Great Falls Park, an 800-acre park located along the Potomac River, is one of the most spectacular natural landmarks in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The natural beauty of Great Falls is unmatched with its series of steep, jagged rocks that flow through the narrow Mather Gorge. The park's close proximity to downtown Washington, DC make it a prime place to visit and it is very popular with local residents and tourists. The park has two locations: one in Maryland and the other in Northern Virginia.
See a map and directions online. Note, that there is no access between the two sides of the Potomac River. Both locations are beautiful and offer multiple places to view the river.
Great Falls Park offers a variety of recreational activities including hiking, picnicking, kayaking, rock climbing, bicycling, and horseback riding. You can view the falls from several observation areas. The falls cascade into 20-foot waterfalls displaying the steepest fall line rapids of any eastern river.
Great Falls Park: Maryland Location
The Maryland side of Great Falls is a part of the C & O Canal National Historic Park and is located off of Falls Road in Potomac.
There are two overlooks near the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. To the north, the Washington Aqueduct Observation Deck offers a view of the upper falls. To the south, the Olmsted Island Bridges offer several scenic views of the Great Falls. There are several hiking trails in this area. Some of the most spectacular up close views can be seen from the Billy Goat Trail.
You should note that portions of the trail are very challenging and not appropriate for all visitors. The C & O Canal Towpath also runs through the park and is ideal for biking and jogging.
The Great Falls Tavern was built in 1828 and serves as the visitor center offering historical exhibits and interpretive programs. Mule-drawn canal boat rides depart from this location April-October. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Days)
Great Falls Park: Virginia Location
The park is located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, Virginia in the northern part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
There are three overlooks that provide access to view the Great Falls. While Overlook 1 provides the closest view, Overlooks 2 and 3 are wheelchair accessible. Follow the River Trail, beginning just downstream of the falls, and you will see spectacular views of the Mather Gorge. Above the Visitor Center, you can follow the upper Canal Trail and view the head of the falls and the Aqueduct Dam.
The Virginia park offers 15 miles of hiking trails through the woods and along the falls.
The Great Falls Park Visitor Center offers trail maps, historical exhibits, a 10-minute video presentation on the history of Great Falls Park, an interactive children’s room, bookstore, restrooms, and a concession stand. Volunteers and park rangers are on hand to answer questions. The Visitor Center is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Ranger Talks are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p. m. and 3:30 p.
m. at the Ranger Program Area near Overlook 3.
Both locations of Great Falls Park are open from 7 a.m. until dark every day except December 25th.
There is an entrance fee in 2019 of $15 per vehicle, including motorcycles and a $7 fee for visitors entering the park on foot, horseback, or bicycle. The entry fee is good for three days at both parks.
- Weekend afternoons are the busiest times to visit. To avoid crowds, visit early, late in the day or on a weekday.
- Stay on the trails and use caution while hiking near the river and cliffs. Wear sturdy shoes and carry drinking water.
- Visit on a clear day and bring a camera to capture great nature photos.
- Be aware that dogs and other pets are allowed, but must be on a six-foot leash.
- The snack bars are open seasonally. Picnics are allowed and grills are available in some locations.
Read more about outdoor recreation in the Washington DC area.