The Great Falls of the Potomac River

The Great Falls of the Potomac River are located 14 miles upstream of Washington, D.C.  with splendid views from the banks on both sides of the river, Virginia on the southwest bank and Maryland on the northeast bank.  Maryland controls the river. The National Park Service controls the shorelines. We visited Great Falls Park in Virginia, which provides three excellent overlooks for viewing the falls.

Great Falls of the Potomac River

In less than one mile, the river drops 76 feet in elevation over a series of 20 foot falls.  Above the falls, the river is almost 1000 feet wide; below the falls, in Mather Gorge, the river varies from 60 to 100 feet wide.

One of the waterfalls

In the opinion of the Park Service, “If You Enter the River, You Will Die.” Swimming, wading, and rock hopping are strictly prohibited.


However, Great Falls is a prime location for whitewater kayaking, with advanced waterfalls and rapids. Kayakers who want to run Great Falls must sign a release form with the State of Maryland.

Kayaking Great Falls
Kayaking Great Falls

For more information, visit for Great Falls Park (in Virginia) and for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (in Maryland).