I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring back the twelve months’ hiking project! Longtime readers may recall that Steve and I set a goal of getting out onto a different hiking trail at least once every month in 2015, and at the end of the year we had a collection of fantastic hikes to show for it. I wanted to keep the project going into 2016, but we quickly realized that we had pretty much exhausted the family friendly hiking trails in Western New York. But the dawn of this new year sees us back home in Northern Virginia, with a wealth of hiking trails to choose from and some travel plans that will take us to even more spectacular hiking locations – with all that to look forward to, how could I not bring back the hiking project?
Our first hike of 2017 had to involve Great Falls somehow – it just wouldn’t have felt right otherwise. Great Falls might be my favorite place in the world. It’s a tough call, because I love so many places. But this rollicking gorge holds a special place in my heart. I think I’ve hiked here more than anywhere else – in all seasons and all weather – and I know every inch of the trail. (At least, on the Virginia side. The Maryland side boasts the Billy Goat Trail, which is one of the most popular hikes in the D.C. area, and we still haven’t tried it. I hope to have corrected that omission by the end of 2017!)
Our first stop, as always, was the overlook, so we could wave hello to the waterfalls. The water was really rolling last weekend – you could see the mist coming off the falls section quite a ways up the trail. I brought my Adirondack flag to show my love for my favorite state park while I hiked my favorite federal park.
Whenever we head for Great Falls, we always get into a debate – should we head downriver, into the NPS area of the park, or should we walk up the trail to Riverbend Park (part of the Fairfax County park system) and leave the NPS section? I like to walk downriver and stay in the federal area, but Steve prefers to walk upriver into the Fairfax County park section. He likes the more consistent river views upriver, while I don’t mind meandering into the woods a bit and then coming out onto more sporadic, but more spectacular, views downriver.
Since the last time we hiked Great Falls, we went downriver, it was only fair to hike upriver this time. So we set out for the North River Trail, which takes hikers out of Great Falls and into Riverbend Park.
First bird sightings – a few Canadian geese waiting out the winter (or stopping by on their way further south). There was also a gaggle of ducks.
The North River Trail has a bit of very mild technical hiking, which adds to the fun. Starting small with some stone steps…
Into a tight scramble area. I wished I had brought my hiking poles, but I did fine grabbing onto the rocks and tree trunks along the side of the trail.
We have arrived! Riverbend Park is such a versatile area. It’s great for birding all year round, and the trail is loved by both hikers and trail runners. It’s interesting enough to keep you engaged, but not so technical that you couldn’t run it if you were of the mind to do so.
This guy was giving me lots of kisses. Everyone should try hiking with an affectionate toddler on their backs.
At one point we all shared a water bottle. I was a little worried about all this water going down the back of my neck, but fortunately, my fears turned out to be misplaced. What a relief!
We ended the hike with a special treat – a Great Blue Heron! Mom’s favorite bird – what a delight to see that guy. (Can you spot him in the picture above? Note to self: bring the dSLR next time. iPhone pictures just don’t cut it for birding.)
A little scrambling, a gorgeous waterfall, and some great birding action – not a bad start to a new twelve months’ hiking project!
Have you been hitting the trails recently?