Fairfax County, VA: Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

After learning about Scotts Run Nature Preserve on one of my favorite websites, Hiking Upward, I took my dog for a hike down one of its several trails leading from Route 193 to the Potomac River.  Scotts Run has to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the DC area, and it’s is only a 20 minute drive from my apartment.  The turn-off on Route 193 is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention though.  Even on a nice Saturday afternoon, there was plenty of parking in the little gravel lot right next to Scotts Run creek.

Scott's Run Nature Preseve hiking virginia

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve sign

The hike was really fun and not too strenuous. There’s one area where you have to forge the creek but there are concrete pillars jutting out of the water that you can walk on. If you have a big dog, chances are it’s going to be getting wet. Ollie seemed to want to walk in the water anyway.

Scott's Run hiking hike

Scott’s Run creek

The fall foliage sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight as we followed the creek’s meandering path through the steep valley. The canopy overhead, already stripped of some of its summer leaves, still managed to shade our path along the creek’s edge. We began to climb a steep hillside, the trail’s path no longer obvious. Leaves rustled beneath our feet, and the rushing water to our right swirled around the smooth rocks jutting out from below the surface.

Scott's Run hike

You coming?

Ollie dragged me up the hill towards the crest of another steep hill, this one being the boundary between the Preserve and the wide Potomac River running parallel to it on the other side. We trudged through a layer of leaves so deep that the  contours of the ground below it were hard to make out. But I trusted this little dog’s judgment to get me through it safely. He was panting, tongue sticking out, and my legs felt the effects of the steep climb. Straight ahead through the trees, the Potomac River stood still like a lake. We descended a steep poorly marked path strewn with granite outcroppings. I had to hold on to the rocks as gravity did it’s trick, pulling me down the hill towards the waterfall below. This is where Scott’s Run empties into the Potomac, on its route to the Atlantic Ocean.

Scott's Run Nature Preserve Fairfax


Waterfall at the end of Scott's Run

Waterfall at the end of Scott’s Run

Scott's Run Nature Preseve hiking Virginia

The waterfall puts a nice finishing touch on Scott’s Run. Even with a normal amount of rainfall, the water spills about 10 feet into a pool below before making its way to the river. If you’re not afraid of getting wet, you can forge the a shallow pool a bit further downstream to get reach the other side of the Preserve, where there is another trail, better marked than the one I took. Instead of going that route, I retraced my steps on the way back, following Ollie’s eager trailblazing back up the steep path.

Scott's Run Nature Preserve Fairfax

Potomac River

We made it back to the parking lot. Just in time; it was getting dark now, our appetites were growing. Time to head back to the city.


Kevin is based in Washington, DC and writes about his travel adventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the world. Through entertaining writing and eye-catching photography, he aims to provide readers with useful information as they plan their next trips.

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