Check out one of the DMV’s most haunted hikes.
Are you looking for a haunted hike for this spooky season? Head to Manassas National Battlefield Park. This Civil-War era battlefield was the site of the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862. Some say that the park is haunted by the ghosts of Union and Confederate soldiers. If you are interested in the ghoulish background of this park, before you head out to hike, read this 1989 article from the Washington Post titled “Ghosts March Through Time at Battlefield, Legend Says.”
One frequent sighting the article references is 5th New York Zouave regiment Union soldiers along the Western end of the park at dusk patrolling the woods in their peculiar uniforms of “red pantaloons, white leggings and sleeping cap-type hats.” This regiment of 490 men was nearly decimated in the Second Battle of Bull Run and it seems their spirits are determined to keep defending the Union even in the afterlife.
I do want to advise anyone who is either creeped out by haunted places or unsettled by Confederate memorials: both are present in this park. The Union army was defeated at both battles at Manassas resulting in the height of Confederate power during the Civil War. It feels important to be transparent about the past of this park for anyone planning to visit, but hopefully the future will see this space commemorated more so for the Union soldiers lost without glorifying the Confederates. With that in mind, the hike may elicit reflection as you trek through the open fields.
How Long and How Difficult?
The 5.4-mile circuit hike of the First Manassas Trail is easy to hike since it is largely flat with some hilly sections. This article will only address the First Manassas Trail but there is another 6.6-mile loop trail at the park, the Second Manassas Trail, that is also worth a visit. Both hikes take around three hours to complete when walking at a brisk pace.
Manassas National Battlefield Park is on Manahoac land. It is located in Prince William County, and you do need a vehicle to reach this park. You can take a rideshare to get there but I can’t guarantee there will be ample rides nearby when you want to leave. If you end up renting a car for the day or carpooling from D.C., make the trip worth your while by visiting the beautifully bizarre Cox Farms after your hike for the epitome of fall fun with apple cider donuts, kettle corn, caramel apples, pumpkins, a family-friendly haunted hayride, a corn maze, the chance to pet and feed little goats and so much more. Cox Farms is only an eight-minute drive from this park. You’ll understand why I call it beautifully bizarre when you visit.
Who Should I Bring?
Especially if you plan to visit Cox Farms after the hike, you should bring your children with you. This is also a great hike to take with any friends who are history buffs or ghost hunters.
Bull Run River. Cannons. Wide open fields. Abandoned cemeteries tucked deep into the woods. Unnecessary Confederate monuments and statues. Informational plaques about the Battles of Bull Run. A stone house with reenactment soldiers standing outside dressed as the 5th New York Zouave regiment. Possible ghost soldiers patrolling the woods.
If you enter the park near the historic stone bridge, there is a short accessible path that leads to the stone bridge, but nothing is accessible after that. There are also accessible paths near the Visitors Center but none of the trails at this park are accessible.
What is the Best Path to Take?
There are several access points to Manassas National Battlefield Park and those who would like to learn more about the history of the park may prefer to park at the Visitors Center. I suggest entering from the historic Stone Bridge entrance because it is prettier. Park at the Stone Bridge entrance and walk to the bridge. Once you have crossed the bridge, there will be two paths one to the left and one to the right. You can take either path, but I recommend going on the path to the right. This path is wooded and runs alongside Bull Run River.
You’ll climb some moderate inclines along this wooded path until you get to an open field. Turn right at this field to continue on the First Manassas Trail. You’ll eventually arrive at what seems to be an access road that cuts across the trail; keep moving forward past that access road and into another wooded section of trail.
About a quarter of a mile into this wooded section, you will find a guide post that points you to the Carter Family Cemetery and Pittsylvania to the left. This is a quick detour that leads to an overgrown cemetery if you want to up the spooky factor. Once you’re done with this detour, head back to the trail. In about one mile you’ll reach Matthews Hill Loop Trail where the First Battle of Bull Run began with the Union army proclaiming a premature victory over the Confederates. At the far end of this loop, you’ll come across boat howitzers, a type of cannon, spread horizontally across the hilltop. Continue on the trail which flows downhill for about a mile until you reach the Stone House.
The Stone House was used as a field hospital during both the first and second Battles of Bull Run. Now you can find historic reenactment Zouave soldiers outside this house. Feel free to explore the house and take pictures of the soldiers. Then the trail continues across US 29. Head to the cross walk to safely cross the street and walk up the hill toward Henry House and the Henry Hill Loop Trail, where there will be another visitor’s center.
The First Manassas Trail continues up a little ways and to the left of statues near the visitor’s center. Keep walking on the trail and you’ll come across another expansion of cannons. Keep following this trail for one more mile and you’ll come to another crossing point where you go back to the other side of US 29. This crossing does not have a crosswalk or traffic light so carefully look both ways before crossing the road. You’re nearly at the end of the loop.
Once you get to the informative plaque indicating the location of the old Van Pelt house, you’ll want to take the trail at a sharp right. Follow this trail across a boggy boardwalk until you arrive back at the Stone Bridge you started at. The original stone bridge in this location was blown up by Confederate soldiers as they retreated from Northern Virginia in 1862.
Hopefully this long and historically complex trail brings you spooky vibes and leaves you with a hankering for a haunted hay ride and some fresh apple cider.
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