Great Falls Park: Washington DC

Great Falls Park, just outside Washington DC in Virginia, reminds us how beautiful our country is and that we need to take more time to explore. I never knew the Potomac River had such magnificent rapids. Because of its location near such populated areas, this park can be crowded. Run by the National Park Service, it’s best to visit during the week if you have the luxury of time. We’ve tried it both ways and the crowds can be daunting during the weekends.

Experiencing the area when it’s quiet can allow a better appreciation of what this portion of the riverfront was like historically. Between 1785 and 1802 George Washington promoted the use of a system of bypasses so river barges could navigate around the Falls. Remnants of The Great Falls portion of the Patowmack Canal can be seen paralleling the river in what appear to be just shallow ditches. If you don’t look around the area you might miss this historically significant tidbit.

Rapids range between Class 2 – 6 in various portions, with a 76′ drop through the cascades. Expert kayakers can be seen during warmer days. Even though it is prohibited to enter the water from the Virginia side there are numerous drownings every year. So stay within the boundaries!

The Potomac River has flooded numerous times through the years and some events have been significant. It is incredible to see the flood marker showing the water levels for each flood cycle.

It’s particularly nice the Park is accessible and wheelchairs and strollers can easily visit several overlooks. and pathways. Just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Great Falls Park is only open during daylight hours and there is an entrance fee unless you have an annual pass to the Park or the senior lifetime pass for National Parks.

Part of the historic canal bed used when riverboats circumvented the Falls.

9 Comments on “Great Falls Park: Washington DC

  1. Hi Karen,
    Loved these photos – imagined the sound of the roaring rapids and the cold mist in the air. I am from PA so it took me back to childhood walks in Lancaster, Pa. Thanks for sharing. Sue

  2. What a surprise! Doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen in DC.

  3. What a lovely post, KF. I’ve been to Washington D.C. many times, and never visited this park. The high water markers are amazing. 1972 was certainly a wet year!

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