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.
GREAT FALLS IN SUMMER 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. © Devan King / TNC

Places We Protect

Great Falls Park

Virginia

Only 15 miles from the nation’s capital, Great Falls Park hosts a half-million visitors annually for activities ranging from picnics to hiking.

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.

A 1957 Conservancy booklet - published with support from partners - helped galvanize the public, the media, government officials, and other organizations in calling for a park at Great Falls on the Potomac River.

The National Park Service protected the land in 1960 and Great Falls Park opened to the public in 1966. 

Why You Should Visit

The Potomac River and the unique geological features have shaped the land at Great Falls for millennia. Floods regularly occur along this stretch of the river, taking away soils and plants and depositing new silt and seeds to take their place. 

Most of the park's 800 acres are forested. Throughout the year, over 150 different species of birds can be seen at Great Falls Park. Native animals, such as whitetail deer, fox, box turtles, squirrels, coyotes, bats, and chipmunks also call this place home. A wide variety of plants, including several rare species, thrives in this environment.

Want to explore other parts of the Potomac River?  Plan a visit to Fraser Preserve or the Potomac Gorge - where you can navigate Bear Island's renowned Billy Goat Trail.

Plan Your Visit

Great Falls Park is part of the National Park System.  There is an entrance fee to enter the park.

Admission to Great Falls Park is for three consecutive days.  Entrance fees are due during all hours of operation, unless it is a posted Fee Free date. Refunds are only given in very limited circumstances.

  • $5.00 Individual Permit. Good for three consecutive days for individuals coming into the park on foot, horseback, or bicycle. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge. Is NOT valid for entrance into the C&O Canal National Historic Park.
  • $10.00 Vehicle Permit. Good for three consecutive days for one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized groups are not eligible for the vehicle permit. Is NOT valid for entrance into the C&O Canal National Historic Park.
  • $30.00 Annual Pass. Valid for twelve months from the date of purchase. Pass is valid at Great Falls Park and C &O Canal National Historic Park for Entrance Fee only. Admits the pass holder and occupants of a single, private non-commercial vehicle OR pass holder and three person (16 and older) where per person ENTRANCE FEES are charged. Not valid for camping, tours, special recreation permits, concessions, etc.
Potomac River at Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park
The Potomac River and the unique geological features have shaped the land at Great Falls for millennia. Floods regularly occur along this stretch of the river, taking away soils and plants and depositing new silt and seeds to take their place. This is a dynamic environment, home to rare plant communities and a variety of wildlife.

Great Falls Park A landscape of great ecological significance and stunning beauty.

Know Before You Go
  • The busiest times are on nice weekend afternoons. There is usually a line to enter the park on those days
  • Dogs and other pets are welcome, but must be on a six foot leash and under physical control at all times. Remember to clean up after your pet
  • Ranger programs are offered on most days. Check with the Visitor Center for details
  • Alcohol is not permitted in the park
  • Swimming and wading are not allowed in the park
  • Picnic tables and grills are available on a first come, first serve basis. No reservations are needed for picnics
  • There is an entrance fee to enter the park
  • The snack bar is open seasonally. There are no vending machines in the park
  • One wheelchair is available for loan on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Visitor Center. There is no cost to use the wheelchair
  • Rules and regulations for Great Falls Park can be found at the National Park Service website
Download an Audio Tour

Planning a visit to Great Falls Park? Before your trip, download our self-guided audio tour to your handheld device. It's like having a naturalist in your pocket!

  • Step 1: Download the Great Falls audio tour map (pdf). The numbers marked on the map correspond to the audio files in the tour. This map will help identify which audio tracks to play based on your location on the trail, so make sure to take a copy with you on your trip.


  • Step 2: Download and save the mp3 audio files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests! 
MEET YOUR GUIDE

Deborah Barber is Director of Land Management for The Nature Conservancy’s Maryland/D.C. chapter. She enjoys exploring nature both on her own and with others, especially her children, who often spot interesting things that adults miss. She enjoys cooking, traveling, gardening, and learning about geology.

Begin Your Journey

1. Welcome to Great Falls Park

2. Overlook 2

3. Ash Tree

4. Watermark

5. American Sycamore

6. Pawpaw

7. Trail Mark

8. Special Rock Formation

9. Potholes

10. Mather Gorge and Pioneer Species

11. Bridge

12. Boxelder Tree

13. Metagraywacke and Seneca Sandstone

14. Poison Ivy Vine on the Tree!

15. End of the Trail