Natural Area Preserves: Northern Virginia to the Northern Neck

by Casey Higgins | Posted: Jul 28, 2015

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Delicate habitats are to be treasured, not trampled on, and only 21 Virginia Natural Area Preserves offer public access. Tread lightly, leave nothing, and take only photos as memories.

This, the third of a four-part series (see part one and part two), suggests ways to experience six publicly accessible Natural Area Preserves from Gainesville in Northern Virginia to Kilmarnock in the Northern Neck. See the green pins on the map below.

Permitted activities while visiting these preserves are hiking, canoeing, kayaking, photography, and wildlife watching. Camping, fires, horses, bikes, ATVs and any other vehicles are prohibited. Pets must be leashed at all times.



2, 486 acres. Broad Run, straddling Fauquier and Prince William Counties. Preserve to protect the natural landscape of Northern Virginia and the eastern-most mountains of Virginia.

For You: Ten miles of trails highlighting white quartzite cliffs, boulder fields, and rare forest and woodland types.
Watch For: Rattlesnakes, moths, globally rare tiger beetle (Cicindela patruela), Black ash, Goldie’s wood fern, Northern starflower, and more flora and fauna. Several family cemeteries are within the preserve, as well as ice house remains and a homestead site.
Note: The High Point Cliff area is closed indefinitely for recovery and restoration. This preserve is owned and managed by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

As you move along the route (see map below) to the next preserve, you may be seeking something to eat or a place to stay. If so, here are a few suggestions:



2, 872 acres. On a peninsula between Accokeek and Potomac Creeks, Crow’s Nest is a preservation area for Virginia’s best example of Coastal Plain hardwood frest.

For You: The trail from the Brooke Road parking access leads to overlooks on Accokeek Creek. An accessible canoe and kayak launch leads to the Crow’s Nest Water Trail. Preserve FAQ
Watch For: Oaks and tulip poplars reaching more than 100 feet tall, bald eagles, short-nose sturgeon, and neo-tropical migratory songbirds.
Note: This preserve is co-owned by Stafford County and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve

Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve


Progressing along the route to Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve, here are options for a place to stay and a few to eat:



102 acres. Located at the headwaters of the Great Wicomico River in Heathsville, and named for the brackish Bush Mill Stream that borders the preserve on the north side.

For You: A short trail (less than a mile long) takes you onto an observation pier. Preserve Fact Sheet
Watch For: Chesapeake Bay blue crab, Atlantic menhaden, white perch, Tidewater amphipod (a rare shrimp-like creature), eagles, Great Blue Herons, osprey, and wood ducks.

Lodging and dining can be found at Lancaster Tavern in Lancaster.



254 acres. In Lancaster, this preserve is mostly mixed pine and hardwood forest with Cabin Swamp, a forest swamp.

For You: More than four miles of trails meander the forest. Picnic shelter available.
Watch For: Kingfishers, wild turkeys, migratory songbirds, and wood ducks are plentiful. Summer rains bring mushrooms and orchids.
Note: Hickory Hollow Natural Area Preserve is owned by the Northern Neck Audubon Society and managed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

As you move on to Dameron Marsh and Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserves, detour to Kilmarnock for places to eat and accommodations.



316 acres. This preserve is a Chesapeake Bay peninsula near Kilmarnock, and is predominantly salt marsh, sand beach, and shrub-forest habitats.

For You: A short trail (less than a half-mile), leads to a Chesapeake Bay marsh observation point. A hand-carry canoe and kayak launch point is available. Self-Guided Field Trip Guide
Watch For: Biting flies in the summer. Choose to visit during cooler months to observe tundra swans, Canada geese, ducks, and the federally listed northeastern beach tiger beetle.

Dameron Marsh. Photo by John Gresham, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Dameron Marsh. Photo by John Gresham, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.



204 acres. A Chesapeake Bay peninsula also near Kilmarnock, Hughlett Point is comprised of wetlands, beach, dune, and pine forest habitats.

For You: A one-mile trail with interpretive signs leads to two observation points. Hughlett Point is a popular bird-watching preserve in the fall migratory season. Preserve Fact Sheet
Watch For: A wide variety of songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey can be seen here: herons, egrets, bald eagles, and osprey.
Note: Hughlett Point is home to the federally listed northeastern beach tiger beetle. Please keep dogs and children from digging in the sand.

Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve

Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve



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Awww, you’ve “outed” one of my favorite places to go! Hope the hordes don’t show up! 😛