Monday, May 15, 2017

10 fun facts about Great Falls Park (Virginia)

In April I finally took a ride over to Great Falls Park. It's been on my list of places I want to see for a long time now and it turns out it's a lot closer than I'd thought.  Located in Fairfax County, the park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and is a wonderful place to visit. I plan to get back there sometime this year for sure. 

Want to know more about Great Falls Park? Here are some things I'd learned:

1. There are three lookout spots to see the falls. One is located very close to the Visitor's Center and the other two are not much further. Each lookout moves you a little bit further down the river so you see different vantage points. All are beautiful! The overlooks date back to the early 20th century.

2. The waterfall flows into Mather Gorge, named for the first NPS director, Stephen T. Mather.

3. The area where the park now is situated was once a trading place for American Indians and the early Colonists. The area itself dates back about 10,000, according to NPS, the first known people to live in the area were the Paleo-Indians. Later on the region was a meeting place for the Powhatan Confederacy and Iroquois Nation, along with other Native Americans. In the mid-17th century, England's King Charles II gave Great Falls and other local lands to seven Englishmen. About 20 years later Lord Fairfax designated 12,588 acres for himself. This would be passed on to other family members over the years, then eventually being sold off to others.

4. George Washington envisioned a series of canals to ease travel through the Potomac to open up trade with the Ohio Valley. The Patowmack Company was established in 1784 to construct this framework. It was completed in 1802. The canal system ran for 26 years and was 190+ miles long.

5. There is a plaque honoring George Washington at Great Falls Park. It was placed there in 1912 by the Fairfax County chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution.  


6. Railroads eventually replaced the canals and the land eventually became an amusement park, a private enterprise started by John McLean and Stephen Elkins. Visitors would take the trolley from Washington, D.C. to the park.

7. Carousels were a popular attraction at the amusement park at Great Falls, with the first one arriving in the early 1900s, a Dentzel. In the early 1950s, Fairfax County eventually acquired some of the park land and the owners took the carousel down. It would later be replaced by another due to popular demand. However, because of the flooding and damage to the attraction that would occasionally occur here, the carousel was eventually removed permanently. The last carousel located at the park was in 1972. Today there is a post that marks how high the water has risen over time. The river/falls are well beyond this sign and past the fence you see in this photo.

8. During the days of the canal, the town of Matildaville was chartered (1790) and became the headquarters for the Potowmack Company and workers lived in the town. Sponsored by "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, it seems this town was named for his first wife, who passed away the same year the town was chartered. He would later remarry, Ann Carter was his wife. Eventually, the couple would have children, one of which was a boy, Robert Edward, who most of us know as Robert E. Lee. 

9. The canal and Matildaville ruins are now designated as National Historic Landmarks.  

10. There are exhibits and storyboards at the Visitor's Center that highlight the history of the land and transformations over the years. There is also a small gift shop and some hands-on activities for the kids.

Great Falls is a great place to learn about history, enjoy a picnic, fish, hike or enjoy other recreational activities. The park is every day except Christmas Day from 7 a.m. until dark. Your admission fee is good for three days and, if you have one of the America the Beautiful NPS park passes, it can be used at Great Falls.


  1. Love waterfalls, thanks for the info, Leigh. Must visit Virginia someday.

    1. It's a beautiful spot, much left for me to explore at this park. I hope you get the opportunity to visit sometime, so much to see. Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog!