By Carol Brooks
Whether or not your dog’s exercise routine slipped over the winter, a trip to a nearby park will give you and your dog both a mental and physical boost. Fresh air, serenity, and natural surroundings give you a chance to rejuvenate, change perspective, build strength, and bond with your dog. After a long winter of reduced outside activity, softer trail surfaces also help gently toughen soft paw pads, so a trail hike is an excellent launching point for a new exercise routine. (Pictured are Lucca and the Medina family.)
I recently visited the Fairfax County Park Authority Fountainhead Park for the first time. Though close to Fairfax Station, it has the unexpected feel of a more remote location. Its main dog-friendly offering is the Bull Run Occoquan Trail. This trail rates high for features important to me when selecting trail options for exercising my dog: uncrowded, bike-free, water access, and interesting and varied terrain.
The park offers ample parking close to the Bull Run Occoquan Trailhead, as well as bathrooms, water, and trash receptacles. It also has many other amenities including boating, fishing, mountain bike trails, picnic areas, a snack bar, restrooms, and dramatic views of the widest point of the Occoquan Reservoir.
Appealing to hikers of any level, the well-marked, blue-blazed Bull Run Occoquan Trail runs from Fountainhead Park to Bull Run Regional Park. This trail is well-maintained with a dirt surface. In early spring and after a rainfall, it can be muddy.
The trail traverses parkland that parallels the Occoquan River. Purchased in the early 50’s as a buffer for the water reservoir created at the same time, the Fairfax County Water Authority now owns the land. Prior to that, farmers and other homeowners occupied the property, and before that it played an important transportation role in the Civil War. Tens of thousands of troops from both the Union and Confederate armies passed through parts of this trail on their way to Gettysburg along what was the “Washington-Rochambeau Wagon Route” ordered built by General George Washington.
Even if you’re not a history buff, you and your dog will enjoy this trail for what it offers today. In early spring, you’ll see flowering mountain laurel, Virginia bluebells, and budding beech and sycamore trees.
Choose any distance or time that works with your schedule and fitness level since you can turn around at any point. I recommend a 4.5 mile hike to get a feel for the trail’s history and terrain. The recommended hike turns around at Wolf Run Shoals, an important water crossing point during the Civil War and dating back to colonial times.
To get to the Bull Run Occoquan Trailhead from inside Fountainhead Park, go to the first public parking area on the right as you enter the park. From there, locate the trail head (marked with a placard) and follow the blue blazes. About 100 yards in, you will pass the Davis-Lewis Family Cemetery on your left, a well-maintained site with gravestones dating from 1781 to 2011. Continuing along the trail for a half a mile, you will descend to a marshy area on the right. Depending on the time of day and season, you might be serenaded from the marsh by frogs that sound like turkeys.
Stay on the blue-blazed trail and follow it as it winds and dips through the woods. Visible concrete trail markers remind you of mileage covered. To your left as you’re heading away from Fountainhead Park, you will occasionally catch stunning glimpses of the Occoquan River through the trees.
A short distance from the 2 Mile marker, you’ll discover the Fairfax-Buckley family cemetery, an abandoned pre-50’s home, and a placard describing the “Washington-Rochambeau Wagon Route.” Follow the trail options (off the blue-blazed trail) in the direction of the wagon route to the water and turn-around point at Wolf Run Shoals. Note: this is a wonderful picnic option. Return via the same trails.
Getting There: Fountainhead Park is located at 10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station, VA. For more information and directions, visit the official website: ttwww.nvrpa.org/park/fountainhead.
Park Hours: Access to Bull Run Occoquan Trail: dawn to dusk year around. Access to other park amenities, ‘check Hours and Directions on the park website.
What to Bring: Wear sturdy waterproof shoes—the trail has muddy spots. Bring some water for you and your dog, poop bags, and towels for after-hike clean-up. Tick protection is a must.
Trail Specifics: The Trail is an out-and-back trail that winds and twists through the woods. Plan to hike any distance you choose.
Fido-Friendly Features: Off-street parking; fun, dog-safe, wide trails; bike restrictions.
Use: Hikers, runners, horses (allowed, but not often seen), on-leash dogs.
Best Time to Go: Anytime.
Rated: 2-5 paws, depending on the distance hiked.
ABOUT YOUR GUIDE: Carol Brooks is co-owner of DogOn Fitness, a daily exercise service for dogs. She specializes in high-energy and overweight dogs, providing them with working walks, running, adventure hikes, and training reinforcement.