Family Weekender: Washington, D.C.

Great Falls Park
By Mary Burnham
Go Guide: Great Falls Park

Who can go: Age 11 and up for rock climbing; all ages for other activities.
Activities: Rock climbing, hiking, biking, exploring old canals and a ghost town.
Distance from D.C.: 30 minutes.
Getting there: Take exit 13 from the beltway (I-495) in McLean. Turn left on Georgetown Pike, go four miles, turn right on Old Dominion Drive to enter the park.
Contact: For general information, call Great Falls Park at (703) 285-2966, or visit For climbing and other information, call the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club at (703) 242-0693, or visit Adventure Schools Rock Climbing at Potomac Outdoors, Ltd. gives private and group instruction in Great Falls; contact them at (800) 392-5462, or visit
Reference: Climber's Guide to the Great Falls of the Potomac by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, (703) 242-0693.
Extra treats: End the day with a performance at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, (703) 255-1860. Their Theater in the Woods is for young audiences.


Imagine hanging from a rock face hundreds of feet above the frothing waters at the fall line of the Potomac River. You can do it at Great Falls Park.

Get a taste of the D.C. region's premier rock-climbing area on a guided trip into the park. The trips are surprisingly beginner-friendly, and while climbing is not for the very young, those ages 11 and up are welcome. With the proper equipment and supervision, almost anyone can climb the 77-foot cliffs that rise from America's River as it races through Mather Gorge. It makes for some of the best climbing east of the Mississippi.

Children under 11 will still enjoy viewing the falls, watching the climbers, hiking, biking, and exploring the historic canal and the"ghost town" of Matildaville. Built in 1790 by Lighthorse Harry Lee, Matildaville was established to support the canal that once bypassed the falls. Preservationists have saved ruins of several homes and a mill.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »