Escaping the Capitol: Great Falls Park, Virginia
Josh Macfarlane, June 3, 2015
Founded in 1790 on the Potomac River, Washington D.C. has it all. The city booms with life as congressmen walk the steps of the Capitol, tourists explore the Smithsonian, the President hosts foreign emissaries and students party it up in Georgetown.
When the weekend comes around locals and foreigners can be found beyond the city’s confines, exploring its surroundings in search of tranquility and adventure. Great Falls Park in Virginia (not New Jersey) caters for both those who want to simply relax in the wilderness, and for those who want to take it up a notch and break a sweat.
The Park’s primary attraction are its tumbling falls, which deservedly receive countless “Ooh”s and “Ahh”s from onlookers. While they are a must-see, don’t fall into the trap of simply snapping a photo and resigning to the nearby picnic area. This designated area, along with the adjacent car park and restrooms are just a small part of the protected area – head away from the crowds to explore its fuller extent.
There are 15 miles of trails covering the Park, many of which follow the Potomac River downstream. The trails range in difficulty, with some comparable to a “walk in the park,” while others will force you to break a sweat. Many paths make for ideal for trail-running and are challenging enough for a good workout. Further, 5 miles of trails are excellent for mountain biking through dramatic backdrops and steep descents.
Others might be more inclined to test their abilities on the formidable rapids, which range from Class II to Class VI on this stretch of the river. There are numerous kayak rental companies in the area who will readily supply equipment and local expertise. It must be noted that due to strong undercurrents, swimming is prohibited throughout the Park.
Other available activities in Great Falls National Park include climbing and fishing. For those wishing to test their fate on rock, there are a variety of climbs to try, ranging from 5.5 to 5.14 in difficulty and a maximum length of 75 feet. All climbing is top-rope and anchors are forbidden.
For fishing in the Park, you’ll find plenty of secluded banks on the Potomac to wet your line; the trophy fish in these waters is the indigenous bass.
Travel to Great Falls Park
Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the Park is that it is easily accessible from the city; by car it is less than a 45-minute drive from downtown DC. Simply cross the Key Bridge from Georgetown to Rosslyn, Arlington, from where you should get onto the GW Parkway North. After approximately 25 minutes on this the road will merge with the I-95 South, which you stay on for only a moment before taking the exit ramp to Route 195 (Georgetown Pike). At the lights turn right on Route 195 and follow this road for about 10 minutes before seeing signs for Great Falls National Park.
Entry to the the Great Falls National Park is $5 for vehicles or $3 for individuals on bikes or on foot. Unfortunately there is no direct public transportation to the Park.