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Bull Run-Occoquan Trail: Bull Run to Hemlock Overlook

Hike Summary

This was another one of those mileage building hikes I’ve been trying to get done. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to get into shape for the One Day Hike, coming at the end of April. I hiked 12 miles the previous week, so I decided to try for 14 this week.

There was still a lot of mud and a lot of traces about from when Bull Run was at high water a few weeks back. It made for some very messy hiking, with my feet getting constantly stuck in mud, and a bit of slipping and sliding on the trail.

The trail had quite a different character compared to the summertime, when it was green and lush, with lots of shade and rustling of trees. This day it was stark and monochromatic, which sometimes made for depressing hiking. There really wasn’t a whole lot to see, but there was a lot of birdsong in the winter trees, and I also was able to revisit my favorite graffiti art at the railroad trestle.

At some point I wasn’t fully paying attention and ended up on a side trail that followed the river a little more closely than the blazed trail. It wasn’t really that terrible of a mistake, although with the river overflow it had created a few deadfalls that were tricky to get around. The PATC will have its work cut out for it the next time they do maintenance.

The hike was pretty uneventful, although on the way back, I spotted a Mourning Cloak moth. It was one of the few living things I’d seen on this hike.

2013-02-15 Bull Run Occoquan
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Manassas/Bull Run – The Grand Tour

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Hike Summary

So I ran into a bit of a conundrum. I was all happy with myself and though I’d hiked 13 miles, but when I pulled up my Garmin data, as you can see it’s only like 9.77.

Needless to say this bummed me out slightly, as I was hoping I was keeping pace with the training hikes for the One Day Hike that I registered for in April. I intend to do the full 100K, but I need to make sure I can actually hike the distance. I don’t want to have to drop out!

So, this hike. I hiked both of these routes separately back in August, but I wanted to do a more challenging hike, as well as see the changes to the trail in the winter. I also wanted to hike it backwards, as another interesting perspective.

I was also low on gas, so something that was close by was a great choice.

The previous day had had some stormy weather go through, so I made sure to check with the rangers to see whether or not any of the trail was washed out. They warned me that part of the section near Stone Bridge was underwater, and advised taking a shortcut to avoid it.

It was very windy, and I somewhat regretted not bringing my gloves with me. I often make this mistake, and really should just keep them in my backpack.

The park was mostly totally deserted, and I only had the haunted feeling of the battlefields (and my dog) to keep me company. There were brown fields and skeletal trees everywhere. The sky was a deep blue with streaky clouds.

The trail was muddy. Muddy is probably a bit of an understatement — the trail was often an open stream, or wet with water. My dog quickly became a mobile mud ball.

Wandering backwards through the park almost felt like wandering backwards in time – I followed back through the trail of events of Second Manassas, and then on to First Manassas. Both of those battles were fought during warmer weather though, so I didn’t quite have the same feeling of what the soldiers went through, but it was still spooky and quiet, particularly around The Deep Cut and the area where the Second Manassas memorial was.

On I went, though forest, where I could hear the wind making the trees rub together, making creaking noises, which were unsettling. Then I got to the part of the trail where it parallels Bull Run, where I was warned it was washed out. I of course had to see for myself, and true to the ranger’s word, the trail had been swallowed up by Bull Run, causing me to have to backtrack.

My misadventures weren’t over, though. After my crossing of Lee Highway, there was another river crossing, and this one was very much overtaken by water. I really didn’t want to have to backtrack more, so I managed to find a way across, albeit with one wet boot.

I’m hoping I can get a longer hike in soon, possibly something in the area of 18 miles!

Bull Run

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

Bull Run-Occoquan Trail – Bull Run to Rt. 28 (Plus Bluebell Loop)

Hike Summary

This is the last hike of Summer for me, a summer that has been long and unbelievably hot. I am actually very happy that Fall is almost here, because (in my opinion) it is probably the best time of the year in Northern Virginia. It isn’t quite freezing yet, but the energy-draining humidity is finally gone. That means plenty of great hikes are in store, especially when the leaves start turning.

I grew up in a small Northern California town, so I am not so used to the dramatic changes of the seasons. There, the changes are much more subtle — one season almost blends into the other, with mainly the amount of rain really being the sign whereby you can tell the difference.

I’ve been wanting to hike the entirety of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, but I want to hike it in segments first. That way, I have an idea if I am even ready to be able to do the whole thing.

So this first section was pretty easy compared to the section I had hiked a few weeks ago. There’s almost no elevation change, and the trail more or less sticks to the route of Bull Run the entire way, passing through broadleaf forest. I was able to go at a pretty quick pace as well, almost as fast as I walk when I go on my morning walks. It is mostly well-maintained, although there was one river crossing on a very rickety bridge that scared me quite a bit. I am not a fan of narrow bridges without railings, and especially ones that are tilting at an angle. The bridge was sound however, and it was a little less scary on the way back.

This also seems to be a pretty heavily used section of the trail, there are a lot of spots to go fishing along the way, and numerous side trails leading over to the spots. I saw a group of people fishing, as well as a trail runner. One thing that angered me a little was the numerous tire tracks of mountain bikes. This is supposed to be a conservation area, and bicycles aren’t allowed on the trail, but of course this doesn’t prevent them from going  anyhow. Of course, this use by bicycles has caused the trail to become rutted and very muddy in spots.

I have a fairly long history of dislike of mountain bikers, both as a pedestrian and as a driver. I grew up next to Mount Tamalpais, which is where a lot of mountain biking got its start, and unfortunately, I have met a lot of very rude bikers, both on the trail and on the road. I know that there are plenty of responsible bikers out there, but I do very much wish that they would follow the rules. I follow the rules with respect to dog use on trails, even though there are 2 parks close by that I would love to go hiking in, but since they don’t allow dogs even on leashes, they are closed to me.

On the way back, I decided to take a side tour and go on the Bluebell Loop, which is supposed to have spectacular views of bluebells in the springtime. I will definitely have to come back to check them out in the spring. It’s much the same as the rest of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, passing through the same forest.

Bull Run Occoquan Trail – Rt. 28 to Pope’s Head Creek

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Hike Summary

The lesson I learned this day is “be careful of biting off more than you can chew.”

I was somewhat surprised that it seemed a little difficult for me to find information about the trail and park online. Perhaps my googling was particularly weak, but I still couldn’t find either a map nor good directions to the Route 28 bridge.

I found it, of course, after some inspecting of maps. It was a beautiful day for a hike. The early morning clouds had burned off, leaving things warm, but not too warm. It had rained a bit over the previous few days, which left the water flowing, and occasionally some muddiness on the trail, but those things were pretty minor.

I had looked at the maps I could find, as well as the hiking guide that mentioned the trail (but only the full length, which is about 18 miles from Bull Run Park to Fountainhead Park,) and I thought that hiking from Route 28 to Hemlock Overlook park would be a long, but doable hike.

It was doable, but barely. I encountered, yet again, the drawbacks of less than accurate distances, and what I thought should have been a 7 or 8 mile hike was much longer by the time I was done. Even my 2 different GPSes (I track on my phone as well) disagreed as to the overall length.

I ended up turning around when I’d seen that I’d gone 5 miles.
The hike itself was very nice. I was disappointed at times that the trail didn’t stick as close to the river as I thought it would, but the little forays into the various stream and creek valleys were nice, and the little crossings over the creeks were entertaining not only for me, but for my hydrophobic dog.

The first time he encountered these stones, he wasn’t quite sure of them, and ended up fording the river. Soon enough though, he figured out that if he followed me across them, he wouldn’t get wet. It was rather comical to see him gingerly jump from one to the other as I waited for him. We also encountered a box turtle as we went along, as well as numerous birds (that I could hear but not often see) and plenty of deer.

I also encountered another “Pet Rock Pile.” I am unsure what the significance of these are, and a cursory googling didn’t yield much in the way of info.

These things leave me conflicted. One one hand, I appreciate the sentiment — so often with pets, there’s no real place to have a memorial to them. I have the ashes of one of my dearest cats sitting on my nightstand (as that’s where he liked to hang out,) but sometimes it feels like I should have had another place for him. So, I can understand how cairns are good memorials.

On the other hand, it encourages people to tear up the trail and move rocks around, and that can cause erosion, as well as add a man-made item to what we like to pretend is a natural, unspoiled setting.

It definitely wasn’t the only sign of human influence. I need to remind myself to pack along something to take away trash, as I often saw gum wrappers and other things along all of the trails I’ve been on. It does bother me sometimes that people that want to enjoy natural settings often don’t think of the impact that they’re leaving behind.

That being said, something I encountered near the turnaround point of my hike did touch me, and it was entirely human in nature.

There’s a point where the train goes over the Bull Run, so of course there’s a bridge. Underneath the bridge, even here in a (somewhat) isolated area, there was artful graffiti. I don’t know exactly why it touched me the way it did — but that is art. Art is what gives you that feeling you can’t quite put words to, and hiking around the bend, with the smells and sounds of the river and nature and seeing this, it gave me an electric thrill.

Extra Trails at Manassas NBP

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Hike 1

Hike 2

So I decided to try to make the most of the $3 fee that it costs to visit Manassas NBP and went on a couple shorter hikes yesterday. Both of these trails are in lesser used parts of the park, and cover some of the events of 2nd Manassas.

I was a little surprised. I expected there to be a little more … oomph in these areas (and in the 2nd Manassas Loop trail) considering that the sesquicentennial  is coming up at the end of this month, but they seemed pretty lonely trails. The Brawner Loop trail is well signed, and has a lot of informative placards, but the Stuart Hill Loop was a much wilder trail.

The fields were in bloom with summer wildflowers on the Brawner walk, which made some of the fields look like rippling gold. A lot of the grass is shoulder height on me, and it brought to mind ideas of what the plains must have looked like to settlers.

The Stuart Hill trail takes off from the park’s administrative HQ, which is I suspect the reason that it isn’t as traveled. It’s less open, and as I said before, a bit wilder. It winds through some trees and eventually opens up towards the site of the Lewis House. Along the bit of trail there, you can tell that at some point there was a paved road, that’s slowly being eaten up by the grasses. It’s funny how quickly the signs of civilization are erased — there’s virtually no sign of the two houses that are labeled on the hike, only information placards are visible, although I suppose in a different season foundations might be visible.

As I walked back, dragonflies scudded about, and the sun started to peak in the sky, making the grass smell baked. It was almost intolerably hot by the time we were done, even though it was barely noon. I’m looking forward to the end of another blistering summer.

2nd Manassas/Groveton

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Hike Summary

Today I’ve been restless, trying to find something to occupy me. My routine is unsettled, and I can’t satisfactorily settle on something, so I will write about yesterday’s hike (which I was planning on doing anyway.)


So the weather had been forecast to be hot all this week, but when I woke up, everything was nice and cool, and I figured that if I got going early, I’d beat the worst of the heat of the day. I was mostly right, although I wasn’t 100% prepared for an almost 7 mile hike (despite knowing the length beforehand.) I did pretty well, all things considered.

Although I spent a lot of my youth doing bits of hiking on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, a lot of that was actually on horseback (naughtily, on trails meant for humans only) or short excursions. I was also a lot more in shape back then.

I’ve lost over 50 pounds since the beginning of the year, but I feel like I have so much more to go, and it frustrates me a little that my body isn’t totally cooperating.

It’s going to be the 150th anniversary of the battle of 2nd Manassas this month, and like last time, I spent time thinking about the battle as I walked. There’s a lot of road traffic through the park, I can only imagine the sounds that could be heard back in the day. Some 10,000 troops died during that 2nd battle.

That fact made me feel a little weird in a way, as I sat on a bench for a lunch break, munching on a trail bar. Was it disrespectful of me to be chewing away, on a spot where people died? Maybe the ghosts of the Union Soldiers were happy that, all this time later, there still is a whole country, and the Union was preserved. I’ll never know.

From a trail notes standpoint, I will note that I was a smidge disappointed in the lack of markers on this trail compared to the First Manassas Loop. I would have thought that with the anniversary coming up, some more care would be paid. I am glad I had my handy GPS unit with me, as the route provided by the HikingUpward guys was really helpful.

Some other things I learned:

Bring more water! I was hurting near the end, and so was my dog. Part of that was gulping down too much water at one point, I need to remember to ration it better.

Jeans are still soggy in hot weather, but I don’t want to spend money on new pants because of the weight I’ve been losing

Clif Builder bars become a sticky mess in the heat.

Pacing!