Let’s get a look at Mather Gorge from the Virginia side, and hike Difficult Run and the River Trail in Great Falls Park!
The route: The hike is a loop, interrupted by an out-and-back excursion en route.
The first leg of the loop starts at the little footbridge at the intersection of Canal and River Trails. We’ll enter Old Carriage Road and walk south to Matildaville Trail, where we’ll turn slightly left and follow it to Ridge Trail. Turning left onto Ridge Trail, we’ll follow it to where it meets River Trail.
At this point we’ll interrupt the loop for an out-and-back excursion to and along Difficult Run. From the Ridge/River trail intersection, we’ll continue south along Ridge Trail to Difficult Run Trail, turn right and walk along Difficult Run Trail to the Great Falls Park boundary sign and return to the intersection of Ridge and River Trails.
After our excursion, we’ll resume the loop, taking the River Trail north all the way back to our starting point.
A Google map of our route is here: http://tinyurl.com/kkbbbvc
The surface is dirt or gravel throughout. The going is fairly easy along the first leg of the loop, moderate along Difficult Run and moderate to strenuous along the River Trail. There is a brief scramble on Difficult Run Trail to bypass a washout. The River Trail is broken and rocky with steps and scrambles.
NB: The River Trail runs along the edge of sheer cliffs in many sections. Exercise caution and keep a close eye on your furry friend. We want you to have fun, but we also want you to come home safe!
The walk is 5.3 miles of smiles, plus some extra running around to check out the overlooks as desired. The hike should take between 2 to 3 hours at a moderate pace.
How to get there: From the I-495 Capital Beltway (either direction), take exit 44 onto VA-193/Georgetown Pike towards Great Falls. Follow signs for Great Falls. Drive 4.4 miles west along Georgetown Pike. At the traffic light at the intersection with Old Dominion Road, turn right to enter the park. (There is a park sign.) Drive 1 mile along Old Dominion Road and note the Visitor Center on your right. Continue another 0.1 miles (just past the Visitor Center) and turn right to enter the main parking area.
Where to meet: We'll meet south of the Visitor Center at the path to Overlook #1, GPS =[masked],[masked]
What to bring: Water, comfy shoes and your furry friend if desired (leashes are required). Hiking boots are a good idea. A camera is a handy accessory.
Cost: $3 per person individually, or $5 per vehicle. See http://tinyurl.com/khpcooq.
Administrative stuff: The only available public restrooms and drinking fountains are at the Great Falls Visitor Center. Other facilities in the park are closed for the season. As a reminder, this is a kids-free zone, no one under 18 years of age is permitted.
Great Falls: http://www.nps.gov/grfa/index.htm
Trail Map: http://tinyurl.com/obbjbc