Threading 40 miles from north to south through Fairfax County, Virginia is the Cross County Trail, one of the premier trails in the area. The trail features everything from asphalt and concrete to crushed stone, dirt, and gravel. Coming to a peak at 465 feet above sea level in Oakton (around mile 25 from the south), the trail has plenty of ups and downs. And that makes it a great trail running option.
What Makes It Great
From the north, the trail starts at Great Falls — a beautiful spot on the Potomac River that overlooks waterfalls and rapids and offers 800 acres worth of exploring. The trail snakes south from that point, meandering along the county's extensive system of streams.
The southern point of the trail is in Occoquan Regional Park, ending at the Occoquan River — which flows into the larger Potomac not far downstream.
Starting at either the northern or southern end is a good bet, or you can start somewhere in the middle. There are countless places to jump on and off the trail. If you begin at the bottom end at the Occoquan River, the trail climbs about 250 feet in the first 1.5 miles, points down, goes back up, and repeats the pattern. There's a net gain of more than 450 feet from the Occoquan River to the high point in Oakton, right before mile 25. There's a net downhill run from that point to Great Falls. Running from north to south is lumpy too, so take your pick and go with it.
Most runners start at either Great Falls or the Audrey Moore Rec Center in Annandale, Va., located around 15 miles from the southern tip of the trail. There's also a park there, Wakefield Park, that's good for trail running and has plenty of parking.
With the varying surfaces along the Cross County Trail, it's best to wear a pair of trail shoes to stay prepared for what you might encounter. A warning: sections of the trail tend to flood in the spring in certain areas. Check fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/trails/ for trail conditions and alerts.
Who is Going to Love It
Trail runners looking for a run on challenging and varying terrain. There are plenty of short up and down sections and some tight turns.
If you're not into doing a lot of hill work, the Cross County Trail might still be for you. Starting at Great Falls has a short climb at the start, followed by a few small hills and some mostly flat sections for about six miles.
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.