The list of things to do at Great Falls Park is endless, ranging from kayaking and rock climbing to mountain biking and fishing. There's also the option of finding a spot high above the Potomac River and watching the rushing water flow down through the rapids. If your forte is hiking, you've come to the right spot. The park has more than 15 miles of trails on the Virginia side of the river, while the Maryland side has more than a dozen miles. Both banks of the Potomac are definitely worth the trip.
What Makes It Great
The Virginia side has six main trails of varying surfaces and difficulties. Old Carriage Road stretches 3.2 miles and is flat and wide. What's more, it was used by early American settlers to access a former town on the falls called Matildaville, now part of the town of Great Falls. This trail passes some of the town's ruins. Running next to Old Carriage Road is the 2.2-mile Matildaville Trail.
There's also the Patowmack Canal Trail (2.5 miles), which lies in a canal bed that was constructed to bring boats around the rapids of the falls. It was overshadowed by the C&O Canal, which parallels the Potomac on the Maryland side.
If you're looking for a more hilly profile, check out the 3-mile Ridge Trail.
On the Maryland side, the Gold Mine Loop partially follows a former railroad line. The entire trail measures 3.2 miles on a dirt surface, and there are some hills — so don't come expecting an easy day on your feet.
There's also the Billy Goat Trail, which is broken up into sections A, B, and C. Section A is the northernmost part of the trail and is very rocky. Be prepared to scramble over plenty of rocks. And when you get a minute, take a break and look to your right to check out the majestic view of the river.
Sections B and C of the Billy Goat Trail are easier — there's only part of section B where you'll have to get yourself over some rocks, while section C has none.
Also on the Maryland side are several short side trails, along with a segment of the C&O Canal Towpath. The latter goes 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Md.
The Great Falls Park trails on both sides of the Potomac are scenic and historic, so be sure to take it all in — especially at the scenic overlook on the River Trail (Virginia side).
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers of all abilities will enjoy a visit to Great Falls Park. The Virginia side has more easy to moderate trails, while the Maryland side will have you clambering over rocks.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the Virginia side, take the George Washington Memorial Parkway west and get off at Georgetown Pike. Head west for 4 miles to the park entrance on your right.
For the Maryland side, take the George Washington Memorial Parkway west and then hop onto 495 north. Exit the highway at the Clara Barton Parkway and drive west, and then merge onto MacArthur Blvd. The park entrance is 5 miles down on your left.