See the falls without the sweat.
Overlook 1 is a 10-minute, easy hike from the visitor center. Walk past the picnic area to the sturdy observation deck for a spectacular view of the Potomac River’s massive Great Falls, a rough-and-tumble 76-foot cascade. For additional perspectives, continue to Overlook 2 and 3, where you can see the viewing area at Olmsted Island on the Maryland side.
Escape the crowds and take a hike on the Potomac Heritage Trail.
From Great Falls Visitor Center, head north on the Potowmack Canal Trail paralleling the narrow trench constructed in the 18th century to bypass the rapids. Hike along shallow pools to reach the North River Trail, which is right before the Aqueduct Dam. This muddy, mellow segment of the PHT has near-constant views of the Potomac and leads to Riverbend Park in the Upper Potomac River, about 1.25 miles north.
Take the kids.
Great Falls is perfect for families, with shady picnic areas and exhilarating observation decks. The River Trail Mini Loop is a 1.5-mile, moderately busy route snaking through uneven terrain. Fetch a self-guided tour map at the Children’s Room in the visitor center, then hike south on the River Trail, making sure no one gets too close to the edge! When you reach the bridge, make a U-turn and follow signs to return via the Patowmack Canal Trail.