Great Falls : Kid Friendly Outdoor Recreation and Nature

 

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

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.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

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.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

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.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

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.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

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 national park outdoor recreation and nature

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

Looking for other day trips to take, check our apple picking guide in Virginia and a review of Great Country Farms.

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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Fast breakfast for school mornings

Breakfast bars and breakfast cookies to the rescue.

With the school year about to get under way, my stress level begins to skyrocket.  There are a million reasons why, but one of the most basic is how do I get a nutritious breakfast into my child so they can be at their best for learning.  This is mostly an issue with one of my children.  That one child doesn’t want to wake up, ever. Anything beyond the novelty of the first day often deteriorates into me screaming, or willing myself to not go into the bedroom repeatedly and let her suffer the consequence of missing the bus.

Here’s the best part, the bus is coming 10 minutes earlier this year.  The response I got when mentioning this was, “Oh it’s only 10 minutes, no big deal.”  I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes because the bus is now rolling in at 7:17, and she generally gets out of bed at 7:05 on a good day.

So beyond running around like crazy to look presentable, making sure she has her bag and viola, she has to eat something.  Anything, well not really anything.  I have come to love making breakfast bars and breakfast cookies.  They pack a pretty great nutritional punch, as I can throw lots of powerhouse ingredients in to help sustain her energy throughout the morning.  They are also easy to pack for her after school activities, and this way she is not tempted to buy items from the vending machine.

I have rounded up several of my favorite recipes breakfast bar and cookie recipes.  The best part of any breakfast cookie and bar recipe is that they can easily be modified.  You can switch regular flour for whole wheat, add flax seed, wheat germ, chia seeds, various dried fruit that your children enjoy, a little bit of chocolate usually helps, rolled oats instead of quick oats, you get the idea.  And I’ll be the first to admit that everyone in the house ends up snacking on these bars and cookies, not only at breakfast, and I’m totally okay with that.

Cheers to a great school year!

Pumpkin breakfast cookie

Chocolate chip zucchini bread cookies

Healthy oatmeal breakfast cookies

Healthy carrot cake oatmeal breakfast cookies

Apple cinnamon oatmeal breakfast cookie

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