Perfect weather on an October weekend in Virginia meant we were taking it outside to a favorite destination, Great Falls National Park. Great Falls is a unique treasure so close to the urban center of DC. A trip to the waterfalls and hiking trails makes you almost forget the traffic and fast paced life of the surrounding areas. The Great Falls National Park is nestled right off the beltway. The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area. It also provides excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations.
The Virginia side is officially named Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The main attraction, which is the gorgeous cascading water of the Mather Gorge, visible from both sides, makes it all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.
Activities available at the parks include hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, fishing and kayaking. Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers which is nice to stop in with children. There are interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the local area.
The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park. It is just under five miles, winds through trees, outcroppings of large rocks, and along paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. This fun yet rugged trail offers awe inspiring views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit difficult for young children.
There are designated overlooks of the falls on both sides Great Falls Park. In Maryland, there is lookout just a short walk from the parking lot, where you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. Both offer equally beautiful views of the Gorge.
As with many activities near DC, there can be crowds. On a nice weekend the parking lots tend to fill up early and there can be a line of cars waiting at the entrance. If possible try and visit on a weekday, or at least arrive early on a weekend.
Some useful tips to note if planning a visit;
- wear good shoes for hiking, there are rocks and uneven footing on the trails
- restrooms are located at the Visitor Center on both sides of the park
- swimming is NOT allowed
- Concessions are available but it is much more fun to bring a picnic
Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $10/vehicle, $5/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD
OVER TO YOU
Have you been to Great Falls? Where else do you go hiking in Virginia? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
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