Where is it Located
About the Forest Trail
The Forest Trail meanders through one of the small woodlands left on the estate, giving visitors a feel for the natural setting of Mount Vernon when George Washington lived here. In Washington's time, only about 3,200 acres of the estate were cultivated. He purposely left most of his land wooded because the forest helped sustain the estate. Trees provided wood for fuel and building. Some plants provided medicine, such as witch hazel to reduce inflammation, sassafras bark for treating fevers, and bloodroot for skin cancers. The wild game inhabiting the forest appeared often on Mount Vernon’s dining tables. Washington and his guests also took advantage of the forest for exercise and entertainment. Some of them were avid foxhunters, with Washington perhaps the most enthusiastic of all.
Today, the forest trail winds through a woodland very different from the semi-wilderness Washington knew. Some wildlife has disappeared entirely, while other species of animals that the Washingtons would not have known thrive here. Black bears no longer roam the hills. Tamer creatures, however, such as house finches, European starlings, and a turtle called the red-eared slider, have been introduced to the area over the past two centuries. The canopy of trees has changed, too. Visitors still see the oak and hickory trees that dominated the forest in Washington’s day, but the American chestnuts common in 1799 were felled by blight in the 20th-century.
The forest trail begins near the 16-sided treading barn at the Pioneer Farm. Cross the road, keeping the Slave Cabin on your right, and you’ll see the “Entry to Forest Trail” sign. The trail ends on the main road that leads to the Mansion and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.
The forest trail includes several steep inclines and is not recommended for all visitors, though it can provide a cool respite on a hot day. It takes about 15 minutes to walk the trail.
What to See
Cobble quarry: This area was likely a source of stone for the Mount Vernon estate. Cobbles of all sizes were collected and used to construct roadways. Nearby, Washington discovered an outcropping of sandstone, which provided larger blocks for major building projects and may have been used to form the foundation for the first phase of Mansion construction in 1734.
Likely site of a Native American hunting camp: On one of the hilltops along the trail, archaeologists have excavated various Native American artifacts, including stone tools, stone flakes produced from tool making, and fire-cracked rocks from campfire cooking. For thousands of years before the Washington family acquired this land, in 1674, Native Americans lived here. One of the highest points of land in the area, this could well have been the site of a seasonal hunting camp.