I recently set out for a walk on the nature trails at Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria. This shaded 44-acre green space is billed as an urban oasis.
The nature preserve is tucked away in Mark Center, a multi-use area with an apartment complex, condos, restaurants, offices, shops and a hotel.
Winkler Botanical Preserve is a nice place to go in Northern Virginia to be alone with your thoughts, amongst the wildflower gardens, streams and a pond.
There are a lot of rules, however, at this private preserve, including no pets, no bikes and no picnicking. The nature preserve also has limited hours.
Winkler Botanical Preserve
The entrance to the nature preserve is located at the end of Roanoke Avenue. You can park adjacent to the garden apartments or inside the preserve gate.
There is a sign that notes the time the nature preserve closes: 4 pm. You’ll also see signs prohibiting dogs and bicycles. Gravel trails set off to the left and right.
What you won’t see, unfortunately, are any kind of trail maps or directional signs. You’re basically on your own to make your way across the nature trails.
This isn’t terrible since the nature preserve is so small, but it seems the trail splits every 50 yards or so, leaving you to wonder which way to go.
Outdoor Challenge Course
I started my walk across the nature preserve by turning right to savor the colorful wildflowers. Cross a wooden bridge, then manage a mild ascent up a hill.
At the .1-mile mark, you will arrive at a curiously tall wooden tower. It seems at one time, this nature preserve was some kind of outdoor challenge course.
Just beyond the wooden tower, there is what looks to have been a zipline. Later in the hike you’ll see wooden logs that were a part of the course.
There is also a “No Trespassing” sign. As in, keep off the challenge course and climbing equipment. It seems nothing was taken down or removed.
Pass the wooden tower and walk up the stairs to enjoy a quiet, forested walk along the nature trails. At the .3-mile mark, you’ll reach a stream.
In a few steps, you can walk out to the pond. Then, re-trace your steps to cross over the waterway on a fairly fancy wooden bridge.
You’ll then see a small wooden cabin. A spur trail ascends a small hill to reach the cabin. You cannot rent out the cabin and there is nothing of note inside.
Re-trace your steps, then turn left to loop along the trail. At the .5-mile mark, you’ll reach another area that was once part of the challenge course.
At the .7-mile mark, turn right to walk along another stream. You’ll then cross the stream on a wooden bridge at the .8-mile mark.
You’ll arrive at the northernmost part of the trail at the .9-mile mark, then begin to walk south, until you reach a quiet bench.
You will arrive at Catherine Lodge at the 1.1-mile mark. This was no doubt named for one of the nature preserve’s founders, Catherine Winkler Herman.
This is not so much a lodge as it is an education center, or at least that was likely its original purpose.
The preserve has (or had) a partnership with Alexandria City Public Schools to provide hands-on nature education to elementary and middle school students.
There are Adirondack chairs on the porch, but no signs of life. I peered into the windows. It looked as though it might come back to life for the school year.
Lily Pad Pond
The nature trail continues, leading visitors along the edge of a lily pad-strewn pond. There are some good views of the pond, but there was no waterfall.
Apparently, there is a waterfall on the opposite edge of the pond. I’d seen photos and it looked beautiful. However, it’s a man-made, man-controlled waterfall.
On this warm summer day, there was no water being pumped to the waterfall. I imagine it too will re-gain life once the new school year begins (hopefully).
At the 1.2-mile mark, a bench affords scenic views across the pond, all the way to the Mark Center skyline.
You’ll reach the small wooden bridge (more like a few sheets of plywood) that you crossed early in this nature walk. Cross over, then turn to the right.
This will lead you back up a small wildflower-covered hill to the trailhead. I clocked 1.3 miles, but you could easily do more or less at this nature preserve.
I spent about 45 minutes wandering the nature trails at this urban preserve, including time spent checking out Catherine Lodge and colorful wildflowers.
Winkler Botanical Preserve is located at 5400 Roanoke Avenue in Alexandria. The preserve is open daily from 8:30 am to 4 pm. It’s closed on major holidays.
There are no water fountains and no restrooms. There is also no website. The only website for the preserve is one set up by Mark Center.
All in all, it’s a quiet, relaxing space to be one with your thoughts. It’s a nice green space in an urban setting when you really just need to get into nature.