It has been months since my last hike and I was eagerly looking forward to getting outside in the peak of the Fall colors. With the variety of parks in the area I wanted to hike a new place and explore the splendor of Fall in Virginia. Last week I tried to get out, but got sick again so it couldn’t happen. Then this past weekend I was determined more than ever to get out before all the leaves are gone and the cold winds blow down from Canada bringing with it freezing temperatures. Saturday was a complete wash out with almost 16 hours of rain throughout the area, but Sunday was looking pretty good. After a little searching on the web I decided on Great Falls for a Sunday afternoon hike.
We got a late start, but on a Sunday who wants to be up early? We slept in, made breakfast, and watched CBS’s Sunday Morning. Once we finally got out of the house it was only a thirty minute drive to the park entrance. Actually, getting into the park seemed to take longer than getting there. I knew the place would be packed with people. It’s very close to DC and of course the Fall colors bring people out. There is a single lane of traffic and only one person working the both makes for some slow going.
After walking around the park and experiencing the falls close up I understand what others have talked about and why the large line of cars getting in. The heavy rain on Saturday pushed the water level up and emphasized the power of the falls. The narrow gap and steep decent make the falls very impressive. While walking up to one of the over looks there is a pole with various flood levels. About 10′ above the ground is a mark for 1936, I couldn’t imagine that much water in the area. While walking down path there was another sign with a picture during a flood state in the narrow gap of the river, at least 50′ above what it was today. Just a tremendous amount of water in each case.
As Nancy and I walked along the bank of the river the cliffs offer many great views of the falls and river. As long as you are not squeamish, exploring off the trail is very popular, almost encouraged. Every time we could get off the beaten path we did, hoping to find a little solitude. However every time we rounded the corner someone was already there. Even as I looked over the cliff down toward the river bank, rock climbers were repelling down or climbing up. The number of people just shocked me, but then it was a perfect day in Fall with the changing leaves.
Several times we saw kayakers braving the churning waters for a little fun. Two managed to paddle all the way up to the falls to enjoy some of the ferocious rapids at the base of the falls. Kayaking is not the only thrill seeking sport available at the park. As I mentioned earlier there are giant cliffs that people love to climb. We saw several professionals tackling some pretty hairy spots and large groups of new climbers out for the first time. Seeing them all made me want to buy some climbing gear and join them.
Once we got down to the end of the trail we decided to take a break and have a picnic. This time we brought a bottle of wine to enjoy with our sandwiches. The view across the water was great and made the whole trip worth taking. We also rediscovered how addictive pistachios are, almost tore through the entire bag, yum.
On the way back to the car we took a different path through the woods instead of along the river bank. Along the path are the ruins of the old town of Matildaville. Not much is left of this town dedicated to the canal and locks. Mostly just pills of rocks that once were house. The visitor center has a great display of the old town in it’s heyday. When we got back to the parking lot I wanted to check out two of the overlooks to the falls. There are in fact three places with observation decks with views of the falls. This is why everyone comes to the park. Today the observations decks where packed with people taking pictures. In the open fields near the observation decks people were enjoying picnics and the beautiful weather too.
By this time Nancy had had enough and headed back to the car. I wanted to make a quick stop by the visitor center to check out the “new exhibits” signs around the park kept referring to. Few people stopped by the visitor center which was odd to me. The place was fantastic with the history of the are, not only of the human history but the geological history as well. The even have a short video that plays on a regular rotation. I couldn’t see it as my time here was short and I needed to get back to the car.
Late in the afternoon Nancy and I finally left this gem of a park in the shadows of DC. When we left people were still streaming in and I am pretty sure the line was longer at 4pm than when we came in just before noon. Everyone wanted a glimpse of what nature had to offer before all the leaves fall and things become nasty outside.