Being originally from Prince Georges County, Maryland, it surprised me that I never visited the destination of Great Falls, which is only a 40-minute drive from my hometown! The area is gorgeous, and I stumbled upon Great Falls after seeing a few riveting images from the Visit Maryland Instagram account, which inspired me to plan a day trip there. In searching for adventurous things to do “in my own backyard” during the pandemic, it struck me just how much my home state had to offer!
The Great Falls, Maryland attraction happens to be a portion of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath: a place used by passing ships in the mid-1800s. The Potomac River runs through this scenic area and is now open for tourists to experience a mixture of walking, hiking, biking, and running trails that weave through woodlands and paved places. This old “water highway” built by the C&O Canal Company connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, and the Great Falls portion of the highway happened to be one of the most challenging for vessels passing through. Over 500 freight boats would use this canal to carry tons of coal from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown. You can still see the old flood gates that contributed to the demise of the canal system. Also, history buffs can view some of the old freight boats on display while exploring along the walking path.
The 41-feet of vertical river drop may have caused issues for marine passage, but it lends to out of this world views for us modern visitors! I walked a part of the paved pathway that leads to the Billy Goat Trail, and although I was preparing myself for an arduous hike in order to see an impressive overlook, there was no hiking necessary! My photographer and I simply walked a few minutes to a rocky outcrop where you could see thousands of feet of vertical and horizontal views once we approached the end of the trail!
There is a viewing area where you traverse a bridge to see where the Great Falls riverbed narrows from ¾ mile to 200 feet, causing violent (but amazingly beautiful!) rushing waters. There is a large warning sign about the dangers of the Potomac River at this juncture (I’ve fallen out while whitewater rafting and its terrifying so it gave me a few chills! LOL). Just know that life vests and raising your arm for help may not get you out of a potentially life-threatening situation if you fall in. I recommend practicing caution when getting your shots for the ‘Gram and enjoying your hike or walk around this area safely. I hope you enjoy the views from the cliffs as much as I did!