Several years ago, a friend told me about a well-kept secret to check out called the Winkler Botanical Preserve.
Being a native Alexandrian, I was floored that I had never heard about it – hence the secret.
Usually, when thinking about some beautiful nature outings or hikes with the family I think about Huntley Meadows, Billy Goat Trail A, B and C, as well as Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.
What It Is
Perhaps the reason it’s not well known is because the location itself is quite hidden.
There are no signs directing you to the privately owned Preserve, which is in close proximity to the BRAC building inside the I-395 beltway.
Established in 1981, Winkler Botanical Preserve was the site of a former pig farm.
Winkler is a small, but hilly, well-maintained park. It’s the kind of place worth investigating due to its simplicity within an urban sprawl.
What to See
On a day when schools were out, we only ran into a couple other people. We pretty much had this bounty of nature all to ourselves.
You’ll pass the Catherine Lodge which serves as an educational building for Alexandria City Public Schools, but is closed to the public.
You can peer inside the windows, ring a bell and sit and admire the amazing view of a man-made waterfall across the lake.
Hiking the Trail
It takes about an hour to hike the entire 1.4 mile loop trail. There are no maps and the trails are not marked.
This means you may get a bit lost, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I highly recommend sturdy shoes as some terrain is uneven, especially if you want to see the hobbit house and peek inside the window of an underground room. You may be lucky and spot a family of deer, black squirrel, ducks, geese and Blue Jays.
Several types of ferns can be found here along with remnants of Magnolia Bog and Oak-Heath Forest. You can:
- Step over stones and streams
- Walk across ornate wooden bridges
- Discover where a random wooden door leads to
- Stop at a bench to reflect on the sanctuary’s surroundings
The trail head lies at the edge of a meadow, surrounded by woods and a ropes course used by area schools.
Getting There & Parking
To get to the preserve, you’ll drive through an apartment complex and through the iron gates.
Only a handful of spaces are available, but being it’s not well known, you should have no trouble finding a spot.
Hours & When to Go
Winkler Botanical Preserve is free to enter. It is open daily 8:30a.m. to 4p.m. and closed on major holidays.
In the spring, there are several types of flower, plants and lily pads on the lake.
In the spring, go see all the flowers in bloom. It’s beautiful! We always specifically came back for fall foliage and the preserve does not disappoint us.
Tall, majestic trees and woodlands led us on a journey through hues of yellow and orange, red and golden brown.
It’s nice to visit in different seasons to see how the landscape differs.
Good to Know Before You Go
- No pets are allowed. I wish I had known this as my husband and I had to take turns watching our pooches while inspecting the terrain.
- No bicycles allowed. I believe this is due to the terrain, which varies from gravel to stones and off trails.
- There are no bathrooms on site.
- Leave nature untouched. This means no taking of plants and no leaving trash of any kind, especially since there is nowhere to picnic.
- The trails are not stroller-friendly and are more suitable for kids that can walk
Things to Do Nearby
- See the mounds at cannons at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
- See the wildflowers and scenic ponds at Green Spring Gardens
- Meet up with some celebrities (ok, wax ones) at Madame Tussauds
- Visit the National Harbor with so many wonderful things to do