Great Falls National Park, Virginia

Great Falls National Park waterfall view

Great Falls National Park is situated in Fairfax County, Virginia on the Potomac River. It’s one of the National Parks, so if you have an Annual Entrance Pass for them, you will save 15 dollars on entrance with your car. The place is a “must visit” for those who love waterfalls. Locals enjoy walking and having a picnic there. Good thing – the park is located not far from Washington DC and it can be included into your travel itinerary to the Capital of the US.

Great Falls on the map and its reviews:

A bit of history

Long ago this part of river was a trading place for for American Indians and early colonists. In 1784 it was organized the Patowmack Company. They constructed five canals and the river became navigable. Construction was finished in 1802. Flatboats were carrying food and goods down the river for more than 190 miles and 3 days from Cumberland to Georgetown. After goods arrival boats were dismantled and sold for lumber. In 1828 the old Patowmack Canal was bought by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. They planned to turn it into a water highway. But after 1924 railroads and other better ways of transportation replaced it.

Great Falls National Park waterfall views

Great Falls National Park description and pictures

The park itself is not very big but comfortable for walking, hiking on trails and having a picnic with the family. The parking place is not very big and can be really overcrowded on weekends. Come on a weekday if you can! As soon as you park and walk towards the river you will see the main building – Visitor Center (the pic is taken from the other side):

Great Falls National Park visitor center

Picnic tables start right near it but go on walking and you will find more. Speaking about a picnic – some people are eating on the river trail and use stones as a tables and chairs. By the way, restrooms are very clean and nice. As soon as you pass the building the best thing to do is to go to the left to the first Overlook. There are at least 3 comfortable overlooks to view the waterfall (including accessible).

Great Falls National Park waterfall overlook

Near it – information on the levels of water in different years:

Water levels on Great Falls National Park in different years Flooding water on Great Falls National Park Potomac River

Video of the waterfall in Feb, 2019:

Trails and the river in the Great Falls National Park

Right after the overlooks some trails start. They are not very long or difficult and will be ok for all ages but some areas have large rocks to walk over or around. After rains it can be muddy. River Trail is the best to start with, if you are in the Great Falls Park for the first time. Great views, places to sit on stones and enjoy nature or even a snack, have a chance to watch canoes. Some pics from the River Trail:

River trail view in Great Falls National Park

River trail path on the Potomac River in Great Falls National Park

Canoes on the Potomac River at Great Falls National Park

Mother Gorge on the Potomac River at Great Falls National Park

Walking on the River trail in the Great Falls National Park

On the way back you can turn on the left near the sign and come back to your car by Patowmack Canal Trail:

Trails in the Great Falls National Park

And a short video of the fast river and canoes on it:

What to do in the Great Falls National Park?

Their brochure states, that you can plan your visit at visitor center, see the falls, schedule a guided programs, do hiking and exploring, horseback riding and bicycling, picnicking, whitewater boating, fishing, rock climbing and volunteer.  Visit their official webpage for details and alerts:

In conclusion

As on any other rivers and waterfalls remember about your safety. Spend some minutes on reading safety information at the entrance. There are 2 more parks to visit near by – Riverbend Park and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. If you have visited Great Falls before, share your story and pics in comments!

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