Great Falls (Potomac River)
View of the Great Falls from Virginia
|Total height||76 ft|
The Great Falls of the Potomac River are located at the fall line of the Potomac River, 14 miles (23 km) upstream from Washington, D.C. Great Falls Park, operated by the National Park Service, is located on the southern banks in Virginia, while Chesapeake and Ohio Canal parkland is located along the northern banks of the river in Maryland. The Potomac and the falls themselves are within Maryland.
The Billy Goat Trail on Bear Island, accessible from Maryland, offers scenic views of the Great Falls, as do vantage points on Olmsted Island (also accessible from Maryland) and overlook points on the Virginia side. The Great Falls area is popular for outdoor activities such as kayaking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and hiking.
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Roughly 35,000 years ago, the Potomac River began carving out the Great Falls of the Potomac. The river cascades over a series of 20-foot (6.1 m) falls, falling a total of 76 feet (23 m) in elevation over a distance of less than 1 mile (1.6 km), making the Great Falls the steepest fall line rapids of any river in the eastern United States.
The Potomac narrows significantly as it passes over the falls and through Mather Gorge. Heavy rain or snow in the watershed upstream causes white-water floods which entirely submerge the rocks and even threaten the adjacent park visitor center (built on stilts for this reason). A pillar at the Virginia overlook, well above the river, marks the level of the 1936 Potomac Flood.
See also 
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- Great Falls Visitor Center official site
- Great Falls Park official site
- Satellite imagery of Great Falls on Google Maps