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Hear Mother Nature roar at Great Falls, Virginia
By Tom Adkinson
April 2, 2021

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

great falls of the potomac
Great Falls of the Potomac. Image by Tom Adkinson.

McLEAN, Virginia – To see real power on a trip to Washington, D.C., forget the Capitol and the White House. Instead, go 15 miles up the Potomac River to Great Falls Park, where you quite literally feel the roaring power of Mother Nature. The Potomac morphs from a 1,000-foot-wide river into a torrent only 60 to 80 feet across in places. It drops 76 feet in barely a mile. Water blasts through Mather Gorge across jagged rocks that create towering individual waterfalls.

The National Park Service, which administers Great Falls Park as part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, describes the cataract as “the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.”

Great Falls kayakers
Great Falls kayakers. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Before George Washington became U.S. president, he was president of a company that sought to conquer this torrent. His Patowmack Company wanted to use the river for commerce, which included building locks around Great Falls. Locks were built, but Washington never saw them completed, and the company ultimately failed. Today, you can hike trails in the 800-acre park, view evidence of canal construction, watch for herons and eagles and see where true power exists.

Trip Planning Resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

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