Just a half an hour outside of Washington D.C. is an epic set of rapids in the Potomac River falling over 80 feet in less than a mile dubbed as “The Niagara of the South.”
Great Falls National Park [9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102] was surprisingly quiet during my quick visit (considering its proximity to the capital), perhaps it isn’t exceedingly well known…or maybe it was just a week day slump. I certainly had never heard of it before thoroughly researching the area, but I am really glad I stopped by. It’s a smaller parcel owned by the National Park Service, there are still fifteen miles of hiking trails. However, you barely have to do a quarter of a mile to get to the main attraction of the park: three of the spectacular overlooks.
This was a good thing because we just had a few minutes to spare, a pit-stop for us before heading a few hours west to another national park site. All of the overlooks are extraordinarily beautiful, and each view gives a bit of a different angle into the Mather Gorge.
Wildlife is abundant in the park, stay for a while and you may spot an gallantly soaring osprey.
In the summer water levels were low, but here is six-foot tall Jeff for reference to how high they can get.
Flooding happens regularly and it is a reason why the area has such a diverse environment, a home to rare plant communities.
The area has quite the intriguing history. George Washington wanted to make the river navigable to the Ohio River Valley to connect the country, but there were physical obstacles, for example – the Great Falls. The Patowmack Company had to dredge areas of the riverbed, skirt the falls, and build locks to bypass the Great Falls which required engineering skills not readily found during the time period. A town called Matildaville sprouted up around the construction, and its founder was Revolutionary War hero “Light Horse” Harry Lee, father of none other than Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Sadly, the company went bankrupt and turned its assets over to a new canal company. Take a walk around the visitor’s center to learn more on this fascinating history. This park has an incredible package of awe inspiring nature and interesting history, perfect for a quick visit or an entire day of exploration!