Great Falls Overlook Trail

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland 20770

Elevation Gain121ft
Trailhead Elevation140ft
Elevation Min/Max117/142ft
Elevation Start/End140/140ft

Great Falls Overlook Trail

Great Falls Overlook Trail is a hiking trail in Potomac, Maryland. It is within Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. It is 0.3 miles long and begins at 140 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 0.5 miles with a total elevation gain of 121 feet. The trail ends near the Great Falls Overlook viewpoint. There is also a bare rock near the end of the trail. This trail connects with the following: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail.

Great Falls Overlook Trail Professional Reviews and Guides

"Great Falls National Park is a natural haven for thousands of Washingtonians seeking solitude from the daily grind of gridlock and government. Trails about throughout this park on the river offering cyclists, hikers, and equestrians alike terrain as rugged on land as it is in the water.

Some portions of the park's trails are wide, dirt carriage roads dating back through history and meandering through the scenery, while others are steep, rocky, and narrow, keeping even agile cyclists on the tips of their seat. Come one and all to this park of presidents, dignitaries, and commoners and enjoy what folks throughout time have been enjoying along the rapids of the Potomac."

"Great Falls National Park is a natural haven for thousands of Washingtonians seeking solitude from the daily grind of gridlock and government. Trails abound throughout this park on the river, offering cyclists, hikers, and equestrians alike rugged terrain.

Some portions of the park’s trails are wide, dirt carriage roads dating back through history and meandering through the scenery, while others are steep, rocky, and narrow, keeping even agile cyclists on the tips of their seats. Come one and all to this park of presidents, dignitaries, and commoners and enjoy what folks throughout time have been enjoying along the rapids of the Potomac."

"Have you ever seen the Great Falls of the Potomac? The crashing whitewater wonder is truly a natural highlight of the Old Dominion. The area’s history is nearly as impressive.

George Washington himself commissioned a system of canals and locks to allow barge traffic to navigate around this extensive whitewater froth that crashes through Mather Gorge. On your hike visit the falls, locks, canals, and even the ghost town of Matildaville, built for the men tending the lock and canal system and their families."

"Land and history are interwoven throughout Great Falls Park—the spot where George Washington championed a canal to skirt the Potomac River’s 77-foot “great falls.” This may be metropolitan DC, but beyond the crowds, you can find small reminders of a time when our nation’s capital was a tidal backwater and our country’s survival wasn’t assured.

Stones in a restored canal wall bear inscriptions unique to the masons who built it. Ruins of old chimneys and homes in Matildaville mark the boomtown that lived and died on hopes that the Patowmack Canal would succeed. For a time it did succeed, ferrying farm goods from western lands to eastern seaports. Then it went bankrupt, leaving us with canal ruins, inspired views over Mather Gorge, wildflowers that bloom spring through fall, and a moment of solitude."

"This magnificent Potomac River setting in Fairfax County guarantees great falls, great vistas, and a great time. Hikers enjoy a wide array of trails, from extremely challenging to easy and relaxing.

This hike is a figure eight that starts at the falls and travels along the gorge, onto the floodplain, by the historic canal, and close to an aqueduct dam. You’re treated to an assortment of scenery, impressive vistas, and about 2,000 feet of elevation change. No bikes are allowed on this trail. The park’s fee is $10 per car or $5 per person."

"For generations, Great Falls was simply an obstacle to the flow of goods from western farms to eastern seaports. To walk along cliffs that line the river and delve into the Piedmont forest and study the ruins of the Patowmack Canal-predecessor to both the C&O Canal and New York's Erie Canal-is to capture a bit of the essence of a place both naturally and historically significant."

"Just north of Washington, D.C., the Great Falls cascade over rocks in the Potomac River. This hike, on the Virginia side, winds along the cliffs over the river and then past remnants of the Patowmack Canal.

Stop first at the visitor center, which has information on the falls, hiking trail maps, and a short video on the history of the town and canal that were once here. Great Falls is created where the Potomac River meets a series of rocks and Mather Gorge, named for the first director of the National Park Service. This spectacular sight is popular year-round. The three overlooks just off the picnic area are easy to get to—the third one offers the best views and is the most accessible."

"At Great Falls the Potomac River, a big, powerful river that carries a lot of water, has the steepest drop through the "Fall Line" of any eastern river."

"This ride's general location is 14 miles Northwest of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River in suburban Fairfax County, Virginia. Scenery includes spectacular views as the Potomac builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and crashes through Mather Gorge. It's called Great Falls-and it's one of the most impressive sights this side of the Rockies.

A 5.5-mile loop on mostly dirt double-track trails offers a good aerobic workout for beginner and intermediate riders. Some of the climbs are steep and there are short sections of rocky single-track and sand. Part of the loop also follows short sections of paved road. On the ride you'll enjoy many views of Great Falls, steep rock formations, and the fast-moving rapids in the river. The trail is lined with tall oak and maple trees."

"About 15 miles northwest of Washington, DC, is a series of picturesque falls and rapids. At Great Falls the Potomac River roars through a rocky cataract, dropping more than 50 feet to a narrow gorge. Pack our picnic cooler and wear your hiking shoes and comfortable clothing for this trip to the C&O Canal. Get ready for a nature-loving departure from sophisticated shopping and stately mansions. Enjoy your favorite form of getting next to nature: walking, biking, hiking, or camping. Beginning at the Maryland side of the Potomac River in Georgetown, the canal extends for 184 miles to Cumberland, Maryland.

Along the way it passes many sites of natural beauty and historical value. Locks and lockhouses, dams, aqueducts, mule barns, and remnants of once-thriving communities remind us of almost a century of active canal traffic. This eTrail from the DayTrips series describes many fascinating, exciting, (and many free of charge) things to do, most within a two-hour drive of Baltimore. Each Day Trip includes destination highlights, places to visit along the way, choice restaurants and lodging, and shopping."

Great Falls Overlook Trail Reviews

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This isn't a very difficult trail at all but it is pretty and has a waterfall. You can see the Potomac river and there's some rock scrambling for a more interesting hike. The big downside is it can crowded in the summer but if you like hiking with people around than it's a definitely one you should try out.
A good workout. Nice scenery. All in all a good ride but not very technical.
nice and easy walk... lots of tourists...but the falls are worth seeing, they are beautiful
Great park with easy access from the DC metro area. Went on a nice fall afternoon and enjoyed a great walk along the river trail and a little meandering off the trail on the rocks. This park is great if your just looking to get out for an afternoon and you don't have time to drive all the way out to Shenandoah. Only draw back is the crowds, but the farther you get away from the main visitors center, the thinner the crowds get. If you're willing to walk a little off trail you can easily get away.
On this bright and sunny Saturday we headed for the northern end of the Billy Goat Trail between Lock 17 and 16 in Great Falls National Park (Maryland). I had hiked this trail before and found it a great way to do something a bit out of the ordinary. I must admit that at age 61, most of the hikers were younger than my children and many could have been my grandchildren. The sun beat on the rocks or boulders and the heat from the boulders made this hike a sweating experience. Negotiating the boulders and rocks is a delicate balance between walking, jumping and balancing. In a few of the places I just sat down and scrambled between the rocks versus jumping from one to another. About half way of the 1.7 mile trail is a 30 to 40 foot rock face. It''s an easy climb if you take your time. We waited until several hikers came down before we started up. It''s just great to see how polite some people can be while they watch you climb. Once you reach the top of this rock face there is a ball-out trail that takes you back to the Tow Path. I continued on as I wanted to complete this portion of the trail. There are two other sections (B & C) of the Billy Goat Trail further south, but we decided to leave them for another day. I can''t imagine hiking this trail with water, but many of those I saw didn''t have water with them. Many of the hikers wore what I call "street" walking shoes and some even worn sandals. We took our time, rested a few times and left the southern end of the trail just south of Mile 13. It was a nice and flat walk back to the Visitor Center and our Jeep. I must admit that the 4+ miles we covered was challenging but extremely rewarding. In a few weeks we are heading for the Maryland Heights Trail in Harpers Ferry for a great climb that overlooks the Potamac.
What is generally referred to as "Great Falls" is actually two separate federal parks on opposite sides of the Potomac River. Great Falls Park (on the Virginia side) has fairly easy trails that run in loops following the Potomac, returning to the parking lots and picnic areas. A trail from Riverbend Park also connects to these trails. The longest trail follows the river (along cliffs that are roughly 60ft. high) and is mostly flat with a few roots and rocks. There are several boulders and large rock formations which are great for bouldering. A few climbs will get you out past the trees and out to the cliff edge for some excellent views of the gorge and the folks scampering over the rocks on the Billy Goat Trail across the river (more on that trail later). The trail hits a jeep trail at its southern end which goes down to a boat launch. Not enough fun? Save your receipt so you can get into the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Natl. Historic Park across the river in Maryland. It features several relatively easy (if unremarkable) loop trails that connect with the C&O Towpath (a broad gravel trail that hugs the canal). These trails range from 0.3 to 4.2 miles. But the best (and most strenuous) hike is the Billy Goat Trail. It runs for 2 miles along the cliffs of the gorge, beginning near the canal stoplock and ends downstream on the towpath. This trail's name is well deserved as it requires a LOT of scrambling - it actually goes *over* rock formations rather than around them in a number of spots. The views are spectacular, with lots of opportunites for bouldering, though there's not much to stop you from falling 60ft or so into the fast-flowing Potomac. Pick your routes with care. This trail is very popular on weekends, and tends to attract a lot of slow-moving tennis-shoe hikers from the towpath, even though the trailhead signs warn of the trail's difficulty and strongly recommend sturdier footwear. Be prepared to get stuck behind slower moving hikers on busy days as a few sections have bottlenecks.

Great Falls Overlook Trail Photos

Trail Information

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Nearby City
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Dog-friendly, Kid-friendly, Stroller/Wheelchair Accessible
Boating, Biking
Additional Use
Views, Waterfalls
Local Contacts
National Park Service,
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Jul 2018