Monday, October 20, 2008

Things to do in DC: Great Falls National Park

I've lived here in the Washington, DC area my entire life (except for those 7 years I spent at college and law school but those don't really count because I wasn't there ALL the time, right?), but there are still a lot of things I haven't done around here or just haven't done in a long time.

One thing I have never done is visit Great Falls Park. From their website:
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.
When I got back from Italy, I wouldn't say I was jet-lagged, but I was on Italy-time so I woke up at 7 in the morning Saturday and Sunday mornings. Admission to the park is $5 per car (which seems a bit steep to me), so I took advantage of my ticket by going both mornings. The park has 3 viewing areas for the falls, each affording a different perspective, and several miles of hiking and walking trails.

Now, I'm not a hiker. All you have to do is look at me to know that I am not a big hiker. But after tromping around Europe for three weeks, I figured I could handle some of the trails. Turns out, I was actually right! I looked at the map, but honestly, where the trails started was kind of difficult to figure out so I just decided to follow my nose. Of course, the trail I picked I later found out was probably the most difficult, but it wasn't all that hard. In the words of the park's map, the River Trail requires "some scrabbling over rocks." Which is actually pretty accurate. I wouldn't say the trail was flat, but it was only kinda hilly. And there were quite a few places where I had to pick my way over various rocks, but it was actually fun. It made me feel like a pioneer, roughing her way through the wilderness.

On the way back that first morning, and on the second morning, I took the way easier trail that follows the old canals that were built along the Potomac. When I took the trail on Sunday morning, I walked north to the Aqueduct Dam that was built in 1855 by the Army Corp of Engineers to provide water to the District. It provides the border between Great Falls Park and Riverbend Park.

I was surprised by the amount of history in the park. I thought it was just some trails that ran alongside the falls, but the canal trail (as well as the Riverwalk Trail) was full of signposts providing history about the canals that were built at George Washington's insistence after the Revolutionary War. Washington hoped to make the Potomac navigable all the way to the Ohio River Valley to increase trade and transportation times. The remains and explanations for the functioning of the canals is actually pretty interesting, especially since I had no idea they even existed!

So, in conclusion, Great Falls Park is definitely worth visiting, but in the future, I will probably try to get some friends together to "hike" (or really, walk over some uneven ground) to help with the $5 charge, which is a bit steep. This would also be a great picnic and cook-out spot!

Check out some pics:

The Falls (from viewing area #2)

Aqueduct Dam

Heading into Mather Gorge (just south of the Falls).

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