Whenever I go to Bull Run Park I can’t help but become a little nostalgic for my childhood. This is probably the largest park in Centreville and on nice weekends, it’s full of families barbecuing, kids having fun, people jogging and walking their dogs and guys playing soccer and disc golf. The other day I was thinking that whenever I go to a park, it seems that most of the families grilling are Hispanic. I suppose this is as close as you can get to a countryside asado in the northern Virginia suburbs and something about being outdoors in warm weather with your extended family reminds you of home. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything to rent a shelter for a couple of hours. But this observation is for another blog post.
I like going to this park during the week, especially in early spring or late fall, because it’s relatively quiet and empty. On quiet days, all you hear are birds chirping, squirrels crunching dry leaves, the occasional sound of kids’ laughter, the rustling of the creek and the sound of car engines revving every once in a while. Although there is nothing particularly spectacular or beautiful about this park, it has a lot of sentimental value to me. If I go back to late 80s/early 90s, what I most remember is a massive, steep hill my sister and I would climb every time we went. I remember thinking that this was the biggest hill in the world; a mountain actually, not a hill. We would struggle to make it to the top and always felt so proud when we made it. I do believe we experienced Titanic-esque “King of the World” euphoria as we looked down on everyone from above. As with all things from childhood, the tallest mountain has become inexplicably smaller and is now nothing more than a man-made mound.
Bull Run Park is tucked in a semi-rural area of Centreville. Not the kind of place where you can’t see your neighbor, but rural enough. Whether you arrive on 29 0r by taking Compton, you’ll pass some small horse farms, picturesque meadows and plenty of white picket fences. Getting to the park is kind of like time traveling back to an era when houses were modest and lots were huge. Although there have been a number of upscale developments near Bull Run, there are plenty of houses that look to be from the 50s and 60s; small, modest ramblers on large, grassy lots off of nostalgia-inducing narrow, winding roads. It’s a nice, if brief, trip to the countryside.
Park information below.
Trails: According to the the park’s website there are three trails at this park, though I’ve actually seen more. I guess Fairfax County’s park budget doesn’t allow for accurate park information on their websites. They should hire me to write their copy. Anyway, some of the trails aren’t well marked or easy to find and whenever I’ve asked for trail information at the visitor center I’m given a hard to read map and no real information, so I will just share what I know.
Bluebell Trail: This is a 1.5 mile trail (it felt longer to me when I did it) that goes along a nice, wide creek. I haven’t seen this in person, but apparently, in April, the Bluebells come out and make for a lovely hike.
Occoquan Trail: This 17 mile trail starts here and ends at Fountainhead Regional Park in Lorton. I’ve only done a couple of miles on the trail but it follows the Bluebell Trail for the first mile or so. From what I’ve read, sections of the trail flood when it rains, making it impossible to pass at times. I’ve done a couple miles at the other end of the trail at Fountainhead Regional Park and I found that side to be a little hillier and overall, more picturesque.
Yellow/White Trail: I’ve tried both of these trails in the past but have had some trouble figuring out where they start/end. As far as I can tell, both go through wooded areas in the park and are nice enough if you’re looking for a shorter forest hike.
Paved Park Loop: You can actually go several miles on a the main road that runs through the park. You’ll have to share the road with cars (mostly pickup trucks it seems) but most travel slowly and you can hear them approaching so your chances of getting run over are low. Even when I’ve gone on dreary weekday evenings, there are always at least a few runners and dog walkers.
Other Trails: I’ve seen a number of other gravel/rocky trailheads but haven’t tried these yet. I’m not sure if these are horse trails or where they lead to, but maybe I’ll check it out soon.
Camping: Because this place is so close to my house, I’ve never gone camping here, but it always seems so hip and happening in the summer. I’m guessing a lot of families visiting D.C stay here. There are about 150 sites. Primitive sites cost $24-$26 per night while electric sites cost $28-$41. In addition, there are four rustic cabins that run for $47-$60. A two night minimum is required during high season. There is also a camp store. Few things make me happier than camp stores. They remind me of happy family vacations when my parents would give each of us a couple of dollars and we’d spend countless hours lovingly examining the wonderfully tacky camp store souvenirs. Remember those wooden boxes with howling wolves or Indian heads on them? The touristy key chains? The racks of postcards? Fishing gear? The wonderfully diverse displays of candy, soda and ice cream? These were the joys of early childhood camping vacations.
Other Features: Atlantis Pool is a large public pool at the park with plenty of slides — basically, a kid’s paradise. I haven’t been since I was 12 or 13 but I remember thinking it was huge. There is a disc golf area, a pretty nice playground, what seems like dozens of shelters with grilling areas, group camping areas, bathroom facilities, a shooting range (which you can see here throughout the park, especially on weekends) and soccer fields, although these have to be rented in advance. That said, there are non-official fields that people seem to use freely.