Scotts Run Nature Preserve (McLean, VA)

Friday September 9, 2011
Scotts Run Nature Preserve

Scotts Run Nature Preserve

7400 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22102
Website   ~   Map Link

Park Rating:

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Bottom Line:  A great shady spot to take the kids hiking. Lots of trails, one suggested loop is 2.2 miles; can also do a simple down and back to see a waterfall (~1 mile round trip).

The Review:

Our adventure in Big Sky country inspired me to do more hiking with the kids.   Mine are 7, 6, and 3 and our trip showed me they are capable of more than I give them credit for.  I want to make hiking a habit, but I knew we needed to start small and keep it easy, especially if I was going to take the kids by myself.

I chose Scotts Run for our first local hike.  I was already familiar with it (I used to take the dog there, pre-kids) and I knew it was easy terrain, well-marked, not too long a hike, and best of all — it has a waterfall!

I packed lunch and water, told the kids to go potty and put on their sneakers because we were going for “a walk”.   My daughter (the oldest) does not share my new-found enthusiasm for hiking and was neither fooled nor pleased.

We arrived at Scotts Run around 11am.   There are two parking lots for this park.   The first one is small and easy to miss, it’s just past the exit for I-495 on Georgetown Pike.  It’s okay if you miss the first because the second lot is bigger and is the main lot.  It comes up just after a bend in the road, so keep an eye out for the “Watch for turning vehicles” sign and you will see the entrance on the right.

I used the Hiking Upward website to plan our route.  It has everything you need, including a printable map of a 2.2 mile loop trail.  I really like the route they planned out, however  I purposely did the loop in the opposite direction.  The reason being:   all the fun water stuff happens at the beginning of their hike and I wanted to save it for last.

Despite my darling daughter’s initial reluctance, our hike started out on a cheerful note.


The boys quickly scampered ahead, finding sticks suitable for waging Jedi battles.


Just as the first round of “are we there yet” and “how much longer” whines began (~15 minutes in), we came across a fun fallen log bridge — close to the upper parking lot.


After we passed by the lot, we continued along the main path, which is wide and easy walking.   Trail maps are posted at many of the trail junctions, so it’s easy to keep track of where you are in the park.  We broke from the main path and took a smaller trail towards the river (per our route) and stopped for lunch on a nice overlook which afforded a lovely view of the river.


The spot where we stopped was actually a rocky outcrop where the land drops away pretty steeply on three sides, so it was a bit nerve-racking, but thankfully, we suffered no causalities.   From there, we followed a steep, narrow trail down to the river level and from there, a slightly narrow but easy-to-walk level path along the river.   There were several spots to stop off and check out the river, so we did.

The kids had a great time throwing rocks, making “sand storms” in the water, looking for shells, and even spotting a helicopter making a run up the river.


Eventually, we made it to the waterfall.


I have to say, the waterfall itself is a little anti-climatic.  It’s not huge, and there were folks scrambling/swimming in it, which is illegal.  Which meant I had to explain to my kids that we weren’t going to climb on the steep rocks next to the falls, nor were we going to swim.   I did not want to deal with soaking wet children …

In pretty short order, we headed up the hill.   This is a steep grade that is not fun, but it’s not really that long.  I told the kids it was the hardest part of the hike and would be over soon, and they muscled through it with only mild complaining.   Once we got to the top of the hill, we turned right and the real water fun began.

Scotts Run has two places where the path crosses over the water.  Concrete posts serve as stepping stones to keep your feet dry.


Of course, if yours are like mine, fording the water soon looks like this.


Once the feet got wet, the explorers got more bold and wasn’t long before they were getting themselves soaked.   Walking in the inch deep water turned into wading into the shallows, which turned into slipping and soaking oneself up to the chest or at least bottom.  What was I saying about not wanting soaking kids?


But they had a blast and it was well worth it.  Adam loved hoping across the stones.   Sam conducted “experiments” to see how fast the water was moving.   It was exactly the kind of nature-loving fun I was hoping they would have.

Our hike also was a great opportunity to check out some of God’s creations up close.     We tried to count the rings on a downed tree and imagine how old it was.   We saw several toads and were impressed at how well their camouflage kept them hidden (until they hopped).  We saw butterflies and several different kinds of mushrooms.


It was a wonderful outdoor experience and I think everyone, even Ms. Ida Wannago had a great time.

It took us 3 hours to hike 2 miles, and I’m so glad we went.   Even if we got soaked and had to come home half naked, it was a memory well made.


Where do you like to hike with your kids?


Find more parks by visiting my main Arlington Parks & Playgrounds page.

3 Responses to Scotts Run Nature Preserve (McLean, VA)

  1. 1
    Mel says:

    great post & pics! very impressed you did this by yourself w/ all 3. keep at it!

  2. 2
    Darcy says:

    We used to hike here before we had kids, your post has inspired me to try going back with them. Thanks!

  3. 3
    Elaine says:

    I have a 3.5 year old and 1.5 year old. I would love to take them! Not sure about crossing the river with the little one, but it looks like maybe I can walk in the water to help her across the posts? One of these days I’ll do it!

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