Great Falls Park – Roaring Waterfalls near D.C.

Last Saturday morning, I dropped Caroline off at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. Her flight was at 7 am. This left me with a bunch of time to do some exploring in the greater D.C. area and northern Virginia.

The first thing I did was drive to Great Falls Park, where I arrived before it opened (which is at 7 am). I was the first one in. The ticket booth at the entrance wasn’t open yet, which saved me $10. So, there’s a tip for you guys—get there before it opens.

Great Falls Park is situated just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway that runs along the Potomac River. This scenic road offers wonderful views of the Washington, D.C. skyline and runs past historic sites and through dense forests.

Waterfalls at Great Falls Park, Virginia
Waterfalls at Great Falls Park, Virginia

Spectacular Nature Near Washington, D.C.

I’ve been to D.C. a few times, but every time I’m surprised at how green everything is around the city. On the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., the landscape consists of low, gently rolling hills and beautiful woods. You really don’t have to drive that far from D.C. to go hiking, fishing, cycling and kayaking. In fact, Great Falls Park lies only 30 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia. Yet, it’s a completely different world.

The park comprises 800 acres (323 hectares) of lawns, forest and picnic areas and occupies both banks of the Potomac River, in Virginia and Maryland respectively. The entrance to the park on the Virginian side of the river lies on Old Dominion Drive in McLean.

Great Falls Park waterfalls in Virginia
Great Falls Park waterfalls

Hiking, Kayaking and Lookout points

In addition, there are also 15 miles (24 kilometers) of hiking trails in the park, most of which run along the Potomac River. One particular hiking trail worth mentioning is the Patowmack Canal Trail, which follows the (remains of the) Patowmack Canal, one of the first canals with locks ever built in the United States.

The major highlights in Great Falls Park, however, are the three lookout points that lie within easy walking distance—literally a few minutes—from the visitor center. I would definitely encourage you to check out the views from each one, but lookout point 3 is without question the best out of all three.

The views of the waterfalls are nothing short of spectacular. This scene includes wooded riverbanks, rugged rock formations, rapids and cascades, and is breathtaking. Please do note that it is not allowed to enter the Potomac River from the Virginia side of the river in Great Falls Park. If you would like to go kayaking, get in the water on the Maryland side. It is also worth noting that the rapids are Class 5-6 rapids, which indicates that the water is rough, wild and extremely challenging.

Kayaking in Great Falls Park, Virginia
Kayaker braving the rapids in Great Falls Park

You could easily spend several hours in Great Falls Park, one of the greatest natural attractions to photograph in Virginia. I recommend visiting early in the morning and/or on weekdays, as during the weekends, it can get very busy.

The park is a national park unit—although it is not an official national park such as Shenandoah or Acadia, it is managed by the National Park Service. Take a look at the official website for much more visitor information; finally, scroll down for some Great Falls Park photos.

Great Falls Park Photos

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