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  • Writer's pictureRobert Currer

Shhh...4 Hidden Spots to Visit in Occoquan



Occoquan itself is an open secret in Northern Virginia. From Rt. 123, it might look like a sleepy strip of historic houses nestled along the river, but Occoquan is a town full of hidden gems. You’ll have to explore off the beaten path to find them all, but we’ve assembled a list of our four favorite secret spots to get you started. Read on to find out what’s hidden in Occoquan.



The Riverwalk Gazebo


To find the first secret spot, park in the lot under Rt. 123 and follow Mill Street into town. On your right, you'll find the Riverwalk building across the street from the old visitor's center. Just past Bar J Chili Parlor, there is a staircase. Take those stairs to the second floor and follow the corridor past Paint Your Heart Out toward the river. You'll dead end in the gazebo.

This covered area delivers sweeping views of the river. The tiny isle of Heron Haven sits in the middle of the river straight out from the gazebo. This isle and the trees on the other side of the river are the best places to look for herons and bald eagles hunting along the river. Bring your binoculars because turtles are commonly seen sunning on the isle’s rocky shoreline.

In the autumn and winter, the second-floor gazebo is ideal for sipping hot chocolate and enjoying the soothing rhythms of nature. There are no permanent chairs or benches here. So if you plan to hang out, bring a camp chair with you. While you're at it, stop at Potomac Chocolate on Mill St to ask about their hot sipping chocolate, another of Occoquan's best kept secrets.


NEARBY: Bar J Chili Parlor, Paradis Candle Co, VanEch Studio, Hitchcock Paper Co., Occoquan Optical, Earth Addictions, So Olive, Norma Fayak Photography, Paint Your Heart Out, Shear Glo Beauty Bar


Footbridge Waterfall


The footbridge waterfall is the perfect destination for a relaxing stroll through town. Follow Mill Street toward River Mill Park at the far end. Just on the other side of the Mill Street Museum, there's a ramp that winds down the slope to a footbridge. The footbridge alone is worth checking out as it offers the best views of the Occoquan River. Take your time and enjoy this picturesque panorama. Once you reach the other side, keep left, and you'll find another short stair leading down to the waterfall's headwaters.


This unique site is an excellent stop for a photo of the river life. Artists, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts are often found near the waterfall or the shaded river banks sketching or journaling. There’s just something about this quiet part of Occoquan that sparks inspiration.


NEARBY: River Mill Park, Mill House Museum, Rockledge Mansion, Bann Thai, Local Colour, The Spot on Mill Street, Secret Garden Cafe


Occoquan Mill Ruins


Occoquan traces its history all the way back to the 1730s. With that kind of lineage, the careful observer can find echoes of the past throughout town. However, if you want to locate the oldest remnant of a bygone era this spooky season, you’ll have to get off the beaten path.


Follow the main drag to the Mill Street Museum at the far end. There you’ll find a set of stairs that lead down behind the building and toward the water. Look near the shoreline, and you’ll spot what might first appear as just a jumble of old stone. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see that the rocks are far too regular for a natural spill. This is the ruin of the original Occoquan Mill.


The Occoquan Mill was one of the town’s original structures. Built by Nathaniel Ellicott, it provided much of Occoquan’s initial prosperity. The ruins are a historical site, so you can’t enter them, but on an autumn evening, they are an excellent spot to start your own private ghost tour. Are the ruins haunted? That’s for you to decide, but with almost 300 years of history, they’ve seen more than any other building in town.


NEARBY: 13 Magickal Moons, Rockledge Mansion, Be Always Beautiful, Bann Thai, The Spot on Mill Street, The Secret Garden Cafe

Swing Bench


Autumn is the perfect time to cozy up to someone you love, and no place is better for adding a little romance to your scenic stroll than the swing bench in River Mill Park. Follow Mill Street into the park and keep left where the path splits. You’ll know you’re going the right way when you pass the giant LOVE sign—an adorable backdrop for a selfie with your squeeze. A short way farther down the path, you'll find the swing bench tucked among the manicured foliage. The bench was dedicated in 2022, in memory of Occoquan's Petra Casipit.


Any place in the park offers breathtaking views of the Occoquan River, but none provides the cozy seclusion of the swing bench. Grab a coffee from The Spot on Mill Street or Grind N Crepe and cuddle up on the bench. As you take in the view, keep an eye on the tree line across the water. It's a favorite perch for bald eagles who fish in the relatively shallow waters of the Occoquan.


An Open Secret


Occoquan is a town with a lot of character. Wander the shops long enough, and you’ll find more than these four gems secreted away from the crowds. Just be sure to snap a photo when you do and tag us on social media @visitoccoquan. After all, one of the best parts of a secret is finding out who else is in the know. Happy hunting!

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