Virginia -vs- Maryland. I don’t really know how often one can stand on either side of a river and be in a different state, but that’s the story of Great Falls National Park and the Potomac River.

Great Falls National Park Maryland

On a recent outing we found our way to the Maryland side of Great Falls National Park. Let me back up a bit. The Potomac River runs over 350 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia, to Maryland flowing in to the Chesapeake Bay. Great Falls National Park borders the Potomac River in both Virginia and Maryland. As I said, I don’t know how often this happens, but it’s pretty cool to experience.

Virginia Maryland
We are sitting in Maryland. The far side of the river is the Virginia shore.

Several years ago we visited the Virginia side of Great Falls and thought it was beautiful, except for the copperhead snake we saw swimming in the river. Eeessh! I may never again swim in a river. Otherwise, Great Falls is stunning and while the falls are not tall, they are powerful. For history lovers, remnants of the historic C&O Canal system that ran parallel to the Potomac River, can be found on both sides of Great Falls National Park.

Virginia Maryland
Historic ruins of the C&O Canal system.

Curious to explore the Maryland side of Great Falls, we ventured out on a semi-cloudy chilly day in December. Much like the Virginia side, the Maryland side of Great Falls did not disappoint.

On the particular day we visited, the river was rushing like we’ve never before seen it. The area had several days of rain prior to our visit, so we were able to experience the awesome power of water!

The awesome power of water!

Along the section of the Potomac River at Great Falls, the C&O Canal Company built a series of locks in order to lower boats through the locks to safely navigate the river and falls. Once you’ve explored both sides of Great Falls, it’s easy to appreciate the engineering genius of the C&O Canal system.

A Story of its Own

Although it was closed at the time of our visit, due to Covid-19 mandates, the visitor’s center has a story of its own. What was once the lockkeeper’s house, slowly evolved in to a tavern and lodge. Visitors dating back to the late 1800’s found Great Falls an escape from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC. Today, DC is just a 30-minute drive away, (and makes for a great day trip) but you can imagine it was probably quite the trek in the late 1800’s.

The Visitors Center – Great Falls National Park, Maryland
Virginia -vs- Maryland

If I had to choose my preference when it comes to the Virginia -vs- Maryland debate, I’d have to vote for the Maryland. The viewing areas from which to watch the falls are perfectly located. Also, the C&O Canal towpath is easily accessible. It follows the Potomac in both directions for over 180 miles and it’s great for bicyclists and walkers. The river views are seriously dramatic on the Maryland side. In all fairness though, neither side disappoints.

Do you see us?
If You Go:
  • Virginia Address: 9200 Old Dominion Drive McLean, VA 22102
  • Maryland Address: 11710 MacArthur Blvd. Potomac, MD 20854
  • Open daily 7:00 a.m. – dusk
  • Entrance fee per vehicle is $20 for 7-day pass
  • Entering the river is prohibited
  • Ample parking
  • Restrooms available
  • Visitors Center (check Covid-19 updates)
  • Seasonal snack bar (check Covid-19 updates)
    • No alcohol permitted
  • Dogs on leash are permitted
  • Picnic tables available
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