Great Falls National Park Guide

Known for its rich history, bountiful gardens, freshwater springs, and splendid mountain views, Great Falls National Park is one of its natural hidden gems. 

So many people visit the park each year, and in fact, the surge of people increased during pre-pandemic.

And according to Paterson Times, Great Falls National Park in the year 2020 saw 339,768 visitors, a 22% hike from the previous year.

So if this year you are planning to give this gorgeous park a visit, then this guide is for you!

In this article, we’ll cover some best things to do in Great Falls National Park, the best palces to visit, where to stay, etc. among many other things. So let’s get started.



ParkGreat Falls National Park
Things to doMuseum visit, Waterfall visit and many more
Hotels near Great Falls National ParkHyatt Regency Tyson Corner Centre, Embassy Suites Vienna and many more
Entry Fee$10-$20
Validity7 Days
Camping LocationsMultiple Locations

where Is Great Falls National Park?

Great Falls National Park is situated in Virginia, United States. It spans over 800 acres of land and lies along the rim of the Potomac River, which is in northern Fairfax County, to be precise.

You can reach the park from Washington by taking a taxi or by driving for 40 minutes.

And if you prefer to hike to the park, then you can take a two-mile hike from Riverbend Park to access the first overlook of the Great Falls National Park out of the three outlooks. 

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The Park is one of Virginia’s most popular tourist destinations, United States.

Located along the banks of the Potomac River in Northern Fairfax County, the park is famous for its rich history, natural beauty, and culture.

The 800-acre park is home to magnificent Great Falls, one of the most popular natural destinations in the country visited by locals and tourists worldwide.

Several museums in the park to brush up on your historical knowledge and learn more about local culture. 

The Park provides excellent opportunities to explore history and nature through various outdoor adventures and host ranger-led events.

It’s a popular spot for whitewater kayaking, canoeing, and rock climbing, so don’t forget to bring your gear. 

All You Need to Know Video!


Great Falls and its surrounding area served as a central trading place for many indigenous tribes from 8000 BC-1700.

During the last Ice Age, the Great Falls were created when the sea level dropped, causing the Potomac to cut down. 

In 1784, George Washington proposed the construction of the “Patowmack Canal” at Great falls to facilitate boat traffic.

In 1833, a considerable part of Great Falls Park was acquired by Albert Fairfax, which he sold to Hall Neilson, William A. Bradley, and Thomas. C. Jonas, who established a Great Falls Manufacturing Company. 

In 1957, many government officials, organizations, media, and the local public called for a need to create a park on Great Falls and Potomac River to preserve the area’s natural beauty and rich history.

In 1960, the National Park Service list protected and maintained the land and established the Great Falls National Park in 1966. 

Things to do in Great Falls National Park

While hiking is one of the most popular activities, there are plenty of other things to do in Park:  

Great Falls

Great Falls is one of the park’s main attractions that attracts a vast number of visitors from all over the world.

Three of the five Great Waterfalls are located in the park, including Black Eagle, Crooked, and Rainbow Falls.

There are three overlooks in the park that provides different views of the Great Falls. All three overlooks are located within a 5-10 minutes’ walk from the Visitor Center.

Great Falls is an excellent place for families with shady picnic areas and exhilarating observation decks. 

The River’s Edge Trail 

This 60-mile trail is the main pedestrian corridor in the city and one of the prime attractions in this park.

It runs along the banks of the Missouri River and connects directly to some of the tops in Great Falls.

The trail itself is great for nature lovers as it takes you through the valleys with gorgeous waterfalls, mountains, and canyons.

Benches, picnic tables, and drinking fountains are installed along the route to facilitate visitors. 

C.M Russel Museum

See the paintings of one of the most legendary artists in the world, Charles M. Russel, at the C.M Russel Museum in Great Falls.

Russel spent much of his life in Great Falls with his wife, Nancy Cooper Russel. The Museum displays many of his paintings and bronze sculptures.

His original studio and home are also preserved near the park’s center. You can tour the sites and look into the life of one of the greatest artists in the world. 

Mather Gorge 

Climb to the Mather Gorge to enjoy some of the most dramatic views of Great Falls. The gorge is a part of the Potomac gorge and lies just downstream from Great Falls.

Its sheer cliff provides a mini canyon for the wild Potomac River. Great Falls overlook the stunning and most accessible view of the gorge.

For adventurous souls, the most immersive way to experience the gorge is by rock climbing and by paddling. 

Great Falls River Trail

The River Ridge Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Park. This 1.5-mile hike follows the river trail to Mather Gorge and the South section of the park, boasting spectacular River views.

The path is great to tackle in any season, even on the days of light showers, as it doesn’t get muddy or slippery due to sandy soil.

However, the trail is rocky and exposed to the cliffside in some places, so be careful if you are hiking with children. 1

Best Time to Visit Great Falls National Park

This Park is a beautiful place to visit any time of the year. However, spring and fall tend to be the best months to see the most beautiful foliage and great weather.

During winter, the park gets crowded with people, and we have heard of waiting an hour to get in the park during the weekends. If you want to avoid crowds, come early, before 10:30 am. 


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Great Falls National Park Map 

Downloading the map of Park is one of the most important steps of planning a trip which most people overlook.

The official map is available on the NPS website covering the trails, visitor centers, facilities, and main points of interest.  

Hotels Near Great Falls National Park

There are no lodging options within the Park, but you can find various accommodation options near the nearby towns.

Here are our top five recommendations catering to different needs and budgets: 

  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites Great Falls
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton Reston 
  • Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center
  • Embassy Suites Vienna  

Camping Locations

The park is closed at night, and no overnight camping is allowed. But you can find many camping options near the park.

Visit NPS Website to browse the nearby camping spots. 


The weather of Great the park is typical of the mid-Atlantic, with no extremes. Summer is hot and humid, while winter is chilly with occasional snow.

The average temperature in the summer is approximately 75 degrees with high humidity. Winters temperatures can vary, but the average temperature is around 36 degrees.

River temperature also differs significantly throughout the year and may experience hazardous currents and heavy winds, so make sure to check the current weather before planning a trip. 

Great Falls National Park Fee/Pass

As of November 2021, the entrance fee for the Park is $20 per vehicle, $15 for a motorcycle, and $10 by foot or on a bike, valid for seven days.

If you plan to visit the park more than once, we’d recommend buying an Annual Pass and getting free access to the park for a whole year in a one-time payment of $35. America, the Beautiful Pass holders, can get free access in the park. 


Checklist of Things to Pack 

Here’s a list of items you’ll need in the Park to stay safe and protected:

  1. Daypack
  2. Quickly drying clothes 
  3. Cotton -shirts
  4. Fleece Jacket (winter)
  5. Hiking Boots
  6. Sunscreen and Hat
  7. Raincoat
  8. Keen Shoes 
  9. Binoculars
  10. Camera
  11. Portable charger
  12. Water bottle and Snacks
  13.  Bug spray
  14.  First-aid kit 
  15.  Map


How much time should I Spend in Great Falls National Park?

The Great Falls National Park can be fully covered in 1-2 hours. But if you plan to hike or try outdoor water adventures, you’d probably need full or half a day. 

Which animals Can I see in Great Falls National Park?

The park boasts over 150 species of birds, abundant wild animals, and a wide variety of plants, including several rare species that only thrive in Great Falls National Park. 

Are pets allowed in Great Falls National Park?

Pets are welcomed at the parking lots, trails, and picnic areas, but they must be put on a 6-foot leash. 

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