Discovering awesome scenes of nature right outside the city

Washington Travel Blog

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The falls

It was 2:00pm on what was otherwise a lazy Sunday.  We had partied hard the day before, attending the DC United/LA Galaxy match, and had topped it off with a trip to the neighborhood dive, Trusty's.  We didn't get up until noon, and so far all we had done was wander down to Eastern Market to get some delicious pupusas from Tortilla Cafe.  We're sitting on the porch, watching the dogs play in the yard.  The sun isn't quite out, and the temperature is still hanging around 55, even though the weather forecast had promised 68.

Suddenly, like magic, the sun burst through the clouds.  I turned to the girlfriend and said "baby, let's go do something."

I gathered the camera and my dog, and we got into the car and started driving towards Virginia.

The mighty Potomac River, 12 miles west of Washington, DC.
 The destination: Great Falls National Park.  Why?  Because it was turning out to be a nice day, and neither of us had ever gone, despite growing up in Virginia, and in particular, on the lower Potomac.

Well, this is upper Potomac, where the river is no longer tidal, calm and placid; here, it's running super fast through the rocky hills that go through north western Virginia and western Maryland.  Just 12 or so miles down river, ametures can go kyaking on the lake-like tidals waters, but here, only the best of the best are allowed to brave the river.  For everyone else, it's literally illegal to step foot in the water from the shores of the park land due to the extreme conditions.

It's a $5 fee to drive into the park.

On top of some rocks, high above the river!
 Once inside, parking is pretty ample, at least on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Springtime.  The first thing you hear when you turn off your vehicle are the rapids.  They're through the trees a ways, but their still super loud.

There's a visitors center and a snack bar centrally located near the overlooks, but we skipped both and headed straight for the first overlook.  This one is considered the "good" overlook, as it is closest to the falls, but still has a partially obstructed view.  However, you are allowed to climb a little bit onto some rocks to get higher and further out to see more.

The next overlook is considered better, because it offers a more full view.  I disagreed, I liked the first one better.

Finally, overlook #3 is considered the "best" because it has a full view of the falls and the surrounding gorge, kind of panoramic.  I admit, this was pretty cool.

From there, you are free to hike down trails that run along the river and the old canal.  At some points, there are places where you can even go down to some small sandy areas, but don't even think about getting in the water!  There are warnings everywhere stating "an average of 7 people down here per year" and "rescue here is near impossible" and "if you get in the water, you will die."  Not even kidding on the last one!

After climbing as far as we could go on some rocks down near the sandy area, we chilled for a while and took some pictures.  The dog had a great time, as he is a beagle and they love the outdoors and mountain type stuff.

We exited and walked through the park area, where there are open fields, picnic tables and grills.  Being such a nice day, there were hundreds of people taking advantage, tossing frisbys, kicking soccer balls, even saw some people playing badmitton.  Grills everywhere were cooking up different meats that smelled delicious.

We really enjoyed this place, and I definitely hope to go back.  It's close to the city (about a 25 minute drive on a Sunday with no traffic from my house, which is on the east side of the city), and easy to get to!  Just get off the beltway on to Georgetown Pike and head west for about 10 minutes.

troysgonewalkabout says:
Looks cool!
Posted on: May 03, 2011
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The falls
The falls
The mighty Potomac River, 12 miles…
The mighty Potomac River, 12 mile…
On top of some rocks, high above t…
On top of some rocks, high above …
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photo by: b93sp