Scotts Run Nature Preserve

Waterfall * Potomac views

Literally yards from the busy Capital Beltway, this serene oak-and-hickory upland on the Potomac River almost became another housing development. Indeed, the plans were all drawn up; cul-de-sacs and ridge-top lots, even a small pathway along the river for strolling. Fortunately, a group of local residents fought hard to keep the place wild. Thanks to their efforts, Washingtonians and Northern Virginians don’t have to travel far to find a quiet, forested refuge.

The Scotts Run Trail is a wide, all-purpose path along Scotts Run, a rock-strewn tributary of the Potomac River. Songbirds dart through river birch, sumac, flowering dogwood, and locust, and, at one season or another throughout the year, some 175 different species of wildflowers grace the forest floor. A quarter mile from the trailhead, where the path fords the run, you can take a narrow dirt footpath along the stream’s right bank—you may have to scramble over some rocks and logs, but you’ll be impressed by the quiet beauty here.

This little side trail soon rejoins the main path, which proceeds up and over a hill (don’t take the steps off to the right). Just beyond the hill’s crest, you’ll glimpse the Potomac through the trees ahead and hear its roar. The trail approaches the river’s edge, where you’ll have a top-notch view. Wide and shallow here, the river boils with rapids. Many forested, rocky islands provide homes for waterfowl and songbirds. All around you, century-old sycamores shade the shoreline.

Follow the narrow dirt path upstream a little way to a secluded glen, where Scotts Run tumbles 15 feet into the Potomac. Surrounded by hemlock, mountain laurel, and witch hazel, this pretty spot seems more like a Blue Ridge hideaway than a forest in the heart of suburban Washington’s clamor.

After you’ve sat awhile and watched for deer, retrace the trail back to your car.

More Hiking: The preserve is honeycombed with trails that weave through its woodlands and offer river vistas. You can even hike alongside the river, down to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Off the Capital Beltway (I-495) near Great Falls, Virginia
1.25-mile round-trip/1 hour


Photo: TripAdvisor (jehenson81)