Spring has finally sprung, and with my daughter’s budding interest in nature, we decided to check out Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria. Tucked into the Hybla Valley area, Huntley Meadows is a natural oasis in the middle of our busy suburban area.
The centerpiece of Huntley Meadows is the wetlands boardwalk trail, which boasts some of the best wildlife watching in the DC area. It’s also known as a prime birding spot, with over 200 species identified in the park. From the parking lot, the trail is clearly marked and makes a large loop through the park and across the wetlands.
The entire trail loop is approximately 1.6 miles, with .6 miles of boardwalk. While you don’t have to walk the entire loop, we really enjoyed the entire walk.
While the trail in the woods was really nice (and the perfect spot for my 3 year old to run!), we were really impressed by the boardwalk trail. My daughter was the first to spot the dozens of turtles sunning themselves on the logs. In fact, it seemed like the wetlands are a bit of a turtle paradise!
All along the trail was evidence of a large beaver population in the park. There was a huge tree with fresh beaver marks and many dams built throughout the wetlands. We also spotted ducks, geese, fish, and herons, along with an array of small birds that flew by to say hello.
The way that the boardwalk is constructed makes it very easy for small children to observe the different animals. My daughter joined others who laid down on the boardwalk to get a closer view of the tiny fish that were swimming near the surface.
They also spotted some large snails; she was close enough to actually see the snail trails and we discussed how a snail moves. There are also two large observation towers, which is nice to be able to get a birds’ eye view of the wetlands.
Huntley Meadows is the perfect spot for some outdoor learning. We talked about the animals we saw, and I think that next time we go we will bring a bird guide to help us identify the ones that we see. (there is also a birdfinder database available on the park website)
There were also many budding nature photographers – my daughter will be bringing her own camera along with us next time as well!
In addition to the nature trails, Huntley Meadows has a nice visitor center with exhibits and classrooms as well as a small store. My daughter especially liked looking at the turtle shells and bones through a magnifying glass in one of the exhibits.
We will definitely be going back to Huntley Meadows, especially as the seasons change and different animals and plants are visible.
- Huntley Meadows is a Fairfax County park. The park is open from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. Visitor center hours vary by season – check the website before you go for hours.
- While we saw plenty of strollers on the boardwalk, it’s a rough ride on the gravel path to get there. Use a stroller with large wheels or a baby carrier for the little ones. Dogs (on leashes) and bikes are allowed on the hike-bike trails only; dogs and bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk.
- Bathrooms and water fountains are available in the visitor’s center. There were some picnic tables in the park, and benches throughout if you want to bring a picnic lunch or snack. We saw a lot of families stop on the boardwalk to have their snack so they could watch the birds as they ate.
- In addition to the visitor center and outdoor area, you can also sign up for nature classes and camps.