Best Outdoor Activities in Northern Virginia

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There is certainly no shortage of activities to do and places to see in Northern Virginia. We’ve rounded up some of the best (family-friendly!) outdoor activities to enjoy during the warmer seasons of the year.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

The koi pond and gazebo at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

A beautiful, expansive garden where you can find ponds, gazebos, bell garden, fish, bridges, cool trees, and flowers galore. Follow the trails to explore the gardens; snag a bench seat to relax and indulge in some fresh air; pack a picnic and sprawl out in a plush grassy spot. An elegant Atrium building overlooking the gardens is available for special events. Enjoy this slice of quiet nature in Vienna, VA and look here to learn more about the park and its many offerings.

Farmers Markets

The FRESHFARM Mosaic Market, held every Sunday.

On any given weekend you can find a number of Farmers Markets scattered across NOVA, but a few of them really stand out. Head to the Community Farmers Market in Old Town Fairfax, the Falls Church Farmers Market, FRESHFARM Mosaic Market, Old Town Farmers Market, or any of these others for some of the best in the region. At any of them, you will find a great selection of local produce, meats, dairy, and other artisan goods — even food trucks or stands to fill your belly during your trip to the market. Vendors and hours vary throughout market seasons, so double check before you go.

Burke Lake Park

One of the beautiful views at Burke Lake Park.

This serene, expansive park is popular for a reason. Boasting a 4.7 mile trail, it attracts many runners, bikers, and hikers, circling the big beautiful lake on a relatively mild trail. The park also boasts a campground, marina, carousel and train rides, miniature golf, and ample picnic areas and play spaces. A true escape from an area that can get a little chaotic (let’s be honest), Burke Lake is well-loved by people of any age. Make a day trip out of it with the kids, or pop in for a good workout — there’s no shortage of things to do here.

Manassas National Battlefield Park

One of the biggest parks in the region, Manassas National Battlefield is the perfect place to soak up nature and history. Explore the trails, either on your own or with a guide, and visit historical buildings and structures along the way. This park is beautiful any time of day — visit in the morning for a rejeuvenating walk, the afternoon for a lunchtime adventure, or the evening for a beautiful sunset stroll. Round out your trip with a visit to The Winery at Bull Run, a popular, family-friendly winery adjacent to the park grounds.

Frying Pan Farm Park

Head to Frying Pan Farm Park for a fun afternoon on a historic farm. Learn about 1920s-era farming by checking out preserved farming gear; visit with farm animals on the property; ride the carousel; indulge in a picnic lunch. The park hosts many activities — generally geared towards families and children — and events such as the annual 4-H Festival. Learn more about what Frying Pan Farm has to offer seasonally by visiting their web page before you go.

Great Falls Park

Waterfalls of the Potomac River at Great Falls Park.

An incredible sight on the outskirts of D.C., Great Falls Park is one of the best spots to see the Potomac River in its powerful glory. There are several trails that run along the Potomac, as well as a few lookouts at the waterfalls. Picnic areas and open green spaces are also available. Escape to nature for the afternoon for some good hiking, gaze in awe at the postcard-worthy falls, and if you’re a real daredevil, take a kayaking voyage down the river! Check out the National Park Service page for any updates at the park.

Camping

View from a lookout along Skyline Drive, in Shenandoah National Park.

Camping is a popular recreational activity in Northern Virginia. With all the trails, rivers and lakes, and wooded areas, there are a lot of activities to indulge in during your camping adventure. A few of the best campgrounds are Bull Run Regional Park, Burke Lake Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park, and of course Shenandoah National Park, for those willing to venture further out.

Whether you’re looking for more local parks or larger national parks, there is no shortage of parks and camping in Northern VA. And if you can’t make it to a park (or maybe need a practice run), have a fun camping night under the stars in your own backyard — pull out the tent, make s’mores, stargaze, and tell stories around the fire. Perfect spontaneous fun for kids and adults alike!

Fun on the Farms

There are a number of farms scattered across the region, many of which host festivals, markets, and other activities seasonally. Smaller farms such as Whitehall Farms host camps, classes, and local goods; the larger, popular Cox Farms is well known for the annual Fall Festival, while Wegmeyer Farms and Hollin Farms are wonderful choices for summer berry picking season. Burnside Farms has become a fan-favorite for its happy sunflower fields. Many of these have rotating options year-round, so make sure to peruse their pages for more information before you go.

Explore Local Towns

Quaint, picturesque “old towns” dot the region, a nice contrast to the more urban environment. Take a day to explore one of these beautiful towns (these are just a few favorites), rich with history, charm, and a refreshingly slower pace of life.

The town of Clifton is situated in southern Fairfax County; historical homes, antique shops, boutiques, a winery, and delicious food options await you here – easy to access, but a welcomed reprieve from the usual NoVA bustle. In Old Town Alexandria, history meets modern-day vibes with its many shops, restaurants, and historic homes on the waterfront; close to D.C., this area is easily accessible. Old Town Manassas is another town that takes a lot of pride in its history, while bringing a more modern flare to the historic district with an evolving shopping, dining, and events scene.

If you wish to escape further from the city, head out to horse country for Middleburg, a beautiful town nestled into the hills and abundant with gorgeous farmland. Here you can find upscale dining, shopping, spas, and equestrian activities. The small neighboring village of Aldie is just minutes away. Several resorts and inns offer a cozy, special retreat. A wonderful option for a day trip or weekend getaway!

The town of Leesburg lies on the border of Virginia and Maryland. Visit the historic district for amazing food, breweries and wineries, shopping, colonial history, quaint inns, and other events and festivals. Leesburg is definitely full of things to do, easily making it worth a day trip into beautiful Virginia country.

Roer’s Zoofari

Want to take a trip to the zoo but not up for heading into D.C. for the National Zoo? Check out the more local Roer’s Zoofari in Reston, VA. There are both “self drive safari” and walking tours available. Take a spin through the safari first and have a good laugh at animals poking their heads through your windows; then take a leisurely walk through the rest of the zoo to see the others. You can purchase snacks to feed the animals yourself, and even pet some of them. Great activity for families with kids in particular.

Cathleen Rodgers

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