Part of the Potomac River, Great Falls is owned by the state of Maryland, while the land on both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the water is managed and protected by the National Park Service. Known for its dangerous Class 5 rapids and unpredictable water levels, the natural landmark draws skilled kayakers. Suitable only for experts, the annual Great Falls Race began in 1988 and is considered the most difficult white-water kayak race on the East Coast, says former race director Geoff Calhoun. The rocks around the falls are slippery, and swimming or wading in the Great Falls/Potomac Gorge area of the Potomac River is illegal. Safe viewing is available at Olmsted Island, an overlook with boardwalks and bridges. Here’s a glimpse of Great Falls, by the numbers.
*The highest water volume is an average across multiple years from a gauge that measures the river constantly.
Sources: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park; Great Falls Foundation; Montgomery County Swift Water Rescue Team; National Weather Service Baltimore/Washington; Niagara Parks