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Great Falls - Two Parks on the Potomac River, One in Potomac, MD; One in McLean, VA


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4 hours ago, Ericandblueboy said:

I've never been.  Is it accessible from both Maryland and Virginia?  Which side is better?  What is there to do (with kids)?

I got engaged on the VA side.  Its more hiking and cool views of the falls (though some areas are quite precarious, depending on the age of your kids) than having a "stuff to do".  On the VA side its down the street from Great Falls center (though there isn't much there food wise).  I've never been to the MD side, so can't give you a comparison there.

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I haven't been to the park in Maryland.  In Virginia there are lots of hiking trails with spots to see the falls, some with platforms you can go out on, some trails are longer than others.  They also have picnic tables, and grassy spaces to chill.  You mainly are hiking unless you bring other things to do outdoors in open spaces.  It looks like the MD side also has the canal and potentially canal boat rides? 

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As stated by others, trails on both sides are plentiful.  Weekends on both sides are pretty busy especially in Summer months; lines in/out of the actual Great Falls Park off 193 and Old Dominion can be long at peak, weekend & holiday times. 

VA-Great Falls has decent parking, a visitor center and nice trails from easy to moderate difficulty.  Several overlooks and plenty of picnic tables/grilling areas if you want to eat there.  You are elevated for a lot of the hiking so you are looking down on the river from better vantage points.

MD-Great Falls - has the canal paths which are wider, flat and generally straighter. There are some locks to view (mostly dry now), and several old lock-tender homes.  There are  several pretty challenging paths for all ages, although some of the more popular trails run right next to the river and are not likely suitable for under 8 year-olds.  Climbing over rocks and narrow footing on some parts of the trails is typical. 

The biggest difference I see is at both parks you can access being closer and actually right up to the river on the MD side easier than the VA side. Living in VA makes this side easier to access and less of a planned trip - going across the bridge into MD takes more time/effort.

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On 7/25/2019 at 1:37 AM, Ferris Bueller said:

The biggest difference I see is at both parks you can access being closer and actually right up to the river on the MD side easier than the VA side. Living in VA makes this side easier to access and less of a planned trip - going across the bridge into MD takes more time/effort.

This is the big thing for me - there's a wooden bridge in Maryland where you walk out *on top of* the Potomac - not all the way, but enough so that you'll get a sense of the river running underneath you. 

The hardest segment of the Billy Goat Trail is surprisingly strenuous - for experienced hikers, it's not difficult, but the average person may end up quite fatigued, perhaps even exhausted - there's at least one part where you must shimmy up a rock on all fours (there's no choice - it's not particularly dangerous if you're careful, but do bring water). I believe someone perished there during the heat wave a week ago.

Virginia Website - Maryland Website

On a related note, I've walked from the American Legion Bridge to Teddy Roosevelt Island (there's a small parking area, just outside the beltway on the Virginia side that very few people know about, and you start out by going *under* the bridge!). It's a long, dirty, sweaty hike, and you need to make sure you have plenty of water, and that it hasn't rained recently, as you'll be crossing several creeks which flow into the Potomac. It's a nature trail, and not at all for raw beginners - you will not want to walk back.

I'd say that neither of these hikes I've described are appropriate for children, although there are a couple "easier" sections of the Billy Goat Trail. 

There's a nice, unknown park called Scott's Run Nature Preserve, right on Route 193 in Virginia, just outside the beltway. It has a free parking area, and you can take a quick hike down to the Potomac River from the parking lot - this is all free-of-charge.

I'm not sure if Claude Moore Colonial Farm has closed yet (it's supposed to), but that's *perfect* for children, say, age 7-and-up. I've been several times, and have been delighted each time. It has volunteer "actors" who stay in-character as a working family on an 18th-century farm - it's best to just go along with it, and not try to get them out of character (bring a tip for them - $5 should be okay, but remember, they aren't being paid as far as I know).

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Agree with your assessment - sadly Claude Moore closed in December 2018 - a true loss for those who were able to get there and for those who never had the opportunity.

The biggest challenge with Scott's Run is the parking.  Unless you go during the week the place is packed on weekends, and the overflow parking sux.  Great park, easy access to the river and multiple cool trails to get you there.

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I think the Billy Goat Trail and the huge parking lot are the big benefits of the Maryland side.  I wouldn't write off the Billy Goat Trail Section A (the most rigorous part, the the part closest to the parking by the visitor's center) for kids...I think it's really kid dependent.  I took my son on it when he was 7 and he did great.  And there's an exit back to the towpath right before the most difficult climb if it looks too daunting.

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On a related note, the first (and only) time I've ever rappelled was at Carderock Recreation Area (I was 17 at the time). This isn't part of Great Falls, but it's in the vicinity.

There's nothing quite like taking that first "leap of faith," and leaning backwards off a cliff with absolutely nothing beneath you.

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