Take a Daytrip: The Potomac River’s Great Falls

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on July 14, 2017

Stand overlooking Great Falls on the Potomac River, and the sound will fill your ears. The river rushes over the rocks, crashing and swirling on its way downstream. Go once, and you’ll want to visit in all seasons to see how the falls change.

Why are the falls so amazing? Over a span of less than a mile, the river falls 76 feet over a series of 20-foot falls. The Potomac narrows as it flows over the falls and through the Mather Gorge.

So it’s no wonder that the Great Falls area is popular with tourists – it’s just minutes from downtown DC! – and hikers, kayakers, whitewater rafters, and rock climbers.

From Maryland, access Great Falls from the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center in Potomac, which is part of the larger Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park. A scenic hike takes you past smaller falls and teaches you about the forest and its inhabitants. (Note that the overlook on the Maryland side may be closed because of repair work being done on the walkway this summer; check the National Park Service’s website for current information.)

See the falls from Great Falls Park in McLean, which is operated by the National Park Service. The park has 15 miles of hiking trails and three overlooks for viewing the falls. The overlooks are near the visitor’s center, and two of them are wheelchair accessible.

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