Places to Go - The Maryland Side of Great Falls (Potomac, MD)


A few weeks ago, we went with a friend and her children to catch the last of the autumn foliage at Great Falls (the Maryland side). As you may or may not know, Great Falls has two completely separate viewing areas, one on the Virginia side of the falls and one on the Maryland side. Apart from residing in different states, the two National Parks differ in several other aspects as well. On the Virginia side, the falls are a short walk from the parking lot. On the way, you'll pass a lovely visitor's center, with quite a few displays geared at children (my kids love to play in the kayak). Further, the Virginia side offers three separate viewing platforms, all very close to each other. Several grills and picnic tables reside near the platforms. The park charges an admission fee for entry (I'm not sure of the exact amount, but I know it is under $10 per car).

The Maryland side of the falls has a completely different vibe. After passing a small visitor's center focused on the history of the C&O canal (which is more geared at adults then children), the path from the parking lot leads to the C&O trail, where a short bridge takes you over the canal's locks. In the summer, the National Park service offers boat tours down the canal (beware the boat moves VERY slowly, making it best for older kids). After you walk for about 0.25 miles next to the C&O canal, a sidepath breaks off which leads to a viewing platform on the very small Olmstead Island. The path is lovely (and stroller-friendly, you go through a bedrock terrace, which supports rare and endangered plant species and over several bridges with views of smaller waterfalls, until you finally arrive at the Great Falls viewing platform. The platform contains a GIANT rock that kids LOVE to climb (my kids can literally spend an hour just playing on the rock). The MD side also charges an admission fee.

In summary, the VA side makes for a great short outing or group visit. The lawns and picnic tables make it a wonderful place to bring a frisbee and use the falls as a background attraction. Whereas, on the MD side the walk itself serves as the main attraction, which is beautiful, but somewhat long for very small kids. Both sides have small concessions stands, open mainly in the summer months. For more information and background on both sides of the falls, this article is very helpful.

Although the warmer months serve as great times to visit the falls, I also highly recommend visiting on a not-so-cold day in the fall or winter. I think the falls look even more majestic when set against a background of bare trees and grey branches. (See picture below). Plus, when the surrounding forests are stripped bare of summer's greenery, you really notice all the beautiful details of nature itself - like moss on a tree or a lone bird. Finally, in winter sometimes kids just need to get out and run and I can think of few more beautiful places to accomplish this feat.


And, of course, no description of Great Falls would be complete without a picture of the falls themselves, which really are mesmerizing to watch.


1 comment:

  1. Lovely photos! I love Great Falls. My husband and I went there on one of our first dates!



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