If you’re visiting Washington, D.C. or staying in Alexandria, Virginia, and you’re looking for something different from museums and architecture, consider going to Great Falls Park.
Managed by the U.S. National Park Service, this wonderful park occupies both banks of the Potomac River in northern Virginia and Maryland. It lies along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is also a national park unit. You can reach it by car directly from the heart of Washington, D.C. or Alexandria along the parkway. The drive doesn’t take longer than a half hour. The entrance to the park on the Virginian side of the Potomac River is on Old Dominion Drive in McLean.
Great Falls Park, Nature near Washington, D.C.
Great Falls Park has fifteen miles of hiking trails, which mostly run along the river. There are also expansive lawns, picnic areas and a fine visitor center. The highlights are the three lookout points that lie a quick stroll from the visitor center.
The best viewpoint, by far, is lookout point 3, the furthest one. While all lookout points offer wonderful views, the third one has the best, taking in the entire scene.
That scene consists of numerous roaring waterfalls and jagged rocks in Mather Gorge. The total drop of the waterfalls is 20 meters (76 feet). These are exceptionally wild falls—they are classified as Class 5-6 Whitewater, which is the classification for the most difficult and dangerous rivers. When visiting, you might actually even spot kayakers in the water, which could make for a fine photo.
It is good to know, though, that it is illegal to enter the water from the Virginia side of the river, which is the most rugged side. Swimming is absolutely a bad idea, and not allowed anywhere. Visitors are asked to stay on the trails, too, as the rocks can be slippery, especially in wet weather.
Great Falls Park is a superb addition to any itinerary for the Washington, D.C. area. Definitely set aside some time to visit a couple of the museums on the National Mall, as well as to wander the charming streets of Old Town Alexandria.