Spring’s just not in the mood to show up…so I’m forcing her hand. I decided to head out to the Great Falls of the Potomac for a much needed outdoor excursion. I’m really suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. The best thing about Great Falls is how close it is to my house, about a 25 minute drive from Dupont Circle (depending of course on traffic).
Keeping things simple I opted for the National Park Service controlled Virginia side of the falls, we’ll talk about Maryland another time. I’ve been down here more than a few times, but never this early in the spring…so I was a little excited to see the water level. You see, in the winter it snows in places like the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, and Garrett County in western Maryland and all up and down the Blue Ridge. In the spring, that snow melts sending torrents of water down into the drainage basin of the Potomac…and then all that water has to squeeze through this ridge of metamorphic rock that has just told the river, “no, you will not wear me down!”
This is where the piedmont region meets the Atlantic plain. It’s a scene you find less in the East: the forces of nature being so evident. Many who come here for the first time are awed by the realization that this is the same Potomac that seems to lumber by DC just a few miles downstream.
The park makes it easy to take in the power of the river with three main vistas easily accessible and offering different views of the falls. And on this day the river was raging, about 6 feet above normal stage.
Six feet may not sound like much, but that’s the difference of millions of gallons of water gushing past any given point throughout the day. That extra six feet also adds decibels such that a dull, low frequency hum occupies the park.
The river can, and does, run higher. From one of the vistas about thirty feet above the river is a post with high-water marks of the great floods of the past…in several of those I would have drowned where I stood. Mather Gorge is a haven for rock climbers, and any given day year round you’ll find someone fighting gravity with the help of granite. The gorge is also a top spot to find kayakers…not so much on this day of high water. But in mid-summer when the flow is low, they’ll shoot through the rapids offering spectators above a good show.
In the park there are some pretty easy hikes totaling about 15 miles of trail. Don’t worry Difficult Run is neither difficult nor does it require you to run (although it is popular with trail-runners!).
From the Beltway take exit 44 onto Georgetown Road (VA-193) and head east to Old Dominion Road and take a right…you’ll see signs for the park
along the way. That is if you’re not too busy staring at the ridiculous mansions.
It’s $5 per vehicle or $3 per person. And take a picnic lunch, there are a bunch of tables…if you really want to be ambitious plan a BBQ.