Currently Wandering » Outdoor Family, Adventure Travel, Simple Living - Family of 5 Traveling the United States in an Airstream.

Great Falls National Park – Virginia

We almost didn’t go. It was one of those lazy moments where staying inside was easier than leaving, but I’m so glad we went. It was another testament to our theory that all it takes to have a great adventure day is to muster up the energy to leave your house.

When we visited: Sept 2013

Ages of kids: 8, 5, 3

Don’t forget to bring: pens for the Junior Ranger Book, picnic lunch, good walking shoes

Located only 15 miles from Washington DC, Great Falls NP is full of beauty and history. Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington set about to make the Potomac River navigable from the East-Coast and transatlantic trade to the headwaters of the Ohio River. In order to do so, cargo ships needed to bypass Great Falls where the river drops over 80 feet in less than a mile. Indentured servants, hired hands, and slaves rented from local farmers spent 17 years constructing the series of canal locks that would allow the cargo ships passage around the jagged rocks.
Ruins of Canal Locks at Great Falls National ParkAt the park today, there are 3 viewing platforms a short walk from the visitors center where you can see the majestic falls. There are picnic areas, exhibits, and nature trails to explore the ruins of both Matildaville (the town that grew up to support the Potowmac Canal company who was building the locks), and the locks themselves.

Great Falls National ParkWhen we arrived, we picked up our Junior Ranger Books at the Visitor Center Front desk and were off! One of my favorite things about the Junior Ranger program is the direction it gives to your visit. You are not aimlessly wandering around, but have a purpose and even as an adult, I learn so much while helping my kids with their activities. This Junior Ranger booklet is perfect. It is designed to be completed in about an hour, is very laid out in order if you follow their map, and was not too difficult even for my 5 year old. Just be careful. The map inside the Jr. Ranger book is not quite to scale and we ended up hiking an extra mile or so along a path until we realized we had to backtrack. Luckily it was beautiful, so it wasn’t all bad. We were just hungry as this was pre-lunch. Make sure to grab a “real” map from the Visitor Center as well. 🙂

Mather Gorge Great Falls National ParkWe had packed in a picnic lunch and enjoyed a break from our booklet while we ate on one of the many picnic tables provided. The time of year was also perfect. Fall had just started to come to Virginia, the leaves were turning, the air was crisp, and our day couldn’t have been more perfect. We spent about 2.5 hours at the park from 10:30am until about 1pm.

Definitely a must visit if you are in the area. What about you? What is the last National Park you visited?


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