There is a little-known trail in Fairfax County that does an amazing thing; it connects the county from north to south, 40 miles in length. That trail is the Gerry Connolly Cross County Connector Trail (CCT). I heard about it a few years ago and put it on my list of things to do, but forgot all about it until a few months ago, when I was reminded of it while hiking at Lake Accotink. Thus began my quest to hike the trail end to end. It was my desire to complete the whole trail in a single weekend, but alas, I could not find enough free days in a row, so I hiked it in 10-15 mile segments. The next 4 issues will detail segments of the trail North to South and give you a guide to exploring Fairfax County in a new way.
Trail Overview: The great thing about the CCT is that it provides access to many of Fairfax Country’s parks and sticks close to the streambeds and waterways that you often don’t see hidden away behind all the houses and developments. It is truly a unique way to enjoy the county. I reference the Start and End of trails and segments, but really the connectivity of the trail allows you to link literally hundreds of miles of trails in many directions by taking offshoots to access parks, which lead to the many other trail systems in the area. I will focus specifically on the CCT, however. Access some great trail maps here and use your phone’s GPS. Overall the trail is well-marked: mostly dirt, some gravel, with other small segments that are paved. Due to proximity to the waterways, it is often very wet and flooded, particularly after rains or snowmelts.
Segment 1: Great Falls Park to Reston Train/Lawyers Road Intersection (about 10 miles, plus 2 miles inside Great Falls Park)
The CCT officially starts at the end of Ridge Trail, just inside Great Falls Park (see NOVADog Spring 2014).
Difficult Run is a fantastic segment of this trail, roughly 2.5 miles long where you will hug the stream (see NOVADog Fall 2011). There are ample locations for your dog to take a swim in the stream or fetch a stick. Leash laws apply on the entire trail; however, in this entire segment of nearly 11 miles, I encountered only about a dozen people, minus the time I spent in Great Falls and on the W&OD trail. The scenery along Difficult Run is wonderful, rocky, picturesque, and mostly forested, so it makes a great summer trail as well. There is a boulder stream crossing at mile 1.7: smaller dogs can be carried, and larger dogs will do fine walking as long as they are not fearful. This segment has very little elevation change.
As you continue along Difficult Run, at about mile 2.5 you will cross Leigh Mill Road Head up through the field on the lefthand side, where there is a trail marker. You’ll loop around the backside of the field and take a left into the woods; again, there is a trail marker. At this point you’ll see the stream again. At mile 2.8 you will head up a hill, then come out in a development on Brian Jac Lane. You’ll cross the street, turn left, and in less than 100 feet you’ll see the trail marker pointing you back onto the trail. After about 1 more mile you will encounter a bit of construction and then come out at Route 7, Leesburg Pike. (Side trip: just a few hundred feet N on Route 7 is the entrance to Colvin Run Mill Park). There is not a great place to cross here, so be careful.
After you cross Rt. 7 the entrance to the trail is on your left, just 50 feet past the intersection. At this point you are now traveling along Colvin Run briefly until it merges back with Difficult Run again. This segment runs a bit closer to houses. You will often be walking past backyards and houses, but it also provides many sections of solitude. The true treasure of this trail is how it provides an amazing feeling of being in the wild, while you are often only a few hundred feet from hundreds of homes in one of the most densely populated counties in the country. The fact that the trail isn’t groomed adds to this wonderfully wild feeling. Be on the lookout for wildlife. I saw deer, birds of prey, a fox, and many other creatures. You’ll encounter another stone crossing around mile 4, then head onto a short paved segment before veering off to the right under the Dulles Toll Road. After the underpass crossing, you will pop out in an area where you will continue along Difficult Run. Minus the occasional construction area, this is another one of my favorite parts of this segment. It winds down through Tamarack Park before opening onto the W&OD Trail. As I wandered, there were so many times I continued to feel like there was no way I could be this close to shopping centers and huge housing developments.
Around mile 8.5 you’ll come out onto the W&OD (see NOVADog Fall 2011). There is a side trail that is not paved. It’s a great option so that your dog can wander a bit more without you being worried about passing bikers. You follow W&OD for less than a mile. At the CCT concrete pillar, to your left across the W&OD, you will see a sign for the Reston Trail. Turn left onto this trail. Follow it for about ¼ mile. To your right, you will find a bridge with the letters “CCT” spray-painted on it. Cross this bridge, turn left, and continue on the trail. You’ll be in a wooded area. About 0.3 miles after the bridge, you will come to a flooded area with yellow caution tape. Take the trail to the right; it runs higher along the ridge so you can stay dry, but feel free to choose the low trail if it is a clear day. After close to ½ mile you’ll come to a drainage pond. Here you can head to the left, back into the woods. This is the Twin Branches segment, and though it’s short, I really enjoyed walking through this deep valley. After the bridge, you’ll head up a paved trail. At the top you will cross Twin Branches Road, then bear left a bit into The Glade, taking the trail down the hill a ways before turning right onto the trail. This segment is all paved and is part of a Reston Association trail. It’s a great segment, so be sure to keep an eye out for the beaver dam and hut shortly past the small wooden overlook that is only about ¼ mile after you cross the street. You will continue on this trail, then take a left at the T of Turquoise Trail and CCT. Go over the bridge and take another left to stay on the CCT. You will make a right just before the small green swingset, which will take you to the intersection of Lawyers Road. This concludes Segment 1 of the CCT, but I hope you have the chance to explore all 10 miles before the Summer issue, when we follow the next 10 miles from Lawyers Road to Pickett Road.
About Your Guide:
Angela Meyers is the owner of both NOVADog Magazine and a lovely pup named Maggie.
Distance: Create your own length, up to 12 miles.
Fido-Friendly Features: Unpaved surfaces, streams, wildlife, very few people.
Use: Hikers, bikers, joggers.
Best Time to Go: During daylight hours. Avoid right after a heavy rain.
Access: Park at Great Falls Park ($10 per car) and hike 2 miles down to the “start” or Park at the Difficult Run parking lot and begin there, either hiking back “up” the trail to get to the beginning or starting off right in the parking lot (located on Georgetown Pike, 0.3 miles south of the Great Falls Park Entrance, free)
Rated: 2 paws. The trail is not too challenging in terms of terrain, but the whole segment is decently long.