We recently made a visit to Great Falls on the Potomac River, from the Maryland side of the river. We began by parking at the Great Falls Tavern, a stone lockhouse originally built to provide shelter for a lock keeper and his family. That’s because the tavern is adjacent to lock #20 on the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal, the 184 mile long canal which shadows the Potomac and spans from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.
The tavern, built in 1830, was expanded to provide dining and lodging for visitors traveling on the canal. During the 1870’s, the tavern would have had its golden age. Between March and December, as many as 700 barges continuously made the five day journey between Cumberland and Georgetown.
A short walk south along the canal towpath will take you to a trail across Olmsted Island. From there you will get a good look at Great Falls, which are actually a series of cascades and rapids on a two-thirds of a mile stretch of the Potomac. The river drops about 76 feet over this distance.
On a future outing, we plan to visit the Great Falls Park on the Virginia side of the river.