South Valley Trail
The South Valley Trail is a part of the 35 miles of hiking trails in Prince William Forest Park. It is a nice stroll that takes you along the Quantico Creek.
We went up this past weekend to visit Christine’s parents. Her dad’s birthday is on Halloween and he usually likes to do something active to help celebrate. He suggested a possible bike and hike in Prince William Forest Park. We were expecting a lot of rain that weekend, so we decided to just do a hike. While it was raining a little before we got there, we managed to do the hike with only a light drizzle at the end of the hike.
Many people do not realize that Prince William Forest Park is part of the National Park Service. The land was given this protection to find a new use for the land under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was used as a training school for the military during World War II, but was turned back over to the Park Service in 1946.
While the overall South Valley Trail is about nine miles, we decided to do the portion that highlighted the South Fork of Quantico Creek. Her dad dropped a bike off at parking lot “I” and then we proceeded to lot “G” to start our trip. Christine’s father used the bike as a shuttle at the end of the hike. Upon reaching lot “I” at the end of the hike, he biked back to the car and then returned to pick the rest of us up.
We began by walking on Mawavi Road. In about .4 mile, it intersects with the South Valley Trail. We took a left on this trail. The trail runs along Quantico Creek for the majority of the rest of this hike. Shortly after joining the South Valley Trail, you will see a very narrow lake. There are a couple of cabin camps on the opposite side of the lake, which are often used by Boy Scouts. In 1.6 miles from the start, you will reach a junction with the High Meadows Trail. Continue straight on the South Valley Trail until you reach the Scenic Drive. Take a right and head down the road to your other vehicle at parking lot I, just about a tenth of a mile ahead.
We were expecting to see more color in the leaves this year, but it seems that things near the creek were a little past peak. We did see lots of signs of beavers in the area, but we didn’t see any actual beavers. The bridge and lake were interesting to view along the way, but this was more of a nice stroll through the woods than a momentous hike. The grade during this hike was a mix of hills and flats, so most people could attempt this hike without much difficulty. What amazes me most about this area is that it doesn’t seem to be heavily used. You would think with the proximity to D.C. and the hordes of Northern Virginians, that it would be crawling with people. But, we’ve been here several times and there doesn’t seem to be that many visitors.
I’ve hiked along the South Valley trail many times over the years. When I was a Girl Scout, we camped in the park frequently. We took many day hikes along this trail. As an adult, we’ve hiked it as a family several times. In fact, it was the first trail we hiked after my younger brother returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq. Like Adam said, the South Valley trail is nothing spectacular. There are no grand vistas or thundering waterfalls. Instead, it’s simply a place to enjoy a quiet and peaceful walk through the woods.
The foliage was about a week or two past peak when we hiked this year. There were a few ginkgo and beech trees still holding onto golden leaves, but most of the trees were bare or brown. The last time I hiked this area was fall of 2007. Even though it was much later in the season, the color lingered until almost December that year. The photos below were taken on November 17, 2007. I guess this is even more evidence that fall came and went early this year.
The terrain of this hike is very easy. Since Prince William County doesn’t really have mountains, the park lacks tough grades and long climbs. I would describe the trail as crossing rolling terrains. You’re almost always walking uphill or downhill, but ascents and descents are never steep or long. Quantico Creek is a lovely and lazy waterway along the trail. There are a few places where the water forms small rapids and cascades, but most of the time it’s just a quiet, smooth ribbon of water through the woods.
The morning in Prince William Forest was a nice way to spend some time as a family.
- Distance – 3.1 miles
- Elevation Change – Negligible
- Difficulty – 1. Not much uphill the way we traveled.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is narrow, but in great condition.
- Views –0. No views to really see.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3. You will constantly get views of the stream nearby, but the water is usually fairly still.
- Wildlife – 1. You’re likely to only see deer around here. However, gnawed trees lead to the belief that there are beavers in the area.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. A few turns, but easy to follow.
- Solitude – 3. It’s Northern Virginia, so expect some people, but you should still have decent solitude.
Directions to trailhead:
From I-95, take exit 150 on to 619 heading west. The Prince William Forest Park entrance is on the right. Once you pass the gate, take a left at the first fork. Once you pass parking lot C, take your next left. To do the trail as a shuttle as we did, leave a vehicle or bike at lot I and then proceed to lot G. Walk down the Mawavi Road to start the trip.