Huntley Meadows occupies a 1,557-acre chunk of real estate south of Washington, D.C. Its miles of trails are perfect for a casual weekend hike.
The park, located below Alexandria, Va., is home to a wetlands area and more than 200 species of birds. There are more than 10 miles of maintained and informal trails that range from wooded and remote to views of the wetlands. What's more, the park is accessible via public transit. So grab a backpack with some basic gear, hop on the next train, and then jump on a bus to reach this suburban gem.
What Makes It Great
Huntley Meadows dates back to the mid-1700s, when George Mason bought the land that now occupies the park. Over the years it was sold and eventually became property of the federal government, and it was used for top secret communications testing in the 1950s. It also housed anti-aircraft protection for the nation's capital during that same time.
Today, the park is a wildlife enthusiast's dream. The main trails wind through the park and encircle the central wetlands, which serve as the focal point of the park.
The Cedar Trail starts at the visitor's center and heads southwest until it branches off when it intersects with the Heron Trail. The Cedar Trail continues left and stays in a wooded area, while the Heron Trail crosses into the wetlands on a boardwalk section. More than 200 types of birds have been spotted in here, making this trail a popular place for bird watchers.
The third trail in the park is the Deer Trail, which goes around a meadow at the other end of the Heron Trail. There's another boardwalk section that juts into the wetlands, and the observation tower provides panoramic views of the whole area.
Along the way, there are benches if you need to take a break to rest or to eat something. Aside from the wooden boardwalks, the trail surfaces are a combination of dirt, grass, and gravel. You would be fine wearing a basic pair of sneakers in the park, although hiking boots come in handy in the spring and after a lot of rain because it gets muddy in spots.
The entire aforementioned loop comprising the three main trails is 1.75 miles. There are other informal trails sprinkled throughout the park. Be sure to bring a camera.
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers who want to escape Washington, D.C. for an afternoon. Wildlife enthusiasts will especially like this park for birdwatching. With more than 200 species of birds, you won't get bored watching them in their native habitat.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you elect to take public transportation, take the blue line on the D.C. Metro and get off at King Street. Then board the Richmond Highway Express bus, which generally runs every 20 minutes, and exit at Richmond Highway and Lockheed Boulevard. The park entrance is a short walk down that road.
You can also drive to the park, as it offers several parking spots. Take Richmond Highway (Rt. 1) south and turn right onto Lockheed Boulevard.