Hike at Great Falls

Matildaville at Great Falls

For official fall activity #2 (the first one being our visit to Paradise Springs Winery), I was ready for some serious hiking. I knew the weather this weekend was going to be perfect for it—bright and cool, but not too chilly—and so H and I set out to enjoy the great outdoors. H chose where we would go, since he’s more familiar with the local hiking scene than I am, and he picked Great Falls, a relatively close national park with good hiking trails and stunning views of the Potomac River waterfalls and rapids.

The rapids at Great Falls

The Hike

The park was packed, like any national park during a nice spring or fall weekend. We waited 20 minutes on the winding road that leads to the entrance before we could park the car and then walked through rolling fields, past picnicking families and people playing with their dogs, to the trailhead. We could see the entrance to two surprisingly flat trails along the Potomac River: one paved path right by the river, and a slightly higher dirt trail along the ridge next to the river. We set out on the higher trail, since the lower one was full of children and dogs and H assured me that we would work our way up the ridge beside the river for a good view.

Hiking at Great Falls

We had been walking for just fifteen minutes when we stumbled across the ruins of a literal ghost town, Matildaville. We explored the foundations of the few stone buildings that remained from the town, including the local tavern. As we kept hiking, the terrain got a little more challenging and we climbed high enough to see the river and the rocky cliffs on the Maryland side of the river. The hike was scenic even when we couldn’t see the river, though, because the beautiful changing leaves carpeted the ground and created a cathedral of orange and yellow above our heads. After about two miles, we took a looping trail that would lead us down to the river, which looked much more peaceful than it had near the rapids.

hiking near the river at Great Falls

We headed back by the trail closest to the river. The path was rocky, and we had a fun time climbing up rock formations along the trail to see the rapids. From our perch on one particularly large boulder that jutted out over the river, we could see kayakers navigating the curve of the river, and further down the trail we saw people rappelling down the cliff on the Virginia side. The observation deck of the main waterfall was near the end of the trail, and we stopped to look at the roaring river surrounded by fall foliage. Altogether, our hike lasted for about three hours.

Hiking near DC at Great Falls



What I Wore

Since I hadn’t been to Great Falls before, I didn’t know if it would be a picturesque walk in the woods or an intense hike that would leave me sweaty from exertion or muddy from scrambling over rocks. To be prepared for a serious hike, I wore a t-shirt, leggings, Bean boots, a sporty quarter-zip, and a puffy vest in case it got really cold. For most of the hike, I wore my long-sleeved quarter-zip, and I pulled on my vest when it got windy on the trail to stay warm but not overheated. I know Bean boots aren’t designed for hiking, but I don’t have any serious hiking boots so Bean boots are my best option to keep my feet dry walking through mud or streams and protected on rocky trails.

What to wear for a fall hike

Once I got to the park I realized I could have worn a #fall sweater and jeans instead of athletic wear, but my outfit was still cute and functional. I’m planning more hikes this fall and winter, including Sharptop Mountain the day after Thanksgiving, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to break out the sweaters.

Have you done any hiking in the DC area? What do you usually wear to hike? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Hike at Great Falls

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