The Bull Run Mountains are the easternmost mountains in Virginia. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve is approximately 2,350 acres that serve as a living laboratory that sits in the backyard of our nation’s capital. The preserve contains 10 different plant community types and a plethora of regionally uncommon and threatened plant and animal species. In 2002, this land was dedicated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as a natural area preserve to protect the unique ecosystems found here. As the owner and manager of the preserve, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation is committed to protecting the special ecosystem found here and sharing it with the public through managed access.
The Bull Run Mountains was an early hotbed of scientific activity, and the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve continues to serve as an important site for scientific research. The permanent protection that a natural area preserve designation provides creates a relatively stable environment nestled in a dynamically changing area with ever-increasing anthropogenic pressures. As a result, the preserve is a fantastic place for long-term research and amassing large datasets. VOF staff continuously pursue research objectives and actively encourage and facilitate the research of outside organizations and institutions. The scientific potential is limitless.
Data of various types is actively collected by VOF staff and preserve volunteers, including data about plant and animal species, public visitation, and trail use. This data is crucial in making informed, objective decisions. Our data-driven approach is critical for our ability to effectively balance public use with our obligation to preserve a healthy, natural ecosystem.
With three different sections and focuses, the preserve is an active and dynamic resource. We host K-12 school groups, university students, and researchers throughout the week. Although the South Section is the only site that is open on weekends to the public without a permit, the entire preserve is actively utilized as a living laboratory, outdoor classroom, and open-air museum. Jackson Hollow and the North Section, which are accessible by permit only, serve as the engine that drives our scientific mission. Jackson Hollow houses our research station and is the home of our stream restoration area and brook trout release sites. The North Section hosts many VOF-led organized educational programs and research activities. All research and discoveries made at the preserve are incorporated into our public educational programs and outreach materials.
Open Fridays – Sundays
March 16th – November 14th
8am – 6pm
November 15th – March 15th
8am – 4:30pm
The first biological surveys of the mountains occurred in the 1930s when Henry A. Allard began a botanical inventory and collected over 15,000 vascular plants. His specimens now largely reside in the Smithsonian Institution – National Museum of Natural History’s herbarium. Allard was one of the first scientists to recognize the ecological uniqueness of the habitat, noting that it is more akin to the mountains that reside to the west than the surrounding lowlands.
In 1965, the federal government directed each state to create a central agency to develop long-range conservation and recreation planning. It was during this time that the Virginia Outdoor Recreation Study Commission identified Bull Run Mountains as their highest priority location for open space in Northern Virginia. Key philanthropists and neighbors began to work privately on the large scale conservation project by purchasing tracts on the mountains through the Natural Areas Council (NAC), a non-profit conservation organization.
After acquiring multiple parcels totaling nearly 3000 acres, the NAC began looking for a partner to continue the project in the early 1970s. Having always conceived of the project as being for public benefit, a public owner seemed like the natural choice to receive the properties and carry the project forward.
Established by the Code of Virginia “to promote the preservation of open-space lands and to encourage private gifts of money, securities, land or other property to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, scientific, open-space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth”, VOF is unique among state agencies in its ability to receive gifts of land and money. It is this feature that positioned VOF to acquire NAC’s properties and to carry the project forward.
VOF received the first gift of Bull Run properties in 1979 from the NAC. VOF continued to acquire land over the decades, and after close to 50 transactions assembled the contiguous blocks of land owned today. The property is appreciated, by Virginia residents and visitors alike, for its significant natural heritage, its cultural heritage, and its recreational, aesthetic and educational resources.
VOF continues to actively monitor and protect the natural and historical features of the preserve for the future. Acquisitions of Bull Run Mountains properties and conservation easements are ongoing.
The property address is 17502 Beverley Mill Drive, Broad Run, VA 20137. The parking area will be on your left about 700 feet before the main trailhead. The southern section of the preserve features 6.5 miles of trails. These trails include a range of habitats, geological character, and cultural resources. Click here for a printable map of the trails. The northern section of the preserve is open to groups by appointment only. To learn more or schedule a visit, please contact Joe Villari. Note: To retain the natural conditions of preserves, facilities are limited. Preserves do not have restrooms and may have poor or no cell phone coverage. Always tell someone where you are going before you visit a preserve. Hiking trails may be steep, narrow and remote. Most are inaccessible to emergency vehicles.
Please remember this is a state-designated Natural Area Preserve. It serves as both core and corridor to native animal and plant populations. You are entering their home.
- Leave no trace. Take trash with you.
- Please stay on designated trails.
- Dogs, horses, bicycles, ATVs and off-road vehicles are not allowed.
- Camping and fires are not allowed.
- Exercise caution when crossing the railroad tracks into the preserve. These tracks are quite active. Please do not walk along or follow the tracks. Such activities are dangerous and illegal.
- Stay on designated trails.
Plan Ahead and Hike at Your Own Risk
- Carry maps, a compass and/or GPS unit and plenty of drinking water.
- Research and keep an eye on weather conditions.
- Know your limitations and skills, as well as those of your group.
Respect Cultural and Natural Heritage
- Leave rocks, plants, animals and other natural objects as you find them.
- Preserve the past; examine but do not remove cultural or historic artifacts.
- Keep a respectful distance. Utilize binoculars or a telephoto lens for a closer look.
- Do not feed or harass the wildlife. Even “positive” interactions can have long-term consequences to wildlife health.
- Please report any wildlife concerns to VOF preserve staff.
The Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve features several easy to moderate trails that showcase both the ecology and history of the property. Here you will find descriptions of the trails, as well as a one-page printable trail map.
Fern Hollow Loop
Passing through several plant communities, this trail provides an opportunity to delve into the varying natural habitat types that are found within the preserve—from the mountain laurel-covered ridges to the beautiful low-lying seeps, including the locally treasured section of habitat known as Fern Hollow. This trail is dotted with a myriad of historic features—including the upper mill and meadowlands ruins, ice house structure, Corum House, and LJ cemetery. The western portion of this trail also offers a beautiful view of the Chapman Mill and Thoroughfare Gap and provides a glimpse into the face of the natural quarry line that served as an entrenchment during the American Civil War.
Length: 3.4 miles
This trail travels by historic cemeteries from two different families who called this mountain home—one being the Dawson family, the other being the Chapman family (the owners of the nearby mill). You will also pass over the natural quarry entrenchment—providing the opportunity for a closer look at this famed geological feature of historical note. The western portion of this trail also brings you through a hickory and chestnut oak-dominated ridge, this unique ecological community supports a scrubby huckleberry and lowbush blueberry underbrush.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Length: 1.75 miles
Beech Ridge Loop
Winding around this gently sloped ridge that is now populated with a young forest comprised of beech and oak, you wouldn’t know that it was historically dominated by the now endangered American chestnut tree. Today, this young forest is a great place to spy a family of white-tailed deer or hear the knocks of one of our native woodpeckers. This gentle trail has minimal changes in elevation and is a great loop for those seeking a shorter, relaxed excursion.
Length: 1 mile (+ .35 mile from the trailhead)
Join Us – Volunteer Opportunities at the Preserve!
Looking to meet other nature-oriented folks, spend more time outdoors, or build your resume – while helping the local environment and community? If so, we have volunteer opportunities available for a myriad of interest and experience levels. These opportunities include – but are not limited to – trail maintenance workdays, invasive plant removal workdays, biological monitoring projects and cultural history research.
VOF preserve staff rely heavily on volunteer participation and sincerely appreciate your consideration in joining our volunteer team! If you wish to join our volunteer mailing list or have questions about our volunteer program, please email our preserve technician, Summers Cleary, at firstname.lastname@example.org.