For the 50+ Traveler

The easternmost front of the Blue Ridge in Virginia includes the Bull Run Mountains. Located in northern Virginia, the picturesque blue mountains span both Fauquier and Prince William Counties.

There are three places to access stunning views of the mountains: the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, the Manassas National Battlefield Park, and the Winery at La Grange. The range is home to the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, designed to act as a living laboratory that covers 2,486 acres of the Bull Run Mountains.

Whether you’re planning a trip through the area or are just captivated by its beauty, consider these five things you might not know about the Bull Run Mountains:

1. The Land Qualifies For A High Level Of Protection

Natural Area Preserves are only justified in cases where the natural and cultural resources are unique enough to qualify for this high level of protection. The Bull Run Mountains Preserve protects nearly 2,500 acres of forest, which hold over 10 different plant communities that are all home to unique arrays of native animals. Woven into this natural landscape are historic ruins that tip visitors off to the area’s diversely peopled past. Preserve manager Joe Villari told us, “The very fact that such a large portion of the Bull Run Mountains is permanently protected as a state-designated Natural Area Preserve denotes the fact that the land is special.”

A Civil War canon at Bull Run, Virginia.

2. The Mountains Were Witness To Two Civil War Battles

The mountains are near two sites of Civil War battles: the First and Second Battles of Manassas/Bull Run. Manassas National Battlefield Park honors these historical events. While there, hike the battlefield or watch one of the Living History demonstrations to learn about the American Civil War, particularly the First and Second Battles of Manassas that took place on lands now preserved within this national park.

The Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve.

3. Visitors Can Experience The Mountains At Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve

The preserve encompasses a series of rocky ridges and steep valleys on Virginia's northern piedmont and is a living laboratory where the main goals are preservation, conservation, and education. In 2002, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation declared the land a Natural Area Preserve in order to “protect the unique ecosystems found here.” The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), a state-supported organization dedicated to protecting open space across the Commonwealth owns and manages the preserve.

“The Bull Run Mountain project area serves as a conservation corridor made possible by a public-private partnership, as there is a patchwork of conservation easements protecting the private property surrounding the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve from future development. Bull Run Mountains is one of a few natural strongholds left within Northern Virginia and protects the first mountain range you encounter when heading southwest out of D.C.,” Villari shared.

The Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve serves as an important site for scientific research. Virginia Outdoors Foundation staff and volunteers collect data about plant and animal species, public visitation, and trail use. The data is important to effectively balancing public use with the goal of preserving the natural ecosystem.

In addition, the preserve is used as an educational environment, hosting school groups, university students, and researchers. Although the South Section is only available for open access visitation from Friday through Sunday, educational groups visit seven days per week. Villari said the preserve offers an active student-driven brook trout reintroduction program among other programs.

“We also host a constantly revolving and evolving cast of visiting researchers and scientists here that are working with VOF to better understand the natural and cultural beauty that the preserve protects,” he told us.

Aerial view of the Bull Run Mountains.

4. There’s More Than One Way To Enjoy The Bull Run Mountains

The South Section of the preserve is what most people are familiar with when they think of the Bull Run Mountains. The preserve is open Friday to Sunday year-round and has over seven miles of trails, plus a plethora of cultural sites and different habitats to explore. Villari said that being a preserve, rather than a park, means programming and amenities aren’t focused on providing a purely recreational experience. Instead, the focus is on conservation and education -- so the public is welcome to explore, learn, and grow there, both intellectually and spiritually. “We invite visitors to come here to connect with nature by opening their senses to the life that surrounds them while keeping a curious eye out for the clues of our shared human past that dot the trail system,” Villari said.

5. There’s Plenty To Do Nearby

The Bull Run Mountains are close to prize-winning wineries, quaint villages, shopping, and dining, so there’s plenty to enjoy during a visit. A few must-experience activities include watching live music at Prince William County’s Jiffy Lube Live, playing a round of golf at Bull Run or Stonewall Golf Club, and sipping cocktails at MurLarkey Distilled Spirits in Bristow. Stop for fresh seafood including Maryland blue crab at Out of the Blue Seafood in Gainesville, or try a sausage charcuterie board at Eugene’s Sausage and Fries in Haymarket. For goat yoga and baby goat snuggles, be sure to visit The Little Goat Farm at the Lake in Nokesville.

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