Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park should be on your "must-see" list when you visit Fairfax County if you love the outdoors or enjoy a good scenic view. This park offers many great things to do such as hiking, horseback riding, fishing and more! This historic park is home to one of the nation's first canals, and many park goers also enjoy seeing the historic remains of the Patowmack Canal. The park’s most memorable treasures are the overlooks where you can get different views of the falls crashing over a series of jagged rocks. This National Park site, set in Fairfax County, is one of the most visited natural attractions by both locals and visitors alike.
Please check current conditions to stay up-to-date with the latest information.
Hours and Fees
Great Falls Park, overlooks, hiking trails, picnic areas and other outdoor areas, open: 7:00 a.m. to thirty (30) minutes after sunset, daily, and closed December 25. The main entrance to Great Falls Park is located at 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102 and park staff can be contacted by phone at (703) 285-2965.
Great Falls Park Vehicle Permit: $20.00
Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized groups are not eligible for the vehicle permit. Also valid for entrance into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Great Falls Park Motorcycle Permit: $15.00
Admits one single private motorcycle and its passengers. Individuals 15 years of age and younger are admitted free of charge. Also valid for entrance into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Great Falls Park Individual Permit: $10.00
Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, or equestrian. Individuals 15 years of age and younger are admitted free of charge. Also valid for entrance into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
8 Things To Do At Great Falls Park
1. Meet A Ranger
The best way to familiarize yourself with Great Falls Park is to connect with a Ranger and attend one of their ongoing programs. Ranger-led programs are offered throughout the year. For a current schedule, contact the park at 703-285-2965 or visit their Schedule of Events page. Ranger-led educational programs are a great way to explore the park for school groups, scout groups, and more. If you are interested in a ranger-led program for your group, please call the park for more information or visit their Groups page.
2. Take A Hike
Great Falls Park has fifteen miles of hiking trails, five of which are multi-use for horseback riding, hiking, and biking. Trail maps are available at both the entrance station and the Visitor Center. Hikers are encouraged to carry water throughout the year, especially in warmer months, when high temperatures and humidity make it more difficult to stay hydrated. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which includes hiking, biking, and boating routes throughout the Potomac watershed, runs through the park.
3. Go Fish
Fishing is permitted with either a Virginia or Maryland state fishing license for all fishermen over the age of 16. The park does not issue licenses, so get yours before you arrive. For in-depth information on the fishing regulations, you may contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which administers the Potomac River. Line fishing is allowed, but net fishing is prohibited. Fishermen may not enter the water at any time. Swimming and wading are prohibited in the Park. Please remove all trash, unused bait, fishing line, and hooks from your fishing site. Trash bags are available at the Visitor Center and park entrance station.
4. Horse Around
The park has about ten miles of multi-use trails open for riding. Trails open to horseback riding are the Old Carriage Road, Difficult Run, Mine Run, Matildaville, and Ridge Trails only. Please contact the park for up to date information on individual trail conditions before riding. Riding is not permitted on the Patowmack Canal Trail, Falls overlooks, and the River Trail. Trail rides are not offered by the park. Visitors who would like to ride must bring their own horses and keep in mind that weekend parking during good weather is extremely limited.
5. Fowl Shots
Don't forget your binoculars and bird guides! Depending on the season and the time of day, you have a chance of viewing some of the 163 species of birds that can be found here. Among them are waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and herons. Other species include songbirds, woodpeckers, vultures, and kingfishers. This large variety of birds makes Great Falls Park an excellent location for birding.
6. Climb Away
Climbing sites begin downstream of Overlook #2 and end near the emergency boat ramp at Sandy Landing. No climbing is permitted in the historic canal cut. Routes range in length from 25 to 75 feet. Difficulty ranges from 5.0 up to the highest rated climbs at 5.14. Most of the routes are in the 5.5 to 5.9 range. All climbing is top-rope and no anchors may be drilled into the rock. Bring enough anchor material to have two independent anchor systems and allow about thirty feet of material from the edge to your anchor and you will be set to move to almost every climbing area in the park. Contact the park for more information.
7. Take It All In
Perhaps the most frequent activity at the park is simply relaxing and viewing the majestic falls from one of the three available overlooks. All three Falls overlooks are within a ten minute walk from the Visitor Center. Overlooks 2 and 3 are wheelchair accessible. The River Trail offers the best opportunities to view the Potomac River. The trail is located downstream from Overlook 3 and is a moderate hike that is fairly busy during good weather. If you want to go against the stream, head upriver from the Visitor Center and hit the trails along the banks of the Potomac. Keep going and you find that they'll eventually meet up with trails in Riverbend Park.
8. Captain A Boat
Whitewater boating is the most common type of boating in the park, with the use of whitewater kayaks and canoes. The section of the Potomac River flowing through the park varies from Class II (moderately easy) to Class VI (extreme). Most boaters who come here are experienced and know that they boat at their own risk. The Potomac River has many challenging currents, standing waves, and hydraulics. Boaters should use a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and helmet while they are on the river. You really should know what you're doing when attempting to boat on this section of the Potomac. BE CAREFUL. Contact the park for more information or visit their kayaking page.