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Great Falls Park - Part 2: Great Falls Park Destinations
Lightbox (34) Tags: great-falls-park parks usa virginia Posted: Aug. 11, 2007 by Vassilik
Great Falls Park Destinations
There are seven trails at Great Falls Park that altogether offer a variety of different experiences:
- The Ridge Trail - 1.5 mile (2.4 km) trail between Old Dominion Drive and The Potomac River at Difficult Run stream.
- The Old Carriage Road Trail - 1.55 mile (2.55 km) trail that begins at the restroom located about 200 hundred yards from the parking lot at the end of picnic area and goes South until it reaches the Georgetown Parkway. The trail follows the historic road used by settlers and travelers to Matildaville. We recommend AVOIDING the first part of this trail due to the unpleasant odor from small masonry structures to the left of the road used as vents for the underground sewage line. If you want to explore this area of the park, you will be much better off if you take the Swamp Trail and bypass the contaminated part of the road.
- The Swamp Trail - 0.9 mile (1.5 km) trail that begins off the Old Carriage Road Trail not far from the point where the latter starts. The trail follows the base of a hillside where the river flowed over 500 thousand years ago. A walk along the Swamp Trail offers solitude and less traffic. It is also may be interesting for those who enjoy plants and wildlife.
- The River Trail - 1.5 mile (2.4 km) trail extending from the end of the picnic area along the Potomac River to the point where it connects to the Ridge Trail. One of the most popular trails in the park - it crosses very rocky terrain along 30 to 70 foot cliffs and offers spectacular views of the gorge and the Maryland shoreline of the Potomac River.
- The Patowmack Canal Trail - a 3/4 mile (1.2 km) trail that begins near the parking lot and goes through the center of the park offering access to the remnants of Patowmack Canal locks. This trail goes through a flat ground and allows for easy stroll when you do not want to burden yourself with physical activity.
- The Difficult Run Trail - a 0.7 mile (1.1 km) trail that follows the Difficult Run stream. This is a very interesting trail in the park that we recommend to explore - Difficult Run has been called a miniature Mather Gorge and Great Falls and offers a variety of different places to look at. It is a gorgeous stream just to stay and watch bayous and backwaters and listen to the never ending sound of running water from small cascading falls. If you are photographer, you will discover an abundance of photo opportunities of various kinds.
- The Matildaville Trail is a 1.1 mile (1.8 km) trail that goes through the park following the same direction as the River Trail. This trail is also designated for horses - watch the ground when you on it to avoid stepping into a fresh manure.
There are several ways you can spend time in Great Falls Park:
Great Falls watching - you need an hour or more to do this. After parking your car, explore all three overlooks. Views are different, and falls look differently at good weather and after the rain. And both are wonderful. If the former gives you an impression of piece and eternity, the latter reminds of a tremendous power of the nature. Do not forget to stop by the High Water Marks pole which highlights the dramatic floods that have occurred here at Great Falls over the years; this pole is very close to one of the overlooks. You can stroll for some time along the Patowmack Canal; perhaps to take a look at the nearest canal lock (or what remains of it) and return back.
Park exploration - may easily take from several hours to the whole day. If you do this, use a combination of trails and plan your itinerary in advance (or, after picking up a map at the entrance station, spend several minutes in planning). We recommend (especially if this is your first time in the park) to take the River Trail which will give you a chance to explore the falls and cliffs of the Mather Gorge. You will also see the opposite, Maryland, side of the river. The trial mostly is not tough; however, there will be a couple of places that will be difficult for you to pass if you are afraid of heights. Also, the last several hundred yards of the trail (where it comes closer to the Ridge Trail) are difficult - you will have to deal with rocks and a steep ascent (as a matter of fact, you should think twice if you want to go this way in icy conditions). When you reach Ridge Trail, turn right and continue until you reach the trail hub (where Ridge, Matildaville and Old Carriage Road trails cross). If you prefer easy ending of your exploration, just take Carriage Road and return back. You can also take the Matildaville Trail which may be a bit more interesting and will allow you to avoid vents of the sewage system on the Carriage Road. Or, you can make this exploration even more extensive if upon reaching the hub you continue on Ridge Trail (crossing Old Carriage Road) until you see a connector to the Swamp Trail on your right. You can return back using the latter.
You can use park as a wonderful alternative to your gym. In fact, if you take a route described above and walk it in a really brisk pace (to say nothing about jogging or running) you can burn from 600 to 1000 calories depending on your weight and specific itinerary. Our advice: if you do this, use good shoes and watch your steps.
Your endeavors in Great Falls Park will never be completed without spending some time along Difficult Run. There are two ways of doing this - one is to start from the Visitor Center and plan for a long walk: about 4.5 - 5 miles, crossing Ridge Trail and after reaching Difficult Run walking along the stream from the mouth of Difficult Run (with panoramic views of the Potomac River) to the bridge on Georgetown Parkway across the Run. Your second option is to use a small parking lot (free) on the parkway near the bridge (see satellite map for the exact location) and spend all your time enjoying the beauty of Difficult Run. Remember that this parking lot is a popular place - on weekends you need to come not later than 9 am (or even earlier in good weather in summer) to find a spot for your car. You can actually use this parking lot as a way to avoid paying park entrance fees and explore the park in the "reverse" way. But Difficult Run is certainly is a destination by itself.
Great Falls Park and Great Falls of the Potomac
River - Part 1
Great Falls Park - Part 2: Great Falls Park Destinations