The Other Side of the River

Great Falls

The view from Overlook 3

The Washington Post Magazine’s cover story this Sunday debates which state is better: Maryland or Virginia? So in the spirit of seeing if the grass is greener on the other side, we drove across the river for our hike this weekend.  We’ve hiked the trails of Great Falls, Maryland several times, and if we had to choose a hike within half an hour of the district, The Billy Goat Trail would be our pick.  But as a native Virginian, with a husband born in Maryland, we had to see how the other bank compared.

Trail Posts

Continuing on River Trail

The trails at Great Falls, Virginia, start at the Visitors Center, where a few steps will lead you to three overlooks of the rapids.  We started South from the entrance station, taking the River Trail for spectacular views of Rocky Island.  From this vantage point, we could watch hikers on the Maryland side tackle the challenging A section of the Billy Goat Trail.  Their figures inched across the gray landscape with brightly colored clothing and comments echoing across the water.  The Virginia trail climbs at this point too, with a few scrambles that require careful footing and a steep incline that took my breath away.

Difficult Run Trail

Difficult Run Trail – the easy part

As the trails widened and the crowds thinned, we branded onto the Ridge Trail, following it to the end and turning onto Difficult Run Trail.  It hugs the curves of the creek and had sustained some recent flooding damage, but the area had clear signs and a hilly detour created out of roots and rock outcroppings, with a path wide enough for one person at a time. From there, the path is clear and wide, though we did cross both under and over the paved road to connect back to the main trail and avoid backtracking.  Old Carriage Road, well-trod and wide enough for four to walk abreast, provided a quick, direct route back to the parking lot.  Though uphill at first, the downhill and flat second half provided a welcome ending to the almost-five mile trek.

In the end though, we still prefer the Maryland trails of Great Falls. They provide great views of the river at the falls and at various intervals, creating a scenic, challenging route. The terrain works for rock climbers, hikers, and runners, with paths just large enough for two at a time and multiple scrambling options to allow for individual navigation.  Almost all of the trails connect directly to a larger path or to the canal towpath, which in our case would lead all the way back to D.C. if we wanted to run that far.  We prefer to drive there, and on the Maryland side, parking is free.

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