The concept of an all-encompassing, scenic state park that is also fairly vacant sounded like wishful thinking before I visited Mason Neck State Park. If you’re searching for an idyllic state park containing trails looping through hardwood forests, scenic overlooks, and amenities ranging from a kayak launch to a picnic area, consider devoting your entire day to Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia. My friends and I were looking for a relatively easy and picturesque walking path close to Washington, D.C, and we definitely found it here—plus a whole lot more.
The drive to Mason Neck is only about forty minutes from the District, so two of my friends and I packed some bagels for a picnic lunch and (after paying the parking fee, which was only $4 for in-state visitors) pulled into the parking lot in no time. Watery blue skies dotted with speckled clouds hung over a beautiful view of glistening Belmont Bay, which can be seen immediately behind the Visitor Center and parking lot. The Visitor Center has a lot to offer—free trail backpacks, wildlife exhibits, a gift shop, an interactive information system, extremely clean outdoor restrooms (a victory!), and bike, kayak, and canoe rentals with affordable ($5, $10, and $12, respectively) hourly rates.
We decided to set forth on “Kanes Creek Trail,” a 1.2 mile, easy dirt trail accessible from the Visitor Center that passes through hardwood forests. We noticed several decaying fallen trees surrounding the path, and were grateful that it was mostly shaded by the thick expanses of trees.
After our one-mile stroll, we quickly met our second trail, “Eagle Spur Trail,” which caught our eye when choosing the hike, spurring us to pick the trail with a view. Eagle Spur is a 1.29 mile moderate hiking trail that runs through the woods before ending at a “bird blind” overlooking Kanes Creek. What is a bird blind? I suppose I failed to use my deductive reasoning skills, but I did not understand the nature of our destination until we reached a wooden, covered box that screamed, “hidden area to view birds from.” Oh, of course! We didn’t spot any bald eagles, but we munched on our picnic lunch on the benches under the enclosure, gazing at birds swooping to the surface of the water to grab their own seafood lunches.
I recommend stopping at the Visitor’s Center before embarking on the trails; each of the nine trails has a pamphlet that includes an interactive, self-guided tour with several numbered “stops” on each path. There are four stops on both Kanes Creek and Eagle Spur—stop 3 of Eagle Spur, for example, has a labeled “3” marker on the side of the trail and an explanation for the large shrub under the marker in the pamphlet, known as Mountain Laurel. The tours are informative, as the numbers are easily visible and the blurbs about the wildlife are concise but educational. However, just a tip: try not to be too distracted by the pamphlets—we almost stepped on a full-sized Eastern rat snake that was coiled up in the feeble sunlight on the side of the path. Yikes.
Besides the 1,825 acres of wildlife, I learned that Mason Neck State Park also contains a rich cultural history. Originally recorded as the location where Captain John Smith met the Dogue Indians in 1608, it was later nicknamed Doggs Island before being named after George Mason, who frequented the peninsula. Despite the modern facilities and amenities, Mason Neck has a deep-rooted history that undoubtedly contributes to its rich natural and cultural presence.
I know that I will inevitably return to rent a kayak or walk on other trails, perhaps even bring my bike for the paved multi-use trail; I strongly suggest checking out Mason Neck State Park if you’re looking for outdoor recreational activity, because the park has it all. Mason Neck shares its “neck” with Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Gunston Hall, and BLM’s Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area—based on my positive experience with Mason Neck, I’m looking forward to taking many more trips to Lorton, Virginia to check them all out.
Overlooking the Potomac River, the park is a haven for migrating bird species in spring and fall. It has hiking trails, 3 miles of paved multi-use trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch and a visitor center.