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Great Falls: Nature’s Power on Display

To see power on a trip to Washington, D.C., don’t bother with the Capitol or the White House. Instead, go 15 miles up the Virginia side of the Potomac River to Great Falls Park where you quite literally feel the roaring power of Mother Nature.

The Potomac River morphs from a 1,000-foot-wide river into a torrent only 60 to 80 feet across as it drops 76 feet in barely a mile. Water roars through Mather Gorge across jagged rocks and creates individual waterfalls 20 feet high.

The National Park Service, which administers Great Falls Park as part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, describes Great Falls as “the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.”

Before George Washington was president of the United States, he was president of a company that sought to conquer this torrent. His Patowmack Company wanted to use the Potomac River for commerce, which included building locks around Great Falls. They were built, but Washington never saw them completed, and the company ultimately failed.

Today, you can hike trails in the 800-acre park, view evidence of canal construction, watch for herons and eagles, and know where true power exists. 

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