Over the weekend, I set off with my son to hike in our own backyard (again). Not literally, but not too far away, at Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve in Broad Run.
There are three hiking trails at this suburban nature preserve, including Green (Fern Hollow Loop), Yellow (Beech Ridge Loop) and Red (Dawson’s Trail).
We hiked the Green Loop along the perimeter of the wooded nature preserve, but the three forested trails are interconnected, so it’s easy to create your own hike.
There’s also a lot to see at the nature preserve too, like an old mill, a former ice house, an old wooden home and historic family cemeteries (on the Red Trail).
|Elevation Gain||486 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt trails|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
It’s thankfully easy to get to and park at Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve. A paved road leads in and there is space for at least two dozen vehicles to park.
There is no winding gravel road and no need to fight for a parking space. When we arrived, there was only one car, but by 11:30 am, the lot was filled with nature-seekers.
You’ll see a large kiosk that marks the trailhead. Note that the nature preserve is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Also, no dogs are allowed on the trails.
The First Steps
Once you walk past the trail kiosk and around a wooden fence, you will need to walk over train tracks to reach the hiking trails, so use caution to ensure a safe crossing.
After a few steps, the hiking trail splits in two. You can turn left for Green or right for Red. We opted to stay right for Red (don’t worry, this trail continues on to Green).
It really doesn’t matter which direction you hike on the loop. At the .2-mile mark, you’ll reach the first of more than a few downed trees. This particular one was massive.
Continue on and the trail splits again at the .4-mile mark. Stay right for Yellow, which takes you through a young forest of beech and oak trees along a gently sloped ridge.
At the .7-mile mark, stay to the right to connect with Green, which you will take nearly all the way to the end of this wooded hike.
In a few more steps, you’ll cross over the first of several easy-going wooden bridges. This one goes over gently-flowing Catlett’s Branch.
You can then venture over across a log to a stone tunnel that runs under the railroad. The tunnel is just a waterway, but it’s quite lovely and fun to explore.
At the 1.7-mile mark, you’ll reach Corum House, a historic African-American homesite once owned by Beverley and Mary Jane Corum in the late 1910’s.
As you continue on, you’ll cross Catlett’s Branch again near the 2.1-mile mark. Then, a carefully crafted wooden bench dedicated to a young man who was killed in 2015.
The 19 y.o. man, Cody J. Bowling, was struck and killed on the train tracks. The bench warns, “Walking on the tracks can shorten your life.” An important message to heed.
The hiking trail continues to meander through the woods, crossing over several more wooden bridges. At the 3.3-mile mark, you will reach the remains of Upper Mill.
In a few more steps, you will see Chapman’s Mill through the trees. This multi-story grist mill was powered by the water from Broad Run.
The historic mill was constructed between 1737 and 1742, and changed hands several times before ceasing operation in 1951. Arson left the mill in ruins in 1998.
At the 3.5-mile mark, you will arrive at the Ice House, a below-ground rock pit that served as storage for ice. It was part of a historic homestead called Meadowlands.
In a few more steps, you will cross over a short section of boardwalk trail. Turn right onto Red to cross the train tracks to reach the trail kiosk. Your hike is complete.
From the parking area, this hike took us one hour, 40 minutes, including time spent exploring historical structures and ruins.
Nearby, check out Leopold’s Preserve, an easy 4.7-mile loop hike. It’s just a four-minute drive from Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve.
For post-hike snacks, the small town of Haymarket is less than 10 minutes by car. Even closer is The Farm Brewery at Broad Run (only five minutes by car).