virginia hikes: Great Falls Park Virginia & the Difficult Run Loop, April 15 2017

Last weekend, we traveled up Boston to help celebrate Juan & Rose’s wedding. Rose, who is one of Meg’s best friend, reminded me that I still had not written about the hike we did together when she visited the D.C. area in the spring. So here is the report and the pictures on the the first of our hikes that weekend.




Over a spring weekend, Rose had traveled down to D.C. to visit with family. Since she came all the way, the least we could do was meet her there. So after driving up that morning, we picked her up and headed for the Difficult Run Trailhead located on Georgetown Pike (38.97838, -77.24913) and it’s limited parking area (as shown here on Hiking Upwards). We were lucky in that the we were able to grab a spot from a leaving car as we arrived. Even though there isn’t a fee to park at the lot, there is a individual fee required as part of National Park Services. So bring your annual passes.


The congestion along Georgetown Pike was felt away from the parking lot and it maybe a good idea to start the loop from one of the other parking lots north in the park itself, but be prepared for vehicle permit fees.

We started our hike around 3 pm from the Difficult Run Parking lot going clockwise on the loop and first crossing Georgetown Pike heading up the Old Carriage Road. Shortly at the first intersection, we turned left onto the Ridge Trail, but our conversation distracted us and we missed our next right turn ending up at a dead end.


After feeling foolish, we doubled back and turned left onto the wooded Swamp Trail through the forest and some ferns. We continued straight as the Swamp Trail branched to our left before meeting up with the Old Carriage Road again, which we took all the way toward the the outlooks. On our way, we ran into the first snake we saw of the weekend.


Just south of the visitor center, we took the little crosswalk to the first outlook of Great Falls.


We continued along the Patowmack Canal trail to the second outlook. You get a more front on view of the complete falls here.


Near the 3rd outlook, there is the Fishermans Eddy where you can get down near the water. I’d guess this is where you can put in for your play kayaks.


After the outlooks, we continued our hike on the River Trail. There are several spots along the trail you can climb down near the river or up some boulders along over looking the river.


This kind of cliff are the ones Meg likes to sit on. Though she’d like it to be higher.


You can see the hikers on the Billy Goat Trail A in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park on the cliffs across the way, our previous report on that hike is here.


As we cut away from the Potomac River briefly to cross the ruins of the Patowmack Canal, we saw some interesting snake on snake violence.


Shortly before the River Trail and Ridge Trail intersection starts to climb the only hill of the day, we passed the reminiscence of a fire place. Too bad no overnight camping is allowed.

As we headed up hill on the Ridge Trail, there were some great views of the Potomac below. This was actually the picture Rose reminded I still had to post process for her.


Near the top of the hill, there was another nice hanging out spot. Perfect for a hammock.


The Ridge Trail gives away to the Difficult Run Trail at the top of hill and winds down toward the the stream of Difficult Run. Which was a nice stream to walk by.


Difficult Run Trail continues around Difficult Run going under Georgetown Pike and back at the parking lot.


It was great to see Rose that weekend in D.C. and now we look forward to seeing more of Rose and Juan with us on the trails.

ratings (1-5; link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  3. The views are shared with the Billy Goat Trail over on the Maryland side at Great Falls Maryland and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National History Park. You’ll get a more direct down river view from the Virginia side of the river, but miss out on further down river trails and canals in comparison to the Maryland side. My favorite parts were definitely the steep ledges on both side side of the Potomac on this section so I really just see these are sister hikes. Be warned that like the Maryland side, there is zero solitude.
  • difficulty: 1. The loop doesn’t have much elevation change, the most coming at the end on the Ridge Trail turning into the Difficult Run Trail.
  • technical: 1. There are no technical aspects of the trail and directions are well marked.



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