1. Intro
  2. Maryland
  3. Virginia
  4. Top

Great Falls National Park


Pictures and Article By Chubby Squirrel

Imagine a roaring river, flowing madly by for as long as time itself. Forests and rocky formations, weathered by the constant onslaught of formidable power, line both sides of it. A few stubborn boulders stand in the way of the gushing current, but it merely circumvents these obstacles, spitting froth in anger. The river you are imagining is the mighty Potomac River, in the middle of Great Falls National Park. This national park encompasses land on both sides of the river, which is located on the border between Maryland and Virginia. One might assume, and rightfully so, that the two states share the river, or that neither owns it, but in actuality, Maryland owns the whole river. This has no practical effect on daily life and usage of the river, but is interesting to know nevertheless.

The fast-flowing Potomac River is a sight to behold as it furiously rushes along its course

On the Maryland side of the park, one can hike or bike on the (relatively) non-strenuous gravel trail, which is sandwiched between the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) canal and the Potomac River. Visitors can admire the locks and buildings that were built more than a hundred years ago, as well as the abundant natural scenery.

The Billy Goat Trail, known for being difficult and dangerous, is also located on the Maryland side, and takes a place on my list of favorite hiking trails. Personally, I don’t think the trail is at all perilous; at least not to anyone who isn’t so careless as to walk off the edge of the rocky cliff that lies a few dozen feet (at its closest) from the trail. From this vantage point, one can watch the powerful Potomac River as it rushes by, and wave to hikers on the opposite cliff face.

There are three total sections of the Billy Goat Trail, and there are a few signs warning hikers of the potential dangers of the trail. Always remember to bring ample water when you go on an excursion into nature!

In the following two pictures, you can see one of my personal favorite parts of the trail. This is a stone face more than 50 feet tall, which one must surmount in order to continue with the trail. It's great fun for anyone who loves climbing!

Unlike the Maryland side, Virginia’s half of the national park lacks a canal, but makes up for it through its many hiking trails, informational visitor center, and an overlook near the waterfall.

Besides Great Falls, there are many other amazing places to hike in the Virginia side, if one drives a bit further down the road. Scott’s Run is one of those locations, and is another one of my favorite places to go. It features trails going through the lush woodland, leading to the riverbank, and crossing streams using man-made stepping stones. Difficult Run lies only a two minute drive away, and features rock formations on which people of all ages can climb, a sandy beach, and many spots next to the river where one can relax on large, smooth boulders and have a picnic. However, if you are planning on going to any of these three magnificent parks and hiking trails, you must make sure to arrive early, to ensure a parking spot and to avoid the traffic jam that builds up in the road that leads to the entrance of Great Falls National Park.

This photo was taken at a picturesque location near a part of the Difficult Run trail, on a sandy beach with a lot of driftwood.

I would definitely recommend Great Falls to anyone who loves nature. One can find trails of every difficulty, so it is suitable for visitors of all ages. Whether you go to the Maryland side to view the historically significant canal, or the Virginia side to gaze at the breath-taking waterfall from the safety of the overlook, Great Falls National Park will leave you going home satisfied. This national park is truly a great place. It even says so in its name!