For this week’s waterfall entry, I’m sending you to Northern Virginia…
Wait! Don’t “x” out of this page just yet. Hear me out. I’m not generally in the habit of sending people in search of outdoorsy activities anywhere near Washington, D.C., but this one is worth it. Trust me. What I have is a waterfall twofer: one trip, two distinct waterfall and hiking opportunities close together.
Scott’s Run Falls in Fairfax County.
Your late-summer adventure begins at Scott’s Run Falls, which is just down the Potomac River from Great Falls, the second waterfall you’ll be visiting. Scott’s Run is on the Virginia side of the Potomac, which makes it much easier to get to than the Maryland side, where most of the Great Falls traffic goes. (Click here for the Google Maps location of Scott’s Run.)
Scott’s Run Falls sits at the northern edge of a surprisingly large natural area called Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. You’d enjoy the hiking here even if there wasn’t a waterfall to visit. There are many well-groomed trails.
The preserve has two parking area’s, and there are trail options to the falls from either one. If you pick the first lot on Route 193 (traveling west from off the interstate), you’ll follow the hilly Woodland Trail to the River Trail then to the falls. That route is about 2 miles round trip. If you choose the second parking lot, you’ll follow the mostly flat path along Scott’s Run straight to the falls. That hike is about 1.2 miles out and back.
The falls is maybe 15 feet tall and it does have a nice swimming hole at the bottom of it. Swimming is forbidden there because of concerns about water quality, but on my most recent visit there were plenty of people taking a dip. From the looks of it this rule is not stridently policed. From the falls, the widening Potomac is right in front of you and there some more trails along the river to explore.
This is Northern Virginia, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself, especially in summer. But if you find yourself in the area, definitely put it on your Nova must-hike list.
Ah yes, the Granddaddy of Them All (in least in terms of notoriety): The Great Falls of the Potomac.
Great Falls was running high when this picture was taken in 2014.
Literally just up the road from Scott’s Run is Great Falls, the beast with the steepest drop through the Fall Line of any Eastern river. Where the James River takes about 7 miles to exit the Piedmont and enter the Coastal Plain, the Potomac does so in less than a mile. And above Mather Gorge, the river narrows from over 1000 feet to between 60 and 100. It makes for a spectacular scene, especially with all the rain we’ve had. If you go soon, the Potomac is sure to still be raging.
There are National Park Service units on both sides of Great Falls. In Virginia, there are 3 overlooks and a series of trails to explore. (Here’s the Google maps link to the park location.) I recommend following the trail signs to hit all three overlooks — you won’t be disappointed with any of them. The River Trail gives hikers a sense of what the Potomac looked like before the falls and gorge formed. Hikers on that path are walking along the ancient Potomac riverbed, now located 40-75 feet above the river’s current location.
Click here to learn more about these hikes and many more waterfall hikes in Virginia.