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"Great Falls" C &O Canal / Potomac River Tip by Tom_Fields

  Great Falls, seen from Overlook Three
by Tom_Fields
  • Great Falls, seen from Overlook Three - Washington D.C.
      Great Falls, seen from Overlook Three
    by Tom_Fields
  • Mather Gorge - Washington D.C.
      Mather Gorge
    by Tom_Fields
  • An intrepid rock climber at Mather Gorge - Washington D.C.
      An intrepid rock climber at Mather Gorge
    by Tom_Fields
  • The old Patowmack Canal - Washington D.C.
      The old Patowmack Canal
    by Tom_Fields
  • The dam above the Falls - Washington D.C.
      The dam above the Falls
    by Tom_Fields

The Potomac River winds its way through a scenic valley to Washington, and then into the Atlantic. Perhaps the most beautiful spot along this river is at Great Falls National Park. The park has two sides, one in Maryland and the other in Virginia.

I visited the Virginia side. It's spectacular, with three overlooks providing views of the falls. In addition, the Mather Gorge narrows the river into a deep, rapid-flowing stream.

In addition to the Potomac, one can view the remains of the old Patowmack Canal. This was part of the network of canals that ran along the Potomac from Georgetown up to Cumberland. Here, boats could circumvent the dangerous waterfalls. Of course, the railroads made them obsolete.

This is a favorite place for hikers, boaters, rock-climbers, and others. It has picnic grounds, a nice visitors center, and informative plaques. Pay heed to the warning signs; many have been killed and injured here for their failure to do so. Above all, respect the wild river that runs through here. It can be treacherous and totally unforgiving.

To get here, follow the 495 Beltway to the Georgetown Pike (Route 193), then head northwest following the signs. The park is on the right. From Alexandria, Arlington, or Crystal City, simply follow the George Washington Parkway to the 495 loop, then turn south and turn right onto 193.

othercontact: (703) 289-2513 for permits
Phone: (703) 285-2965

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  • Written Apr 21, 2007
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