if you are looking for a bit of an adventure be sure to check out Battlefield Park.