Difficult Run

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This article is about the stream and trail. For the diamond marker denoting a level of skiing difficulty on a ski run, see Skiing.
Difficult Run
Difficult Run VA USA.JPG
The Difficult Run/Cross County Trail crossing the stream
River mouth Potomac River
Size 57.7 sq mi (149 km2)
Country United States
Cities Northern Virginia
  • Average rate:

Difficult Run is a 15.9-mile-long (25.6 km)[1] tributary stream of the Potomac River in northern Virginia in the United States.[2] The stream is named not for the nature of the stream's rapids themselves; rather, long-boatmen in the time of the Patowmack Company found the two sharp bends of the Potomac near Difficult Run's mouth treacherous.

Difficult Run flows through Fairfax County to Great Falls Park, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The portion of the run through the park has been characterized as "a miniature Mather Gorge and Great Falls."[3] In the Great Falls area the run is relatively flat and wide at the top of the trail with calm waters, like the Potomac River above Great Falls. The stream picks up speed as it narrows into a steep gorge with waterfalls and quickly reaches the same level as the Potomac. At the mouth of Difficult Run, one can see a panoramic view of the Potomac River.


The Difficult Run watershed is the largest in Fairfax County at 37,179 acres (150.46 km2).[4] The following subwatersheds make up the Difficult Run Watershed:

  • Captain Hickory Run
  • Piney Run
  • Colvin Run
  • Snakeden Branch
  • Little Difficult Run
  • Rocky Run
  • Angelico Branch
  • Piney Branch
  • Wolftrap Creek
  • Rocky Branch
  • Lower Difficult Run
  • Sharpers Run
  • Middle Difficult Run
  • Upper Difficult Run
  • South Fork Run
  • The Glade
  • Old Courthouse Spring Branch
  • Dog Run[5]

Parks and trails[edit]

Using community planning, a secluded 12-mile (19 km) hiking and biking trail was built along Difficult Run from Reston to Great Falls Park. The trail is well-known among area mountain biking enthusiasts for its rolling terrain which makes for fast, smooth rides although there are portions requiring technical skills. The portion of the trail that sees the most mountain biking activity starts near the end of Michael Faraday Court, behind SkateQuest-Reston ice skating rink and follows the tributary stream valley to Lake Fairfax. From Lake Fairfax the trail crosses over Hunter Mill Road and follows Difficult Run itself all the way to Great Falls Park. Great Falls Park is a unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and is administered by the National Park Service. In addition, almost the entire length of Difficult Run is paralleled by the Cross County Trail,[6] which is maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority for continuous coverage along the run.[7]

See also[edit]


Coordinates: 38°58′34″N 77°14′06″W / 38.97611°N 77.23500°W / 38.97611; -77.23500