Beautiful tree in Hemlock Overlook Park, photo by Josh Rachford

Hiking in NoVa: Hemlock Overlook

Josh Rachford
Josh Rachford

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Hemlock Overlook Regional Park (official website here) is a great option for getting your family outside. Several trails, including a stretch of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, can be combined to create loops or out-and-back hikes of varying lengths. You can find a map of the trails and surrounding area here.

The park is in Clifton next to Paradise Springs Winery, which is a potentially fun option for after your hike. Parking for the park is outside the fenced area – it will be on the right as you drive up. Parking for the winery is to the left in the fenced area. Parking can get competitive on nice days and weekends; I highly recommend getting there early (pre-10am). On days park staff anticipates lots of people using both the winery and the park, they provide paid parking deeper in the park.

There is a kiosk with a map in the parking area, but take note: there are no trash cans. Plan to bring all your trash out with you.

Many people bring their dogs with them to hike at Hemlock, and often they let their dogs off-leash once on the trail. Technically this is not allowed, but you should expect to encounter it.

The trail that sees the heaviest use begins where the road ends. This trail, the yellow trail, starts where a sign shows a map of the larger Bull Run Occoquan Trail (BROT)  and a few rules of the park (no fires, no camping, dogs must be leashed). This trail runs about half a mile (need confirmation) to Bull Run. There it connects to the BROT, which runs along the river. For the easiest and simplest hike in the park, head down this trail to the river, take a gander at the water, then turn around and head back.

The red blazed trail (need to confirm that; it used to be red horseshoe blazes but might have changed) turns off from the trail mentioned above. If you are coming from the parking area, it will turn off to the left. This trail winds around in a rough quarter circle down to the river. It features some elevation change, both up and down, and a stream crossing which can get very muddy after rain. At the river the trail meets the BROT. When we hike, we often take this trail to the BROT and turn right, which takes you along the river. When we reach the trail to the parking lot – it's clearly marked with a sign that says "To Hemlock Parking" – we turn left and head up to the parking lot.

Another option is to head up the road which goes into the park. From the parking lot, turn right up the paved road into the park. You'll go up a slight hill. As you pass pavilions and buildings (currently all closed), you'll come up to the trail. The trail continues through a grassy area and then starts down the hill. The descent is somewhat steep; we keep our kid in the hiking backpack for it. This trail is labelled Union Mill Train on the map linked above.

At the bottom, you'll come to Pope's Head Creek. Here the BROT meets the trail and crosses the creek. You can turn left here to join the BROT and hike down to the Bull Run Hydroelectric Dam Ruins. If you turn left here, you'll go up a steep slope back toward the parking area. If you continue, you'll meet the yellow trail where the sign indicates "To Hemlock Parking," which will be to the left. Further on you can meet up with the red trail and head back that way.

These are just a few of the possible routes you could take; check out this map to come up with your own!

Along Pope's Head Creek there are some great spots to picnic by the stream. If you want to do that, I advise bringing a blanket or tarp to sit on. Along the blue trail there will be some rocky sections that can be hard for a small child to navigate; we use our hiking backpack here as well as a large dose of caution.

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Josh is a dad, management consultant, and ex-comedian who started Mom 'n Dad Co in 2021.