Plein Air Arts Itinerary
Pack your camera, sketchbook, easel, and paints. Channel your creative juices. This road trip will bring you to scenic locations in Loudoun County where you’ll be inspired to create! The hardest part will be deciding when to leave each destination and move on. You’ll likely want to plan more than one day for this visit.
Begin at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens in Leesburg, a historic plantation with more than 200 years of American history and culture. Its stately mansion, beautiful rolling farmland, and exquisite formal gardens offer subjects too numerous to count. Often, there will be an art exhibition in the carriage house and gift shop.
For wildlife artists, the Leesburg Animal Park is just a few miles north on Route 15. With pony rides, giant tortoises, lemurs, wagon rides, and much more on 21 acres, there are many plein air opportunities. Stop by the pond and feed the fish, or hand-feed the rainbow lory parrots for some personal animal encounters.
The Audubon Naturalist Society’s Rust Nature Sanctuary sits on 68 acres and encompasses meadows, forests, and ponds where you'll find a variety of wildlife and plants. During a visit, you might encounter nesting songbirds from the tropics in the oak-hickory forest, a fox hunting in the meadow, or colorful dragonflies darting above the pond. The sanctuary is the recipient of a collection of artwork from the family of Roger Tory Peterson. Be sure to view this wonderful collection, located in the circa 1910 manor house.
At this point, you’ll be ready for lunch. Tuscarora Mill and Lightfoot are two local favorites and were juried and chosen as Loudoun Destination Restaurants. “Tuskies,” as the locals call it, offers a full restaurant, casual café and bar, and a bakery. They take pride in being a leader in “local and green.” Lightfoot is located in a renovated bank that was built in 1880 just across from the stately county courthouse. The menu is modern American with an international twist. The architecture is classic and stunning.
The next destination is Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park. Enjoy the woodland trails and wonderful birding. An easy hike will take you right down to the Potomac River. Early April brings a rich diversity of spring wildflowers. The proximity to the Potomac makes this area attractive to birds, making for some nice views of wildlife activity in the upper canopy.
Red Rock Wilderness Overlook, a 67 acre regional park, is just a few miles down the river. Six main trails are well marked. You can hike over hills and through the woods to panoramic views of the Potomac River and the distant blue foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
From Red Rock, take Route 7 east to Belmont Ridge Road and travel south to Mount Hope Baptist Church, which was built in 1853. The church itself is begging to be a plein air painting. And from there, take Mt. Hope Road (next to the church) to the Beaverdam Reservoir, where you’ll find bass fishermen sitting alongside a beautiful 635 acre lake teaming with wildlife, surrounded by hardwood trees, and home to residents such as the bald eagle.
By now, you are famished. Clyde’s Willow Creek Farm in Broadlands was created out of four antique heavy timber buildings from Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Virginia that were destined for demolition. The historic pieces were combined to create a truly unique restaurant. In addition to the original architecture and antique collections inside the establishment, you’ll find a room full of large original prints of John James Audubon's American birds. There are several collections. Carriages and wooden mortars and pestles abound. There are silver horse event trophies, hand-hewn wooden dough boards, pewter plates, salt-glazed jugs, prints, two giant carved wooden pigeon heads, giant weathervanes, ships’ carvings, shop signs, naïve artwork, and hand-wrought chandeliers. The murals on the walls are meant to imitate period frescos. The bronze statue of the jockey on a horse out front pays homage to our horse and hunt country. Everywhere you look there is art. Enjoy a seasonal American meal, and if it’s not too busy, maybe the staff can give you a personal tour of the premises.
If it’s still light out, there are some short trails behind Clyde’s. They snake past a pond and a barn that was original to the property, and were restored by the restaurant. They have installed planting beds, and this is where some of the produce is grown that is served in the dining rooms. There are a few festivals that take place on this property throughout the year, but most of the time it is quiet, and the red barn makes for a wonderful plein air painting.
As your final stop, near Clyde’s is Ashburn’s premier wine bar, Parallel Wine Bistro, which offers live music four nights a week. The chef offers small plates for sharing. They buy all of their produce daily and do not freeze anything, so the menu varies based on available in-season ingredients.