Scott’s Run Nature Preserve: Hiking with Kids

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located in McLean Virginia within Fairfax County. As part of the Potomac Gorge, one of the most popular draws to the park is the beautiful waterfall.

In fact, the preserve features the closest waterfall to the Metropolitan DC area.

The preserve is actually claimed to be one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic containing floodplains, rocky cliffs and narrow valleys.

Here we’ll make sure you’re prepared and know what to expect before you head out.

Covered Here:

Hiking Trail to Waterfall
Things to Do & Enjoy
Trail Map
Hours & When to Go
Prices & Fees
Good to Know Before You Go
Getting There
Things to Do Nearby

Scott's Run Nature Preserve Hike to Waterfall

Hiking to the Waterfall With Kids

The hike is just under 2 miles and the elevation goes downward as you go. It can be steep but very rewarding when you rich the river.

The trail down to the river is approximately 200 yards long.

The Trail Route

Hiking the circuit trail counter clockwise, start from the parking lot and ascend the stairs veering right at the top.

Follow straight and take the first trail to the left over a tiny stream (most of the time it’s dry).

Continue on this trail until the next intersection and turn right.

Continue straight on this trail until the four-way intersection. Turn left. At the fork in the trail, stay left.

Follow this trail passed the Burling House Ruins (front stoop and chimney) and downhill until you reach the stairs. (Turn right at the bottom if you want to hike to the Potomac River and the waterfall.)

Turn left and hike downhill to the first crossing over Scott’s Run.

After the crossing, follow the trail to the left to the next crossing. Finally, follow the trail straight back to the parking lot.

Trail Age Appropriateness

This hike route above is great for preschoolers and young elementary age children. Going with babies and toddlers is tough especially when rocks are wet and slick.

For children 10 years and older, follow the route on the map which has some steep and rocky sections to the river.

Time Needed

Give yourself about 90 minutes for the trail. With small children, you may want to allot more time for a slower paced hike and stopping to see the interesting things along the trail.

Things to Do / Enjoy

The joy of coming to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is being in nature so don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the small things. Here you can enjoy:

  • See the beautiful fall colors from old growth trees
  • 2 fun stream crossings (that test young children’s balance and gross motor skills)
  • Learning about the old Burling House Ruins
  • Scott’s Run waterfall of course!
  • Seeing birds (egrets, herons and even bald eagles) on the river flying over head
  • Throwing rocks in the river
  • Enjoy a picnic along the riverbank

Trail Map

Scott's Run Nature Preserve Trail Map

You can download a PDF version of the map here.

Hours & When to Go

The park opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset.

Visiting in the spring also gives you a change to see the spring wildflowers, including the Virginia bluebells.

Prices & Fees

There is no fee to enter or park at Scott’s Run.


There are 2 parking lots available. For the trail shared here, park in the second parking lot (coming from the beltway) which is much bigger and adjacent to Scott’s Run.

Good to Know Before You Go

  • There are no trail names, blazes, or markers but there is little chance of getting lost
  • There are no bathroom facilities
  • This trail is jogging stroller passable but do know there are two, wide stream crossings on cement pilings and some stairs to navigate
  • Don’t let the kids play in or near the waterfall or surrounding water. The current can be much strong underneath than it looks.

Getting There

Scotts Run Nature Preserve is located at 7400 Georgetown Pike McLean, VA 22102.

The park can be found 1 mile from the beltway on Georgetown Pike.

Things to Do Near Scotts Run Nature Preserve

Keep the fun going with more fun things to do nearby like:

  1. Play at Clemyjontri Park (5 minutes away)
  2. Hike the Billy Goat Trail Section A (8 minutes away)
  3. Stroll through a mid-19th century home and farm with lots of things for little ones to do at Cherry Hill Farmhouse (10 minutes away)
  4. Ride the train at Cabin Johns Regional Park (11 minutes away)
  5. Visit the Madame Tussauds Museum (20 minutes away)
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