Great Falls Travel Guide

  • The magnificant water falls
    The magnificant water falls
    by zanzooni
  • Great Falls
    by zanzooni
  • WoW! This is insane
    WoW! This is insane
    by zanzooni

Great Falls Things to Do

  • Take off that hat your blocking the view

    That correct. Take off your hat, your blocking the view. The view is beautiful but in reality it is also a natural obstacle making a north bound trip on the Potomac impossible. Historically George Washington had a plan to develope a canal system to allow navigation northward on the Potomac River.

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  • Kayaking Insanity

    Not my favorite form of water sport, but it is for many others. It's a rush to see them go over the falls, but I'm sure it's more of a rush for them to go over the falls and then try to paddle back up the falls. Some make it, some don't.

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  • Visiting the Maryland side of the Falls

    For more Great Falls fun, you can drive 20 minutes back down to I-495, cross the Potomac and head up the Clara Barton Parkway and MacArthur Blvd to the Maryland side of the Great Falls, which is inside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. The Maryland side of the falls is equally as spectacular as the Virginia side, although there...

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  • Difficult Run

    Difficult Run is a beautiful tributary of the Potomac River. Much of the run lies outside Great Falls Park, though the run's final confluence with the river is within the boundaries of the park. Sections of this stream are protected in Fairfax County's Difficult Run Park. A trail runs from the Difficult Run parking area along the stream down to the...

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  • Hiking and Exploring the Water Falls

    This natural park is accessible for everyone. It has a total of 15 miles of trail which include some trails for horsebackriding and biciclingthe walk is espectacular and very historical

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  • Look for man wearing a hat

    There are over 15 miles of hiking trails at Great Falls and many other ways to explore the park. So if you see some guy wearing a hat out on the trails, it might just be me. There are maps available online and at the visitors center. There is also a small museum that has brief documentary on the history of Great Falls.

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  • View the Falls

    There are many rocks you can climb on to get different views of the falls. Here are several pictures that I took from different rock advantage points. Don't forget your camera. You will want to take pictures of the natural wonders all around you. I also took some video's with digital camera while I was here and they turned out beautiful on my PC.

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  • Relax!

    Relaxation is the key word here. Just sitting on a rock and listening to the river flow can make a relaxing afternoon away from the hustle of Washington DC. Also with all of the humdity here in the Baltimore Washington Metro area, the cool effects of the cascading water are a welcome relief on a hot summer afternoon.

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  • If your brave...

    If your a lot braver than me you might want to try your hand at paddeling a kayak into the rapids. There were several men in kayaks the day I visited Great Falls. I enjoyed watching them splash around in the rapids, and although it looked like it would be a real rush to try it out myself, I found it safer and dryer just watching from a distance.

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  • Matildaville Trail

    This trail isn't particularly scenic, but it does lead to the Matildaville Ruins. The trail winds through forest, with occasional clearings on the trail. It's a very easy trail, with no steep grades anywhere. Still, it can be icy in winter, so watch out. The trail starts from the Visitor Center and leads south for about 1.5 miles until it...

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  • High Water Marker

    At the Overlook 3, there's an interesting High Water Marker which showed the flood levels of the Potomac River in different years. According to the marker, in 1936, floodwaters would have submerged Overlook 3 under 10 feet of water.

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  • River Trail

    The River Trail parallels the Mather Gorge through the entire park, offering some of the best views on the Virginia side of the river. The trail starts near Cow Hoof Rock and follows the gorge upstream to the visitor center at the falls, about 1.5 miles long. You can make a loop of this hike by taking the trail for the first 1/2-mile, then taking...

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  • Old Carriage Road

    This road/trail runs from the Difficult Run parking area to the visitor center, and is about 2 miles long. It doesn't provide any good views, but it's a good trail to hike to get into the park. The road also allows access to the Matildaville and Ridge Trails. Watch out for horse waste.

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  • Matildaville Ruins

    The Potomack Canal gave birth to the town of Matildaville, which was built on the canal and prospered shortly while the canal was in operation. Houses, storage buildings, and stores were once built here. But after the canal fell out of use in 1828, the town was abandoned in 1830. Today a few scant ruins of the town remains, but most of the area has...

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  • Potowmack Canal

    The Potowmack Canal runs through the center of the park. It was constructed by George Washington in the late 18th century to boost trade to the western territories by the Potomac River. Using a system of locks, the canal would raise ships heading upstream 70 feet to the river above the falls. However, the canal stopped operating in 1828 after...

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  • Cow Hoof Rock

    Cow Hoof Rock is accessible either by taking the River Trail south 1.5 miles from the Visitor Center or hiking .5 miles from the Difficult Run Trailhead. We tried to do a loop by heading to Cow Hoof Rock from Difficult Run and then taking the River Trail north to the Visitor Center, but as we found, there was a lot of snow left on the ground from a...

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  • Mather Gorge

    This steep-walled gorge on the Potomac River is just as raw and rugged as Great Falls. It's not a landscape you expect to see in the east. Named after Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service. You can access the Gorge from the River Trail, which roughly follows the gorge for it's entire length. Be careful around here, though,...

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  • Great Falls Visitor Center

    The Great Falls Visitor Center is very informative, with slide shows and exhibits on both the falls and the history of the area. The Great Falls area, according to the slide show, has been home to many canals and an amusement park. But those dreams obviously failed, and since then, Great Falls has been made into a unit of the National Park Service....

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  • Overlook 3

    Overlook 3 is the farthest of the overlooks from the falls itself, and the views aren't so great as the first two. You can't see Mather Gorge, either. Still, it is worth it to see the last of the chain of overlooks. From here, the falls are still very beautiful. Interpretive signs here explain the floods of the Potomac River, and shows the falls in...

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  • Overlook 2

    Out of the three overlooks, Overlook 2 perhaps affords the best view. From here, you get a full view of the falls, as well as the Potomac River plunging into Mather Gorge. With the Potomac dropping down giant rocks, this sight is pretty incredible. One disadvantage is now you're a bit farther from the falls. A sign here describes early tourism at...

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  • Overlook 1

    Heading downstream from the visitor center, the first overlook you meet is Overlook 1, where you get a close-up views of the falls. Here the falls appear the mightiest, plunging about 40 feet through a rocky gorge. An interpretive sign here describes the fish of the Potomac (shad, bass, etc). You can look across the Potomac and see the Falls...

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Great Falls Restaurants

  • Prinsalsita's Profile Photo

    by Prinsalsita Updated Apr 4, 2011

    In case you forgot to bring any food there is a small food store near the visitor center, although the choices are very few. only hotdogs and super small pizza and overpriced.

    However the park offers steel grills and picnic tables. One can purchase sandwiches, fruits and drinks from the grocery store before arriving to the park

    Grill or BBQ at your own risk at the Park

    Favorite Dish: the super small pizza is a bit better than the hotdog, although when you are hungry both taste good.

    Still my recommendation is to bring your own food if you can and by the way bring a volleyball, a freezbe or simply a blanket to relax after eating

    Playing freezbe after the picnic
    Related to:
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Adventure Travel
    • National/State Park

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Great Falls Warnings and Dangers

  • chewy3326's Profile Photo

    by chewy3326 Written Dec 24, 2005

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    As Park Service Signs throughout the park state, the Potomac River and Great Falls are a potentially dangerous place, and it's not a good idea to get too close to the side of the gorge or climb over the railing. An average of seven deaths per year occur in Great Falls Park due to the river. Swimming and jumping into the Potomac River are also strictly prohibited for safety.

    Mather Gorge
    Related to:
    • National/State Park

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Great Falls Off The Beaten Path

  • tracylacie's Profile Photo

    by tracylacie Written Sep 28, 2006

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    If you don't mind the drive there is an entrace to Great Falls park on the Maryland side with different views. I prefer the Virginia side as there are alot of the old canals that can be viewed along the walking path.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Kayaking
    • Hiking and Walking

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Great Falls Sports & Outdoors

  • Prinsalsita's Profile Photo

    by Prinsalsita Updated Apr 4, 2011

    "Rock climbing is a challenging sport enjoyed here. Several good stretches of rock offer adventure for climbers and vantage points for those who wish to watch. "

    don't forget ot register at visitor center before climbing

    Equipment: there is no equipment rental so bring your own
    if you only want to climb small rocks in the low area then make sure you have confortable clothing, and sneakers.

    Do not wear high heels

    Janett Depaz at GreatFalls Park near Washington DC
    Related to:
    • Mountain Climbing
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Adventure Travel

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