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Bull Run-Occoquan Trail

Pretend you are in the 1860s.  You are in a forest.   Twigs are snapping beneath your feet, you are stumbling over rocks and ducking under tree limbs until, inevitably, you trip on a root.  Crack goes your ankle; whap goes your body on the hard dirt.  This, however, is the least of your worries, as you are in the midst of running away from what has turned into the great war of freedom.

Fast forward almost two centuries, and you are still running through that same forest, though thankfully in less dire circumstances.  The only thing you may be running from now is a long week at work, a few extra cookies, or maybe you just enjoy running!

A hop, skip, and a jump away from George Mason University, the Bull Run – Occoquan trail spans approximately 18 miles, between Bull Run Park in Centreville and Fountainhead Park in Fairfax Station.   The trail is perfect for running, and it also boasts a few adjacent mountain bike loops along its length. As such, parts of these parks have been used for the Backyard Burn trail race series.

The trail is clearly marked with blue blazes and is primarily single track, hard-packed dirt. It can be rocky, rooty and muddy in spots, though, while traversing fairly steep and lengthy hills along with numerous stream crossings covered by unique footbridges. The trail is heavily forested with hemlock and oak trees forming walls along the trail, while in other places trees frame the sparkling waters of the Occoquan Reservoir.  There is also plenty of wildlife to survey, including herons, geese, wild turkeys, beavers and deer. One of the nicest things about this trail is that it is surprisingly unknown to most residents of Prince William and Fairfax counties, despite its proximity to a large number of people.

There are five access points:

  •         Fountainhead Regional Park: 10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station
  •         Bull Run Marina: 12619 Old Yates Ford Road, Clifton
  •         Hemlock Overlook Regional Park: 13220 Yates Ford Road, Clifton
  •         Route 28 access point( 28S of I-66, pass through Compton Rd. intersection, last driveway on right before crossing the bridge over Bull Run)
  •         Bull Run Regional Park: 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centreville (a few of the entrances are closed during the winter but trail access is still allowed; parking in adjacent parking lots, plenty of parking at access points)

A fantastic section of the trail starts at Fountainhead Regional Park or Bull Run Marina and runs the length between the two.  Totaling 13 miles (6.5 miles out and back), this part of the trail is moderate in difficulty, though one of the easier sections of the trail as a whole, and is virtually flat on the western edge near the marina but still not without arduous hills.   A shooting range across the way closer to the marina adds to the excitement of this section as it makes you wonder if you may have crossed over the time barrier and traveled back in time to the 19th century.  There is also a preserved 18th century cemetery close to the Fountainhead Park end.  The whole trail is out and back, allowing you to create any length of a run, yet not monotonous since trails tend to take on starkly different appearances from different directions.

When done running, don’t forget to check out quaint downtown Clifton. You will find a charming creperie, which is a perfect spot to grab some food, a cup o’joe, and revel in how far you have come, yet how far we have to go.

-Rebecca Fritchman

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of RunWashington.

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