This adventure-seeker’s destination is an 800-acre wonder

Located along the banks of the Potomac River in McLean, Virginia, Great Falls Park has recreational offerings as varied as the terrain

Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia

Photo by Gary Brooks

An important gathering place for more than 10,000 years, Great Falls Park is an 800-acre wonder along the banks of the Potomac River in McLean, Virginia. Once a homeland for Algonquin, Iroquois, and Siouan peoples, the land became a trading post between native tribes and European settlers. In the early 19th century, it was the site of one of America’s first commercial waterways, the Patowmack Canal, a project presided over by George Washington (you can still see its rock walls and ruins at the park). Today, this adventure-seeker’s destination is a National Park Service site with recreational offerings as varied as the terrain. Known for fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking, it’s also a popular spot for birdwatchers, bikers, and hikers—after all the C&O Canal Towpath and Potomac Heritage Scenic Trail run right through it. Ranger-led programs are available much of the year, and National Park Week in late April is a great time to explore and learn more. But many visitors come simply to relax, enjoy a picnic, and experience the marvel of the falls with their cascading rapids rushing over ancient, jagged rocks.

This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Southbound.