Off-the-Rails Adventure

Whitewater Rafting near Washington, D.C.
  |  Gorp.com

Washington, DC's pastiche of instantly recognizable buildings and monuments make it the perfect city for an invigorating walking tour. However, this also brings the loud chatter of large tour parties and the inevitable lines they cause. If battling these Mall-bound hordes doesn't pique your interest, then you might want to consider a trip out to one of the area's lesser-known scenic spots. Tough whitewater is to be found at Great Falls National Park, a mere 40-minute trail ride from downtown D.C. by way of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal trailway. The series of rapids and cascades at Great Falls, rated up to Class III, are produced by the sudden narrowing of the Potomac River as it forces its way through a steep-walled gorge. Skilled kayakers put-in downstream and thread their way toward the thundering Great Falls. This is NOT recommended for inexperienced paddlers as currents and water levels are unpredictable. Outfitted whitewater tours lead the less intrepid along the Potomac in rafts manned by an expert guide. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many islands near Yellow Falls, and keep your eyes open for sightings of deer, hawks, otters, and even bald eagles. Alternatively, take to the trails on the Virginia and Maryland flanks for some good day hikes; a local favorite is the Billy Goat Trail, a moderately strenuous four-mile loop that winds over boulders and alongside the river.

Rail Info
(www.amtrak.com/holiday.html for full details)

ROUTE: Penn Station, New York to Union Station, Washington, D.C.
LINE: Acela Express
DURATION: 2 hours, 40 minutes
PRICE: $72 to $157 (higher fares apply on Friday or Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Acela Regional is a cheaper, yet slower, service)
SCENERY: Coastal views
ARRIVAL TRANSPORTATION: Catch the Orange Line Metro train from Union Station to Vienna for collection by outfitter.

Activity Info
OUTFITTER: Outdoor Excursions: 1-800-77-KAYAK; www.outdoorexcursions.com
WHAT TO BRING: River shoes, change of clothes, sunscreen, water
DURATION: 2 to 5 hours
PRICE: $38 to $47
DIFFICULTY RATING: Easy to advanced
WHEN TO GO: April to July


Having earned her B.A. in journalism, Sharael is the climbing guide for About.com and has been published in Working Woman magazine, Outside Online, and Wired News. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, where she enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, and rock climbing.

Published: 27 Nov 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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