Great Falls National Park: Best Day Hike Near Washington DC

In All Topics, Guides, United States by Ryan6 Comments

A fierce white, frothing river cuts through grey, jagged bedrock at thousands of pounds per second. Parallel sits a now docile canal, once built-in hopes of increasing trade and traffic through the region. The thunderous roar of the falls can be heard for miles amongst the green brushed treetops and the lush, fern covered shorelines.

When you think of Washington D.C. do you really ever picture this in your head?

Not many people do. Most will think of a bustling historic city, the monuments overflowing with selfie taking tourists, and the capital of the United States where starched suits zip about like automatons.

But there is a secret escape to the madness of the city. And it’s right in my own back yard.

Just a short drive from downtown Washington D.C. is Great Falls National park, and one of my absolute favorite places to work up a sweat hiking, exploring, and leaping over the rocks all around the raging Potomac River.

So, to break your stigma of Washington D.C. I’m going to take you along a hike of Great Falls on the Maryland side. The Potomac river cuts a line in between Maryland and Virginia, and though I haven’t explored the Virginia side, I’ve heard it is just as ravishing.

Though I have been gushing about the natural beauty and amazing hiking that Canada has to offer from my recent road trip, Great Falls may always be a favorite of mine.

…and as always, click or tap the photos to explode your retinas. And to Pin them 😉

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Geese nibble here and there at the start of the trail.

 

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Okay, you can say “Awww” now. Papa Goose got pretty pissed as I waddled closer and closer to take a photo.

(click to play Vine snippet – A Walk-About Great Falls)

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C & O Canal packet boat from the 1870’s rest still on the water, each year growing ever more weather worn.

 

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Spring fights to break Winter’s death grip as skeleton trees begin to bloom.

 

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Various dirt paths break away from the Canal towards the river. A bridge takes you to an overlook where the waterfalls and rapids drop the steepest.

 

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Green moss and ferns line the calmer portion of the river. A feeling of serenity as the sunlight trickles through the tree branches.

 

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Puffy white clouds reflect off over a calm flowing portion of the river.

 

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Wandering around off the dedicated path you’ll find small pond, tiny beaches, and bright wild flowers. Looks like a breeding ground for mosquitos to me…

 Bull Frog

…and apparently grouchy looking Bull Frogs.

Black Snake

…and SNAKES!

I’m deathly afraid of snakes. And I happened across not one, but TWO of them. Even though I don’t think these were of the poisonous type, they still scared the hell out of me when I nearly stepped on them.

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Moving on from snakes to more beautiful things.

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Obviously I have a fascination for “gnarly” things, like these gnarled roots and stumps fighting for space around the stone outcroppings.

(click to play Vine snippet – Water flows under the roots)

 

20130627-151244.jpg  Uh oh, looks like someone has a leak to fix…

 

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Yes. I hike in a leather jacket, jeans, combat boots, and fedora. It was still a tad bit nipply outside. Okay, I’ll say brisk.

 

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All around, from the canals to the falls, you can feed your waterfall addiction.

 

20130627-151428.jpg  Whoopsies. Looks like I already broke some rules…

…by leaping around on rocks below.

 

(click to play Vine snippet – Rule breaking and rock climbing.)

 

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All signs of winter hadn’t disappeared yet. Orange and red were still in fashion for Mother Nature here and there.

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There is something mesmerizing about the flow of water, isn’t there?

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The work of Mother Nature at it’s finest, she always prevails. Effects from the Ice Age and the persistent flow of water cut multiple arteries through the landscape for the water to flow.

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Okay, Okay. I get the hint. No straying from the path… *Guilty as Charged*

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A giant rock bursts through the outlook planks with a plaque, dedicated as Olmstead Island. Frederick Olmstead is the reason for the great preservation of the falls and surrounding landscapes. What a swell chap!

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I spy…a Blue Heron! Can you see it?

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Great Falls National Park Panoramic

(click to view this stunning panoramic photo)

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It is wild to think that just miles away from where I live is such an amazing display of the power of Mother nature. Over the length of a mile the landscape falls over 76ft (23m) with multiple 20ft (6m) waterfalls that drop through the bedrock creating the largest waterfalls in all of Eastern United States.

(click to play Vine snippet – Raging Potomac River)

 

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Hawks soar high above on the powerful misty wind stream coming off of the raging river.

 

(click video to watch Vine snippet – Panoramic views from the lookout)

 

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Taking the trail back to the beginning, rays of a setting sun pierce the thicker pines that line the last portion of trails near the outlook. Great Falls National park not only offers easier trails along dirt paths, but much more intense hikes along the Billy Goat Trail (a neck of the Appalachian Trail).

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Now you can see why this is one of my absolute favorite hiking spots. It is nearby “home” and a rad place to escape the hustle and bustle without having to go very far.

Want to hike this rad spot on your next visit? Here’s how:

View Larger Map

  • If you aren’t driving, rent a Zip Car for the day in Downtown and drive.
  • Pack sunscreen, plenty of water, and hiking shoes.
  • Mosquitos can be fierce in the summer, bring repellent!
  • Bring a camera, some gorgeous scenery abound.
  • If you can, rent or take a bicycle. The C&O Canal goes on for tens of miles.

 

Comments

  1. Katie

    1. Loving the photo above the “Mother nature at its finest” caption.
    2. The HDR effect you used did some funky work on your lens flair in those last couple photos. I kinda like it.
    3. I went to D.C. for the first time a couple of years ago and it was SO much cooler/cleaner/nicer than I’d thought. My favorite memorial is the FDR memorial at night. I wish I’d bothered to look up nearby national parks, though – that place looks phenomenal!

    1. Author
      JustChuckinIt

      Katie, the nearby parks are quite surprising and wickedly beautiful, next time you’ll need to do that!

      And thank you for the compliments! I like experimenting with weird effects sometime, retro or fantastical. It kind of felt like that because spring was just taking hold so the sense were amplified. 🙂

  2. Heather

    You know I’m from Maryland, but I’ve never visited the Maryland side of Great Fall National Park. I’ve visited the Virginia side a handful of times, but somehow I’ve never visited the Maryland side. I’ve been told that the Virginia side is better for viewing the larger area of waterfalls. Some of these pictures are really great, but I have to agree that the Virginia side is more scenic as far as large waterfalls!

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