If you’re looking for a day-trip out of Washington DC with some beautiful natural scenery, then I’d recommend the Great Falls Park. Only 15 miles from the American capital you get to experience the rage of the Potomac River falls, hike scenic surrounding natural trails and also do a bit of rafting or kayaking.
The US National Park Service has the intro:
At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. The Patowmack Canal offers a glimpse into the early history of this country. Great Falls Park has many opportunities to explore history and nature, all in a beautiful 800-acre park only 15 miles from the Nation’s Capital.
We did the Potomac River Trail doing alone down the river, passing through Mather Gorge, a short hike of about an hour with long stops on the way.
Following are some photo captures of the falls just off the visitors center:
When you hike a little bit further, falls calm down a bit into a wide river…
Where people were Kayaking against the stream (yeah, against).
Hike continues into a dense forest…
Then rounds back through a picnic park…
We did the southern side, but you could also hike further north.
In case you’re in need of a map…
The park runs from 7am till dark and there’s suppose to be park entrance fees, though I didn’t come across anything of the sort when I visited, perhaps because it was a Sunday?
To get there from Washington DC (source) :
Take Constitution Ave. NW/US-50 to I-66 W/ US-50 W. You will cross Roosevelt Bridge. Continue until you reach the US-50 W/ Arlington Blvd/ GW Parkway exit. Turn onto George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP or GW Parkway), north. Follow the GWMP towards I-495. At the interchange with I-495, the GWMP will split, with the right lane going to I-495 north and the two left lanes going to I-495 South. Stay in one of the left two lanes and take the exit that says I-495 South. When you are on the ramp, stay in the right hand lane. This lane will turn into the exit ramp for Route 193, Georgetown Pike. follow the directions from 495.
Other links about Great Falls Park: