The snow is finally melting in Virginia, which means it is almost time for spring hiking. Great Falls Park is one of my favorite places to hike in Northern Virginia. Great Falls Park is only 15 miles outside of Washington D.C., which makes a great day trip if you want to get out of the city.
The falls are huge. Not steep like the falls you would see in mountains, but they are massive as they cover a large section of the Potomac River. The Potomac River narrows at Mather Gorge and the extra water cascades down Great Falls. It doesn’t matter what season I visit, I am always amazed at the amount of water cascading over the falls. Here is what you can expect if you visit Great Falls Park.
Great Falls Park Visitor’s Center
The visitor’s center has several interactive displays about the history of Great Falls Park, the history of the C&O Canal, and the kayakers who frequent the park. My favorite thing in the visitor’s center is a well-loved photo album with pictures from times when the Potomac has flooded at Great Falls Park.
The Visitor’s Center has restrooms, a seasonal snack bar, and plenty of picnic areas on a beautiful grassy area outside. There is room to kick a ball or throw a frisbee on a nice afternoon, and plenty of room for kids to run around and explore. There are also barbeque grills if you want to picnic.
Great Falls Park Overlooks
A short walk from the visitor’s center you come to three overlooks. The second and third overlooks ares stroller friendly and very easy to access. You will have different but spectacular views at each overlook and I like to visit all three. One of my favorite things to check out is the pole marking the flooding levels from major floods in different years.
Kayakers at Great Falls Park
One a good day, you will see kayakers navigating the falls. World-class kayakers often come to Great Falls Park to practice in the rapidly moving water of the Potomac. You would only want to kayak here if you are an exceptionally skilled kayaker. For the rest of us, watching the sport from the overlooks is a great way to spend an afternoon.
You will find signs everywhere at Great Falls Park warning about the strong currents in the river. Obey the signs and stay out of the water. Every year we read sad stories in the paper of drownings that were preventable if people had stayed out of the water. Most hiking trails stay on the cliffs away from the water, so it is easy to stay safe.
Hiking in Great Falls Park
There are 15 miles of hiking trails in Great Falls Park, and you can pick up maps at the Visitor’s Center. We have taken kids of all ages hiking on several different trails throughout the park. Bring plenty of water in the summer months since Virginia can be hot and humid.
Trash Free Park
Great Falls Park is now a trash-free park, which means there are not garbage cans to collect trash. You will need to take trash home with you and dispose of it, so plan accordingly.
Good to Know
Where: 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102
When: Great Falls Park is open 7 days at week from 7:00 a.m. until dusk. The Visitor’s Center is open from 10-5 during Daylight Savings time, and from 10-4 the rest of the year.
How Much: $5 per car
Amenities: Restrooms, drinking fountains, BBQ grills and picnic tables, Visitor’s Center, and seasonal snack bar.
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