Anytime is a great time to go hiking. My favorite time to trek the trails is during the fall when the foliage is starting to change from green to crimson and gold. Take the road less traveled to Riverbend Park.
Riverbend Park comprises over 400 acres of forests, meadows, ponds, and trails sitting on top of the Potomac River Gorge. While the visitor center is on a small scale, it provides the history of the Indians who made Riverbend their home. Live animals include an adorable pair of rabbits, a pair of fish, a Northern Copperhead and Black Rat Snake, and Picasso, the Eastern Painted Turtle.
Stuffed animals that sit above the displays are that of a bear, owl, warbler, and a few other residents. See the pair of skulls from an American beaver and river otter, bobcat animal tracks, and a display of preserved insects.
There is what appears to be a stone base with wooden rod butter churn. Although I’m not sure if it was used for another purpose as there was no description of the item. Both inside the visitor center and near the riverbank are examples of dug out canoes used by the Virginia Indians as they traveled the area. A Tauxenent Indian warrior, totem pole, authentic arrowheads, and other artifacts give a mini history lesson about what life was like along the river.
The visitor center stocks everything from fish tackle and sunscreen to healthy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, Horizon milk boxes, juice, soda, candy, and ice cream. There’s also a gift shop with electric operated birds, geodes, buckets of toy insects, and more.
The visitor center is staffed with a naturalist who can give general information about the area, including the different trails. I was disappointed that the wagon ride leading to the bridge wasn’t open to the public. Wagon ride tours are available to groups and scouts throughout the season. Programs for preschoolers to adults have park rangers taking you over bridges and through parts of the park not open to the general public. A detailed list of programs can be picked up at the visitor center. Many programs require registration, which you can do online.
Take a park map to decide which of the over 10 miles of tails you want to seek out. The main area covers a 2.5 mile portion of the Potomac Heritage Trail which connects to Great Falls National Park. Most of the trails are flat, but wearing long sleeves, walking shoes, and bringing plenty of water is essential.
When we went on our hike, we didn’t know until reading afterward that scavenger hunt kits are available for $1. Depending on whether you want to go on a short or long hike through Riverbend, you can search the park for nature facts.
Restrooms are located outside the visitor center, but they do not have a diaper changing area. The view from the visitor center is breathtaking. During our visit there were some bees so bring insect repellent. There are Adirondack chairs situated at elevated deck levels, along with picnic tables and grills sprinkled throughout the main area of the park. I actually noticed one group brought their own portable grill while a Daisy event was occurring under the tent.
There is a separate entrance to the nature center, however it is only open for special programs or birthday parties. A popular event to check out is the annual Virginia Indian Festival held in September.
While the park is free to enter, donation boxes are outside the visitor center. If you have a fishing license, you can rent rods, boat, or go on a guided fishing trip in search of sunfish and bass. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent and classes are also offered for a fee. The visitor center is open weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm; closed Tuesdays and is open weekends from 12 to 5 pm. During the winter months of December through February, the center is open 11 am to 4 pm. The park grounds are open from 7 am to dusk when the gates are locked.
A final head’s up: There is still space for the Halloween Adventure which includes a wagon ride, scarecrows, candy, s’mores and stories around the campfire. The special event is reasonably priced, good for all ages, and will be held on October 24, 2014. Register online.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.