Family Hike – Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge’s Woodmarsh Trail
In late April, we took the boys to visit the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge Area. The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Area encompasses 2000 acres of hardwood forests and six miles of Potomac River shoreline, which means hikes there get a nice mixture of marsh and forest. So “Woodmarsh” was an accurate name for the trail. The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge is free. There is an entrance fee if you choose to drive to the nearby Mason Neck State Park afterwards.
The Woodmarsh Trail is about three miles long. With a couple of cut-through trails at Hickory Pass and Fern Pass, you have the ability to “Choose Your Own Adventure” and loop back whenever you feel like it. We took the Spur Trail down to Eagle Point and since we were hoping to see Great Blue Heron nests (See Fauna below), we kept on the eastern most section of trail to skirt along the marsh. We returned via the western section of trail through the woods.
Back when I hiked alone, my decision criteria for “a good trail” would be something like:
- Invigorating climb (to make you feel accomplished)
- An overlook or a waterfall (to make you feel awed)
Now that I’m hiking with two small children, a previously overlooked trail feature has taken on new importance:
- Bridges or wooden walkways.
Wooden structures just call to my older son. He loves running across them. Sometimes over and over and over and over again. : ) For younger children who are just learning to stand and pull up, bridges are a nice opportunity to practice. This trail sported a number of bridges so it was a win for the boys. And then more importantly, there was a nice wooden viewing platform at Eagle’s Point. That simple structure was probably the highlight of the trail for the boys. It was wooden with benches for the boys to climb and crawl on… AND it had a FREE telescope to take in the views. It was their own little private jungle gym with great water views. We only had to walk a flat mile for a “home run.”
The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest Blue Heron Rookeries. Nesting peaks in April and May, so we came hoping to see one of those 1300 Great Blue Heron nests. Alas, nesting views can only be approached through water or during the annual Bald Eagle Festival at the nearby Mason Neck State Park. We couldn’t see any nests from our vantage point on the land. Nonetheless, we saw our fair share of wildlife. We saw herons and Bald Eagles flying by. We saw a large brown bird (perhaps an an owl) in the tree canopies. Small, but just as entertaining, we found an inch worm at the viewing platform at Eagle Point.
Mayapples are a favorite wildflower of mine. I love how the big umbrella leaves conceal a tiny, single white flower underneath. We saw Mayapples on this hike and they were budding, but we were just a little bit too early to see the blooms.
What we did seem blooming was Virginia’s State Flower, the dogwood.
The trail passed through a section called “Fern Pass.” Our assessment was that was aptly named. It was one of the more beautiful sections, carpetted in green, with the fiddleheads uncurling away.
More pictures of our Woodmarsh Trail Hike at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge can be found on my Flickr site.
Length: Varies – 3.0 Miles of Trail to Choose From
Elevation Gain: Flat!
Entrance Fee: FREE!