Hiking Bull Run Trail and Regional Park, Centreville, VA

The meeting I was in yesterday finished a couple hours early, so I hustled back across town before the traffic rush hit, and headed out to Bull Run Trail.

Hike summary: 6.7 miles out-and-back and a bit of a loop, along two stunning rivers. Started about 1615, ended around 1930.

I first hiked part of this trail more than ten years ago. I had driven across it several times over the years, and had noticed the faded sign for the trail, and drove to it one evening, and put in one of my first 10-mile hikes, a five-mile out-and-back to the east. I remember it was a beautiful area.

A couple days ago I did a little research on the trail, and found it was part of a 17-mile trail that ran from Bull Run Regional Park towards the Potomac. I decided to go back to the trailhead and go west this time.

The trailhead has a decent sign now! There was also new signage at several places. Route 28, which runs south from Dulles Airport, runs over the Bull Run. There is a nice like ripple there.

BTW, there is no water at the trailhead, nor is there any to the east that I remember. There is water at the Regional Park to the west, but it’s 2+ miles, so bring your own. There are no heads until the Park, either.

From the parking lot, you walk a couple feet down towards the river, and quickly run into the trail. I went right (west). You immediately come to the only hill of the hike. It’s probably 80 feet up and almost immediately 80 feet back down. There is a really nice view of the river from the top.

Turns out the hillock you just walked over is a shale formation. The shale has been used as stair steps for walking down the west side. There is a very pretty bluff formation, and shale lining the river. It’s very pretty.

There are thousands of pretty bluebell flowers along the trail on both sides.

The trail winds around through bottomland. Every once in a while, it’s a bit marshy, I’m guessing mainly from the rain they had a couple days previously. There are logs and some bridges where needed.

You walk along the river for most of the trail. The river is always pretty, sometimes flowing fairly fast, and sometimes very lazily. At this point, there was a boat sunk in the middle. Kind of strange.

Eventually, and after crossing under another road, you reach Bull Run Regional Park. The signage is not very clear, but the Bull Run Trail shares with the Bluebell Loop Trail. I took the left, which was supposed to be the southern part of the Bluebell Loop. It follows the river some more. Eventually, it runs into a frisbee golf course. There are white blazes that just… stop. I walked along this straight-as-an-arrow road/trail for a bit, and then thought it veered off to the west. Looking back at the Regional Park map (see below), I think I got onto the Yellow Trail, but the trail was quickly lost. I bushwacked through to a road that was by some soccer fields, and eventually found the white blaze trail next to a maintenance yard. I followed that trail north a couple hundred yards, and just by luck saw some white blazes off 90deg to my right. I did some follow-the-blazes combined with sorta-bushwacking, and eventually found the camping area. I followed the road south until I got to the admin area, and then finally found a map that pointed me to the trailhead for the combined Bluebell/Bull Run trail.

The lessons learned here: print the damn park trail map in the hotel before going off on the hike. On the other hand, there could have been better trail blazes in the park.

The trail from this point follows the Cub Run (I guess small rivers are “Runs” here). It is also beautiful, and there are so many bluebells it’s amazing.

The run back along the trail was eventful in that I scared up *two* large herds of deer (at least 10 individuals in both cases), saw what I believe was a muskrat swimming in Cub Run, saw and was honked at by 10 or so geese, and saw a number of pretty gray squirrels. The trail had 100% cell coverage, which allowed to me to take business calls from two friends along the way.

Here is the trail from my GPS over a topographic map, a terrain from Google Earth, and the altitude plot:

A comment about this altitude plot: I do not believe it, I think. I take the data as downloaded into the Garmin Mapsource program, and paste it into an Excel or Open Office spreadsheet. I run a search and replace to change (for example) “257 ft” to “257”, and then run an XY plot. Now, I went from the parking lot about 40 ft down to the riverbank, then up an 80 or so foot hill, then back to the river. None of that matches the altitude plot. I also question the big dip about 2/3rds of the way along the hike. I’m going to have to look closely at these numbers. I know that the GPS has wildly inaccurate altitude numbers when first starting and “settling down”, but these are just a little too random-looking.

This is a Bull Run Regional Park trail map.

Overall, this was a very nice way to spend a couple hours. I saw exactly *four* people on the trail the entire time. All four of them were in the Regional Park; there were no other people on the Bull Run part. There were no problems with mosquitoes, although there were occasional swarms of some kind of gnat periodically.

This hike is recommended.

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