Mason Neck State Park
Administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation,
Mason Neck State Park, 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079 Tel. 703-550-0362
or -0960. This area is located in Fairfax County, VA
Write-up assembled by Andy
About the ParkThe Mason Neck peninsula is steeped in natural and
cultural history. Encompassing 1,804 acres, the park is bordered by the Mason
Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Pohick Bay Regional Park and Gunston Hall manor.
Combined, these areas provide 5,600 acres dedicated to recreation and wildlife
The first recorded history of Mason Neck was by Captain John Smith in 1608.
He wrote of his meeting with the Dogue Indians and charted the chief's village
of Tauxenent on his map of Virginia. The area was referred to as Doggs Island
and Doeg Neck originally. Later, the neck received its current name from the
Mason family. (George Mason IV, father of the Virginia Declaration of Rights
which grew into the U.S. Bill of Rights, owned a 5,500 acre plantation on the
neck called Gunston Hall. The original building, constructed in 1755, is still
standing and is administered by the Board of Regents of the National Society of
the Colonial Dames of America as a National Historic Landmark. You can tour the
stately brick manor, gardens, and other areas for a fee. The current Mason
"holdings" are now less than 500 acres.)
During the 1800s and early 1900s, logging was the area's primary industry.
The removal of mature pine and hardwood, and use of the pesticide DDT lead to
the decline of the American Bald Eagle in the region.
In 1965, the Conservation Committee for Mason Neck formed to preserve the
area from increasing development pressures. In July 1967, the Nature Conservancy
made its first purchase of land to protect areas of Mason Neck until funds were
appropriated to federal, state, and local agencies. The Commonwealth of Virginia
purchased its first parcel of what is now Mason Neck State Park in August 1967.
The park is now managed for passive recreation, environmental education and
the protection and preservation of habitat for the American Bald Eagle and other
animals in the area. Animals that frequent Mason Neck include: bald eagles,
hawks, white-tailed deer, fox, bobcat, and over 200 species of songbird.
Weather and SnowThe local climate is typical of the weather experienced
in Washington, D.C. Summer temperatures are usually in the low-90's, and normal
mid-winter daytime temperatures are around 42 degrees. Late afternoon and
evening thunderstorms can occur on any given day during the summer months, along
with very warm temperatures, and oft times withering humidity.
About the area......Next to the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail, this area has
to be another one of Northern Virginia's best kept secrets. The trail system is
small - just over 3 miles, but the woods in the park are some of the prettiest
I've ever seen. I would rank them near of the top of my list of "must sees" for
hiking enthusiasts. The trails south of the visitor center take you through
stands of huge American Holly, in fact some of the largest I've ever seen in my
life. I judged one specimen to tower close to 40 feet! For a tree that I've
rarely seen higher than 10 feet, this was a shocker!
All around you is the Potomac River and marshy inlets that disappear into the
woods. The possibilities for surveying marsh ecosystems, waterfowl in their
natural surroundings, and riverine systems are extensive. The Kanes Creek Trail
ultimately leads to a wooden blind constructed to view birdlife in the
exceptionally beautiful Kane's Creek inlet and marsh. And the waterfowl is there
in abundance - from bald eagles, to great blue herons, to migrating waterfowl.
An ornithologist could spend hours at this site, and hikers will drink in the
view and wildlife with relish.
The park also holds two other unique distinctions. There must be more
squirrels per square acre than any other place I've ever visited. They're
everywhere, probably due to the richness of the available browse for these
critters. The marsh viewpoint on the Bay View Trail is also the spot where I was
ejected from woods some twenty years ago. Before the area was a State Park, a
friend of mine with the Audubon Society used to take me to this spot to camp and
scan the skies for bald eagles. On our third such visit to the region, a local
resident's son happened upon our camp as he was riding his dirt bike through the
woods. We had a plesant conversation, and he immediately departed for his
father, who appeared a short time later to escort us off the property. (I assume
his son continued to use the trails in the area for his dirt track riding. Oh
But the trails are not the only attraction. There is also an excellent boat
launching ramp, and individuals interested in exploring this fascinating region
by canoe, along with the huge Great Marsh just around the peninsula to the
north, can find quick access to the water at this park. If "going solo" doesn't
appeal to you, the park has organized a series of canoe trips that range from
2.5 hour morning trips, to 3.5 hour sunset trips, to 3 hour moonlight trips (18
years and older). The cost of the trips (in 1995) ranged from $6.00 per person
to $10.00 per person depending on the trip taken. What better way to explore the
treasures offered in this area than with a guided tour.
Surprisingly, few people know about the park. I ran into two people on the
Bay View Trail near the picnic area, but had the rest of this beautiful trail
system to myself when I was visiting one Sunday afternoon in the summer. There
were only a couple cars in the parking lot as well. Suprising, since the
exceptional views of Belmont Bay, the wildlife, river opportunities, and
outstanding woods make the park very special in my opinion.
Trails worth hiking?The area is small, but has exceptionally beautiful
trails lined with small logs. I hiked the entire trail system when I visited.
The Bay View Trail takes you through stands of huge American Holly and beautiful
mature woods to a marsh inlet east of the Visitor Center. The remainder of the
Bay View loop is no less disappointing, eventually linking to the Wilson Spring
Trail, which ultimately leads you to the wooden wildlife blind on Kane's Creek.
I don't recommend spending much time in the blind during the summer since the
structure seems to be a favorite nesting site for hornets. But a few steps out
in front will provide you with a panoramic view of the creek and marsh. I spent
a half-hour at this spot watching two great blue herons working their way
through the spongy grass. The return loop back to the Visitor Center was also
While the trail system is small, visitors can always make their visit a
"triple play" by stopping into the Mason
Neck Wildlife Refuge and hiking the Woodmarsh Trail to Great Marsh, then
popping into Pohick Bay Regional Park for a summer swim in the largest swimming
pool on the East Coast. (Pohick Bay Regional Park allows free entry for local
regional residents, and an additional $1.75 to $2.00 fee to use the pool.
Campsites are also available. Call 703-352-5900 for information.) During the
cooler months of the year, a visit to Gunston Hall can round out a full day of
visitation to Mason Neck. You should see this area.
PermitsThere is a $1.50 fee to enter the park. If you are a waterfowl
enthusiast interested in taking in the changing seasons, annual waterfowl
migrations, and bald eagle breeding seasons, annual passes are also available
Mountain BikingStrictly prohibited on all park trails.
Cross-country SkiingAn excellent area for beginner skiers. The grades
are virtually level.
CampfiresNot allowed. Please check for the availability of outdoor
charcoal fires in the picnic area before you visit.
AccessFrom I-495, take I-95 south towards Woodbridge. Take the Lorton
exit, and follow the signs to Gunston Hall/Pohick Bay Regional Park/Mason Neck
The MapClick here to download a TRAIL MAP 82K of the Mason Neck State