Visitors of all ages and skill level can enjoy the many sites along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, but Great Falls is a particularly popular one. From Maryland, visitors can walk the canal trail to Olmstead Island and take a boardwalk trail to an overlook to view the falls. Enter from Virginia and take the River Trail to look at the falls from three different locations.
Along with beautiful views of the falls, the C&O Canal has a variety of trails ranging in accessibility and difficulty. Take Billy Goat Trail A for a challenging hike over rock face and for some scrambling. For a more relaxed hike, take the C&O to Billy Goat Trail B or C. Accessible trails include Overlooks Two and Three and the Patowmack Canal Trail. Pets kept on a six-foot leash are welcome in the park, but note that dogs are not allowed on Billy Goat Trail A.
The geologic history of this great hiking spot only adds to the interest. Rocks formed from sandstones and mudstones 550 million years ago were carved by melting snow and ice during the last ice age. The rush of water over the rock face created what is now referred to as Mather Gorge. Great Falls also characterize the fall line, where the Piedmont Plateau and Atlantic Coastal Plain meet and high cliff faces give way where in less than a mile the river drops 76 feet. Rapids and swift moving water give way to serene bends and turns in the river as it approaches Washington D.C. When walking through the park, keep an eye out for smoothed rocks and rounded boulders to indicate that you are standing where the river once flowed.
Outside of hiking, Great Falls also offers a historic canal boat tour, camping, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, walking, hiking and fishing. No matter what you’re doing, keep an eye out for wildlife, which is abundant in the park. Great blue herons, beavers, deer, turtles, fish and more can be easily seen from the Canal and River Trails.
Plan your visit to Great Falls.