First things first, if you’re able to do so, plan to arrive at Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge in time for a delicious sunrise from the pier at Freestone Point. Gorgeous.
I arrived before dawn to a desolate park, but it was utterly perfect. I walked onto the snow-dusted wooden pier and sat on the sandy beach, listening to gently lapping waves.
The trailhead for the Lee’s Woods Trail was just steps from the sandy beach. Once I savored all of the coral-colored sunrise, I made my way to the start of the trail.
There’s a lot of history to this hike, including Freestone Point, which was once used as a lookout point by rifle-toting soldiers in the Civil War.
|Elevation Gain||226 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt & rock trails, some gravel trails|
|Fee||$7 per vehicle weekdays ($10 per vehicle weekends, Apr-Oct)|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
The 2.0-mile Lee’s Woods Trail originates from the far east side of Leesylvania State Park. Drive as far as you can on the main park road, then turn right into the last lot.
The parking lot is massive, but in warm-weather months, this state park is beyond popular with picnickers and beach-goers.
From here, walk east to the circle. You’ll see a large trail kiosk for the Lee’s Woods Historic Trail on the left side of the circle.
Your history lesson begins to the left of the kiosk. At Freestone Point, a blockade was built on the Potomac River, on the ancestral grounds of Robert E. Lee.
The First Steps
The trail originates just past the trail kiosk, up a set of wooden stairs that leads to a small outdoor amphitheater. But first, stop for a large colorful trail sign.
This sign shares what you can expect to see along this interpretive loop trail, including the Lee and Fairfax family homesteads, an old cemetery and a former Civil War fort.
As you ascend the stairs, you will soon reach the former site of the Freestone Point Hunt Club. A two-story frame structure was built in the mid-1920’s.
As duck numbers declined, this gathering place for duck hunters lost appeal. The property was sold in the 1950’s. All that remains is a fireplace.
Today, the fireplace is the backdrop for a stage used for seasonal ranger programs. A small amphitheater has been built in a semi-circle around the fireplace.
Continue on and you will reach Stop 1 on the red-blazed historic trail. Some stops are marked, some are not. This one was not, but the visitor center may have a guide.
At the .2-mile mark, you will reach a Civil War fort on a scenic bluff dating back to 1861. This is the true Freestone Point where a battery was built by Confederate soldiers.
This significant battery was constructed to deflect attention from larger batteries further down the Potomac River. This was the site of a battle on September 25, 1861.
Here you’ll see a cannon, as well as two benches overlooking the river. The cannon resembles those used to blockade the Potomac River from October 1861 to March 1862.
At the .4-mile mark, you have the option to turn right for the full Lee’s Woods Trail or turn left to return to the trail kiosk for a short .6-mile loop hike.
Turning right, you will walk up a small hill. At the .5-mile mark, you will see a sign for a Scenic Overlook. I’m always game, so I went to check out the views.
You’ll find three benches, mostly overlooking the parking lot and some of the Potomac River. Honestly, the view is better from the former Civil War fort early on the hike.
Thankfully, the trail to the scenic overlook is very, very short. If you opt to walk to the overlook, simply re-trace your steps, then stay left on the Lee’s Woods Trail.
You will see Fairfax House on the left. This former family home of Captain Henry Fairfax dates back to 1825. All that remains today is a two-story brick chimney.
On Fairfax’s death, the home was willed to his son, John Walter Fairfax. The junior Fairfax lived here from 1877 until his death in 1908. The home burned down a short time later.
From here, the trail continues on a wide gravel stretch. At the 1.0-mile mark, you will reach the former family home of Henry Lee II that dates back to 1750.
Lee chose this site high on the ridge for a plantation with a farm and a fishery. This site on the wooded peninsula overlooked the Potomac River.
George Washington, who lived 14 miles upriver, was a frequent dinner and overnight guest at the plantation. Lee died in 1787. In 1790, the home burned to the ground.
In a few more steps, you will reach the site of a former road that cut through the ridge, destroying the historic ruins of the Lee plantation home.
At the 1.3-mile mark, you will arrive at the Lee-Fairfax Cemetery. Just past the burial grounds, veer left for a landing that overlooks a former railroad line (1872-1925).
A placard details challenges endured by the railroad line, including landslides and train derailments. It’s hard to believe the line operated as long as it did.
Interestingly, an operational railroad runs through the state park today. As you hear the whistle of the train, it sounds eerily as if it will pass through this very spot.
Continue on this wooded hike until the 1.8-mile mark. Turn left, then turn right to continue down the hill to complete this historic hike.
As you proceed, you can either turn left through the amphitheater and down the stairs to the trail kiosk or you can proceed down the gravel road to the circle.
From the trail kiosk, this hike took me nearly one-hour including time spent to admire historic ruins and read educational placards.
Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy post-hike on one of numerous picnic tables or on the sandy beach adjacent to the fishing pier. For a second hike in the park, head to Powell’s Creek.
In the picnic area, look for a couple of playgrounds, as well as signage on “Pleasureland of the East.” In the late 1950’s a luxury gambling resort was in the works.
The full vision never came to fruition, though the coastal area of the park was home to a Ferris wheel, three swimming pools, a merry-go-round and pony rides.
For a second hike, head to Neabsco Creek Boardwalk. It’s an easy eight-minute drive and the views across the tidal wetlands from the boardwalk are sensational.