Forest bathing — essentially just being in the presence of trees — is the practice of taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits. The practice originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku (森林浴) in Japanese. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being. To properly forest bathe, you simply are in the forest. No hiking, no fitness goals. Just sit, or meander, but overall, just relax and take in the trees.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is a nature preserve in Fairfax County, VA. Located in McLean, it is bordered by VA State Route 193/Georgetown Pike to its south, Interstate 495 to its east and the Potomac River to its north. In the heart of northern Virginia suburbia, it’s easy to get to, and only minutes off the Washington Beltway. It’s 336 acres of woodland is bordered by its namesake, Scott’s Run, flowing through its west side. While you’re walking in the preserve, you’ll often hear the river, falls, and lots of birds. Only to its southeastern portion do you hear faint noise from the roads that surround it.
We didn’t really see the falls, but we heard the waterfall. From there we veered right onto the Potomac Heritage Trail, marked with blue blazes, for a bit of a rock scramble, before picking up the more sedate Laurel Ridge Trail, marked with red blazes, which we took to the Oak Trail, marked with blue blazes, which we followed back to the other end of the Potomac Heritage Trail, which here was a wide, road-like path leading from the western parking lot to Scott’s Run Waterfall.
Some of the park’s trails are gentle and wind quietly through forest. Other trails require hiking up and down precipitously steep hills and cliffs, both challenging and fun.
If you are looking for solitude, then park in the eastern parking lot, and head up the yellow blazed trail. You may pass an individual or two but no more than that. The western parking lot will typically be more crowded (but is bigger); most folks seem to head down the path that runs alongside the park’s name sake: Scott’s Run, down to the falls — in fact, the bulk of the folks we encountered in the preserve was in this section. Although you’ll encounter quite a few folks, it doesn’t impinge on the great experience. (As with all urban/suburban parks, it is quite difficult to actually experience solitude.)
After a lengthy debate between citizens, the Virginia Governor, several U.S. senators, developers, and local organizations, voters opted to raise their taxes in a referendum on 14 July 1970. The measure would secure $1.5 million to help purchase the land. An additional $1.5 million in funding was provided by the Department of the Interior and $0.6 million from state and local governments. In early September 1970, the tract was officially purchased by Fairfax County for $3.6 million.
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