It is almost hard to believe there are some beautiful trails within reach from Washington D.C. Even, if you are visiting the city only for a few days, Great Falls is a wonderful escape from D.C’s “architecture/historic” tours.
One can access Great Falls National Park either from Virginia or Maryland side. But, if you looking to get some decent workout/hike out of your visit, I would suggest Maryland side.
Take exit 41 on 495 towards Carderock Recreation Area. Or find direction to the park entrance here.
Billy Goat Section A would give you a good workout and a beautiful view of the river.
Get the Park Map.
There are a couple of steep sections to scramble up/down on this trail making it challenging and fun to hike.
Park website and many forums describe section A as “strenuous”. I think it is certainly over-estimated.
I personally don’t find it strenuous, and I am not in super shape or anything.
My first real Spring weekend in Washington area after some travels, I decided to tackle Section A, B and C for a good 10-12 mile hike and took about 6-7 hours with plenty of stops for picture taking.
Besides hikers, you will also spot rock climbers on certain sections doing their thing.
Also, kayaking is another common activity on this section. There are outfitters who can help you with white-water paddling.
C&O Canal runs straight through this park, making it a trail for bikers and runners too.
Picture below was taken from Virginia side of Great Falls (Potomac river) overlook at sunset.