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Bull Run-Occoquan Trail – Hemlock Overlook to Bull Run Marina

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Hike Summary

It was a rather chilly day when I set out, but the sky was clear, so I wasn’t too worried about the weather. I really wanted to push myself this hike, and try to see how my fitness level was. The first time I hiked a section of this trail, I bit off more than I could chew, and was pretty exhausted by the end of it, which was no fun at all.

So, my goal was to get from Hemlock Overlook park to the Bull Run Marina and back, or 5 miles out before turning around, whichever happened first.

Hemlock Overlook Park is a park operated by a private company in conjunction with the NVRPA, which is kind of a shame, because unless you’re part of a group outing there, the park is more or less closed off. I am never a fan of limiting park access to anyone, but I understand the need for money, so I suppose it’s acceptable. It’s located near the town of Clifton, VA, which is a tiny and charming little place that looks like it’s getting gentrified a little bit, with wineries moving in.

The hike started off on a spur trail to get to the main trail, that went gently downhill amongst the trees. I don’t know if it has an official name, but it’s yellow blazed, and there’s a pretty prominent sign when it joins the main trail. Seeing the Bull Run again was a welcome and friendly sight, and the water was more or less on my right for the majority of the hike.

Each section of the BROT that I’ve hiked has a slightly different character. This one felt more parklike and less wild than some of the previous sections, and was mostly gently graded, with many footbridge crossings over the creeks, and not a lot of meandering over hills. The river widens here, becoming the Occoquan Reservoir, so at time you get a sense of being lakeshore rather than riverside.

The Fairfax Rod and Gun Club have a shooting range on the other side of the water from the trail, so there was an almost constant sound of gunfire. It was a little bit disconcerting at first, as I knew that hunting season was set to begin soon, but once I realized where it was I stopped worrying. I pretended in my head that it was the sound of battles from the past, echoing down time. Since there were a lot of battles in this area during the Civil War, this is probably somewhat accurate.

I also found the halfway point of the trail, mile marker 9. It felt like a tiny bit of achievement to get there, as I’ve been trying to cover the whole thing. At some point (maybe before it snows, if not, then after,) I would like to hike the entire length of the trail, all 18 miles, in one day. I think it is definitely doable, but I don’t want to get lost along the way, like what happened this day.

I reached the Kincheloe Soccer Complex, and the blazes directed me towards the right. I went right a little ways, but I didn’t see any further blazes. I tried backtracking, definitely right. I walked a ways again, around the fields, still nothing. I was starting to get a little frustrated, so I backtracked again, and tried going to the left to follow a gravel road through the fields. Eventually I started seeing some blazes again, and then the trail.

I was a bit frazzled by this point, so I stopped to eat some lunch. I realized that I had a pretty near viewpoint for seeing planes approaching Dulles for landing. I snapped a couple of pictures while I ate, and pondered my situation:

  • I had hiked 4 miles by now, but I wasn’t sure how much of that was extra from aimlessly wandering around the fields.
  • It was either a mile and a half or two miles from here to Bull Run Marina, and none of the maps I had were particularly accurate on that count.
  • My phone battery was getting low (something I really need to work on managing!)

So, should I turn back now, or keep going? I decided to press on.

It ended up being about a mile and three quarters.

All in all, I felt pretty satisfied with my progress. All told, I hiked 9.8 miles (close enough to 10 for me!) and I ended up being not too terribly exhausted by the end. The feeling of accomplishment was great. I really like knowing that my endurance is increasing.

More Pictures of Bull Run Occoquan Trail