A 40-mile strip of land that winds through Fairfax County, Virginia offers endless opportunities for hikers. Called the Cross County Trail, the trail runs north to south through the bustling county. With the exception of one segment, however, it will feel like you're in the middle of a quiet wilderness — not one of the busiest counties in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. The path mostly shadows the extensive system of streams in the county. With more places to jump on the trail than we can count, the Cross County Trail is worth every minute spent walking on it.
What Makes It Great
The trail runs from Great Falls, Va. in the north down to Occoquan Regional Park, on the Occoquan River south of Washington. It curls, snakes, and meanders its way through the county, cutting a wavy line through the pristine green space.
The majority of the trail has either a gravel or natural surface, although one segment — a 3-mile stretch that ends right before mile 21, from the south — takes hikers on sidewalks adjacent to busy roads and over Rt. 66 via an overpass. This area does contain stores to refuel, so walking under the summer sun without a canopy of trees might be worth it here.
The Cross County Trail is, frankly, a wonderful place to spend a few hours exploring. If you start at Great Falls, check out the waterfalls and rapids before beginning your hike south. And there are so many parks along the route that you'll have plenty of opportunities to rest and relax in the shade.
The trail itself isn't too challenging, although there are some hills to climb. Starting at the southern end brings you up a 250-foot climb over 1.5 miles. That's not a crazy amount of elevation gain, but it's something — especially at the start. The rest of the hills are smaller and shorter.
The trail crosses over several streams, most of which contain stepping stones to help you get across. But since some areas can get a bit waterlogged after the spring thaw or following a lot of rain, it's best to wear a good pair of hiking boots to keep your feet dry. Other parts of the trail is single track, so watch out for mountain bikers.
Who is Going to Love It
People who want to escape their busy lives in and around the nation's capital and experience nature at its best. The Cross County Trail runs through the heart of Fairfax County, which is quicker to get to than some of the other trails in the region.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
With so many entrance points along the Cross County Trail, it's best to consult with a map or GPS to get directions. If you're going to Great Falls, take 495, get off at the Georgetown Pike exit and head toward Langley. The park entrance is about 4 miles down on your right, and there is a fee to enter.
If you want to start at Occoquan Regional Park, take 95 south away from Washington and exit onto Rt. 123 north. The park is about a mile down on your right.