I n Colonial America, the fall line separated civilized America from the backcountry. It marked the point where rivers became unnavigable – often at rapids. The Great Falls of the Potomac River once marked that backcountry border. Now, the 800 acres of Great Falls National Park is safely surrounded by Northern Virginia suburbia. Highlights include:
- Massive class 5-6 rapids along the Potomac
- Historic canals
- Expansive, connected trail system
- Hiking & climbing opportunities in Mather Canyon (5.6 to 5.10)
I had a work quick trip to Northern Virginia and took advantage of the longer days to visit Great Falls National Park. Since it stormed the night before, the falls were brown and swollen from the run-off. Being from drought stricken California, the roar, speed, and violence of the water were stunning.
Three viewing platforms form the heart of the park and showcase the ½ mile Great Falls. A gentle hiking trail provides access to the viewing points and picnic areas. Adjacent to the falls is the Patowmack Canal, the first canal in the US to use locks. It bypassed the Falls, and its towpath is now a trail.
As the sun set, I checked out the viewing platforms and ran the pleasant trail next to the Potomac. Spring was in full force with leaves budding and dogwoods in bloom.
The Park’s 15 miles of trail provide multiple trail options. One highlight is Mather Gorge just south of the falls. It has multiple rock climbing routes and trails to the top. North of the Potomac River in Maryland lies the C&O Canal National Historic Park. One highlight is the scrambling along the ~5 mile Billy Goat Trail. However, the Maryland side is not easily accessible by foot from Great Falls National Park.
The park has impressive falls & multiple trail options. I look forward to exploring the trails during my next visit to Northern Virginia.