Forest Bathing in Loudoun County

Do you enjoy the great outdoors?  Did you know that being in nature is good for your health? 

This Tuesday, July 12, 2022, The Rust Library in Leesburg is hosting a Forest Therapy Walk with Kim Strader, a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. Click here for more information.

The following article was previously published in April 2020 by Loudoun County Magazine Board Member Dr. Sarah Giardenelli. Dr. Giardenelli is the owner of Collective Health Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Giardenelli shares the benefits of forest bathing as well as a list of trails in Loudoun County where individuals and families may enjoy Loudoun’s natural beauty.

The health benefits of being in nature are well established. In naturopathic medicine, of course being connected with nature is considered foundational for health.  Evidence of nature therapy or the value of nature in promoting health dates back thousands of years and stems across many cultures. In the 1980s the Japanese began promoting Shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” and this has become a cornerstone of health and prevention in Japanese medicine.

In Japanese culture, people are considered to be one with nature with a connection that is highly respected. Given this close bond with nature, it is no surprise that the leading research on nature therapy comes from Japan. The main healing benefits of Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing and nature therapy are:

(1) increased immune system function (increase in natural killer cells/ and increase in cancer prevention)

(2) improved cardiovascular system (decrease hypertension/coronary artery disease)

(3) improved respiratory system (decrease allergies and respiratory disease)

(4) decreased depression and anxiety (decrease mood disorders and stress)

(5) increased mental relaxation (decrease Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

(6) increased feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness)

Those of us who live and work in Loudoun County often spend many hours each day in offices surrounded by uninteresting office building design.  As a naturopath, I often recommend my patients spice up their environments by bring nature into their offices and workspaces. Making our environments more joyful, literally rewires our brains towards joy too. This can be by bringing in house plants, picture of nature, or a fountain. Aside from pictures of nature, I recommend that my clients consider incorporating a sound machine that plays the sound of the ocean, which was found to be among the most relaxing of sounds. That said, even with bringing nature into our day to day living and work spaces,  nothing can replace the healing atmosphere of the outdoors. So, as Dr. Scott, the paleontologist from the children’s cartoon, The Dinosaur Train, encourages: “Get outside, explore and make your own adventures.”

If you haven’t yet explored your natural surroundings here in Loudoun Country or nearby, we’ve created a list of the best spots  for hiking, kayaking and forest bathing.  Fortunately, Loudoun County is home to gorgeous landscapes and is surrounded by so much natural beauty with access to an abundance of hiking trails and beautiful regional parks.

To locate additional trail inspiration, check out the App, AllTrails, which shows all of the hiking options anywhere in the US and provides information about hikes, including intensity, directions to the hike, and maps of the trails.  Be sure to take care while out in nature.  Consider wearing sun protective clothing and educate yourselves on tick borne illnesses.

Low Intensity Trail Options:

Algonkian Park – Algonkian Park provides great trails for more easy strolls near the Potomac.

Claude Moore Park – 11 miles of flat hiking trails.

Riverbend Park – Riverbend parallels the Potomac River closely and is a quiet trail.   This is a wonderful alternative to the crowds of tourists at Great Falls.  Enjoy miles of hiking as well as kayak rentals.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens – Beautiful botanical garden with paved trails. Beautiful in every season and the paved trails offer a great option for those who are tick adverse.

Chapman DeMary Trail in Purcellville, VA – Quiet forest pathways within a 10-acre area considered to be the last stand of old growth forest in the Town of Purcellvile. The trail runs along the South Fork Catoctin Creek which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Intermediate Incline Trails

Trails are winding with a greater incline.

Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park

Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park

Sky Meadows in State Park  Travel further west to enjoy trails that, as the name describes, offers breathtaking views.  There are also great playground park options for children.

Article by Dr. Sarah Giardenelli of Collective Health Center in Leesburg.


Hansen, M.M.; Jones, R.; Tocchini, K. Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 851.

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