Gainesville and Haymarket are perfect suburban towns made for families. You already know that our school system is top notch and most area schools hold the distinctive School of Excellence title. And with the growing number of restaurants, shops, and indoor activities there are plenty of places to go within a 5-10 minute drive. But now that the weather is getting warm, it’s time shed the winter doldrums, reconnect with nature, and have fun with your family in one of the many free parks just a stone’s throw away. Living in the Rural Crescent, we are lucky to have history right at our fingertips. Check out some of the great free parks available for family-friendly activities and get outside! (An added bonus, your kids will have so much fun they won’t even realize they are learning!)
Right on Route 29 is Conway Robinson State Forest, part of the Virginia Department of Forestry. It’s easy to drive past the parking lot and not give a second thought about what lies in the heavily wooded area across from Route 66. But once you go into Conway Robinson, you’re transported to a different place. With its 444 acres of pine and old hardwoods adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park it’s perfect for hiking for all ages, as the terrain is mostly flat, but it’s also a favorite for mountain bikers, because the trails are rugged. You can learn about forest management or observe birds and wildlife. The forest is open from 7 am until 7 pm every day.
Bull Run Mountain Loop
The Bull Run Mountains in Haymarket offer miles of trails to explore. There are trails for many different levels from young children to those who want to get a good workout running to the peak of the mountain. (The very top is currently closed, as it was worn down from years of human foot traffic destroying the natural element.) You feel like you’re in an enchanted forest as you take in the beautiful foliage and wildlife. One of the trails leads you to the remains of an old cabin and a historic ice cellar. You can also visit the historic Beverly Mill, which is visible from Route 66. The is based at the bottom of the mountain, and is a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 to protect the Bull Run. The Conservancy offers educational programs for adults and children with a link to history. The trails, mill and Conservancy are located at Beverly Mill Drive, off of Turner Road.
Leopold’s Preserve boasts seven miles of trails, wildflower meadows, and water features. It’s a great place to explore nature and take in the seasonal beauty of Northern Virginia. With interpretive boards throughout the trails, your family can learn about the foliage and wildlife indigenous to the area. And if you really want an education, there are monthly nature walks led by the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy. Leopold’s Preserve is accessible from Thoroughfare Road in Broad Run, off of Route 55.
James S. Long Park
Most families know James Long Park intimately from spending hours on the soccer or baseball fields or because it’s the go-to spot for sledding in the winter. But the park also has basketball and tennis courts, a partially covered playground for children, a pavilion with picnic tables and grills available for barbecues and gatherings, and an equestrian ring. The park also includes four miles of trails. James Long Park is located on Route 15, north of Dominion Valley.
If fishing is your thing, Silver Lake Regional Park is your place. A respite in the middle of Haymarket, Silver Lake has a 23-acre lake that allows for bank fishing of bluegill and largemouth bass. (No motorized watercraft are allowed.) There are 230 acres of meadows with four miles of multipurpose trails are accessible for walkers, hikers and equestrians. Part of the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation, there are also summer camps and special activities offered. Cabela’s sponsors the Owl Prowl, which includes a nature craft and family friendly story as well as an information session on owls native to our area. Silver Lake Regional Park is accessible from Antioch Road in Haymarket.
Civil Way history in our own backyard, the Battlefield is just a short drive down Route 29 and has something for everyone. Part of the National Parks Service, the park is where the First and Second Battles of Manassas were fought. Young children love to run around and sit on the old cannons and historians love to learn about the battles fought on those hallowed grounds. You and your family can go back week after week and discover something new. There is a Visitors Center and gift shop and throughout the year, tours are offered. For kids ages 3 – 12, there is an age appropriate Junior Ranger Activity booklet inside that include an interactive challenge that once completes, enrolls them as a Junior Ranger of the Park. They can even earn a patch or a badge for their efforts! The trails are a preferred destination for runners and walkers alike and you’ll even find yourself among equestrians enjoying the beauty of the open space. There are trails that go deep into the woods or out in the open with historic buildings and markers explaining the history throughout the park.
These are just a few of the many free outdoor venues to explore which are practically in our own backyard. Disconnect from the modern world and the time this spring to get out and enjoy nature and make memories with your family.