Explore the Piedmont

The rivers and ruins of Northern Virginia.

Illustration by Aldo Crusher

The Piedmont region derives its name from the French and translates to “foot of the mountain.” Nestled between the vast Blue Ridge Mountains and the lowland coastal plains, Piedmont is a unique and historic landscape consisting of rolling hills, lakes, and mighty rivers. 

The northern belt of the Piedmont remains a land steeped in history. Though located in the narrowest part of the Piedmont region, the Foothills to Falls loop (1) of the VDGIF Bird & Wildlife Trail is not lacking in wildlife sightings; it provides a sobering glimpse into the past and a calming respite from surrounding development. Along the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Park, the location of the largest Civil War battle to take place in Loudoun County, birdsong will likely be your welcome. Vagrant white-tailed deer, red fox, and black bear roam the edge of the suburbs, while hardwood trees are filled with calls of pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmice, chatty chickadees, and Carolina wrens.

The Culpeper Birding Route (2), weaving around lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, with miles of back roads that snake by the Rapidan River. Red-tailed hawk can be spotted, along with other birds of prey hunting in the tall grass. The Bull Run Mountains Area Preserve encompasses 2,500 acres of largely deciduous forest that contain numerous historic ruins and uninterrupted wildlife hidden among fern hallows and laurel thickets. Flora and fauna is plentiful, including staghorn clubmoss, Goldie’s wood fern, lesser round-leaved orchid, and the northern starflower.

On the Battle for Virginia loop (3) along the Rappahannock River, discover the diverse ecology of the C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area. Look out for the playful river otter, a species that was brought back from near extinction in the area. For close encounters with waterfowl, such as the American wigeon and wood duck, visit the Motts Run Reservoir Recreation Area. DGIF.Virginia.gov/VBWT


This article originally appeared in our Best of Virginia 2019 issue.

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