Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great Falls on the Potomac

Because I did my weekly long mileage workout Friday evening with my teammate Lelia, it left Saturday free for Mary and I to head to Northern Virginia to go to LL Beans, and then spend a beautiful afternoon at Great Falls Park. This spectacular setting feels like one is far out in the country, but is just 12 miles from downtown Washington DC and minutes from the suburban sprawl that characterizes the metro area. Our hike started along the calm area above the falls, continued downriver past the spectactular waterfalls and through the Mather Gorge, and then returned along a path by the ruined Potowmack Canal and an abandoned villiage, Matildaville. A picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are some pictures and many less words than that to describe the day.
Above the falls, the river is placid and wide.
Other than the fact that some idiot threw a beer bottle into the cavity, this would be a perfect place to hole up in a storm. Why is it that someone can carry a full beer bottle but not his or her empty?
Redbud is so pretty this time of year.
The path here is easy and broad, and reminded me a bit of the Buttermilk Spring Trail in Richmond.
Great Falls would have put an absolute stop to any navigation on the river.
Downstream from the falls, the river curves and narrows as it heads toward a deep gorge.
Massive floods can occur here. This post, the bottom of which is about 75 feet above the normal river level, shows the high water mark of several spectacular ones.
Steven Mather Gorge is named after the founder and first director of the National Park Service. But if you saw Ken Burns series last year, you already knew that.
This obviously skilled kayaker made this look easy and loads of fun as he hung around into the swift current of Mather Gorge.
The hike back passed big clumps of skunk cabbage, bringing back memories of spring hikes in Pennsylvania with my sisters, brothers, and dad when I was a wee lad.
The Patowmack Canal was built to allow navigation around the falls for commercial purposes. George Washington was its first president, and it took about 18 years to complete. It was not finished until three years after his death, and went out of business a couple of decades later. Five different locks raised and lowered boats 77 feet to get them past the Great Falls. This small section shows some of the skilled masonry work.


  1. What a wonderful place to walk. I'm near enough to go here and I will sometime soon. I'm going to check out how close it is to me in just a minute.

  2. Thanks for the tour. I have only been there once and being the only nature boy in the car, it was all too brief.

  3. Hi Karen - there is a similar park on the Maryland side as well. We saw many people out walking on the rocks on that side.

    Hi Les. I understand the sentiment. Quite often I am the only nature boy in a group as well.