Great Falls National Park - Paddling

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Summary

When it comes to white water rafting in the DC area, there's no bigger challenge than the waters near Great Falls National Park. The rapids are rated from novice to extreme, so there's room for white water paddlers of all skill levels to check out this challenging spot with dramatic views of the cliffs overlooking the Potomac River.

Written by

Jason Devaney

Distance

0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

14.3 miles

Difficulty

4 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

0 hours

Seasonality

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Dog Friendly

No

Fees Permits

Yes

Great Falls Park Vehicle Permit ($10) Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized groups are not eligible for the vehicle permit. Is NOT valid for entrance into the C &O Canal National Historic Park. Great Falls Park Individual Permit ($5) Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, or equestrian. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge. Is NOT valid for entrance into the C &O Canal National Historic Park.

Review

Intro

When it comes to white water rafting in the DC area, there's no bigger challenge than the waters near Great Falls National Park. The rapids are rated from novice to extreme, so there's room for white water paddlers of all skill levels to check out this challenging spot with dramatic views of the cliffs overlooking the Potomac River.

The waters in Great Falls Park are not for folks who want an easy, relaxing paddle in the Potomac. There are strong rapids here, in some cases the most difficult on the International Scale of Difficulty. That said, check out these waters if you're looking for a fun challenge.

What Makes It Great

The range of difficulty here makes this great for all levels of white water paddlers (please note that this area is not meant for those looking for a serene paddle along the river. You must be experienced with white water.) Some rapids in this area are rated Class II, the novice level, while others are Class V+—meaning extreme. So if you're just getting your feet wet in the paddling game, you'll be comfortable riding the Class II sectors.

Advanced rafters will get a thrill negotiating the extreme parts, including a drop of fifty feet in just one-tenth of a mile, a 20-foot waterfall and a variety of other technical paddling areas.

Point to note, Since 1975 more than 30 people have died in the Falls. There are many in and out points on this section of the river, which makes it easy to bail on a run. Be sure to check water levels before starting out as these can change within a few hours and make paddling much more challenging and dangerous.

If what you're looking for is an easier, more relaxing day on the water, head over to the Maryland side of the river and check out the C&O Canal. Known for its towpath, which is great for running and biking, the canal stretches 184.5 miles from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC, and is a great place to do some paddling as well.

Who is Going to Love It

Experienced paddlers will love the Class V+ rapids in the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. They offer a significant challenge, although they should only be attempted by proficient rafters.

New paddlers, or those looking for a more relaxing day on the water, can check out the easier sections of the Potomac or head over to the C&O Canal, where there's hardly any current.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The park is open from 7am until dark daily.

From Washington, take the George Washington Parkway west and then get onto Georgetown Pike west. Great Falls Park is located off Old Dominion Drive, and there is ample parking.

For the C&O Canal, cross over into Maryland on 495 and then take the Clara Barton Parkway west. From there, take MacArthur Boulevard to the entrance to Great Falls Park; the C&O Canal is right there.

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Location

Great Falls National Park

Washington, DC, Washington, DC,
38.996827, -77.254791

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