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River Trail/Matildaville Trail (Great Falls Park)

River Trail/Matildaville Trail (Great Falls Park)

Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 4:03pm
A very pretty hike along the canal and through the woods at Great Falls Park, located in McLean, VA. The River Trail has great views of the Falls, especially in the beginning from the Overlooks. It can be challenging at times for inexperienced hikers or people in poor physical condition as there is some climbing over rocks required.
Very Good
Photo Op: 
The overlooks at the beginning of the trail offer great opportunities to photograph the falls.
Park Address
9200 Old Dominion Dr.
22102 McLean, VA
Metro Accessible: 
Additional Directions: 
The trail is located in Great Falls National Park, Maclean VA. It is about 15 miles from downtown DC. From the heart of DC during off-peak hours it took about 35 minutes. It is northwest of the city, so those coming from the east should allow for more time.
What to Bring: 
Water and bug repellent. Great Falls Park does have an entrance fee of $5 per car. Credit cards are accepted.
Food Options: 
Food and drink are available under the Visitor Center. Hot food is available. There is also a large picnic area with tables and grills. But be forewarned, the tables and parking fill up fast on nice weekends.
Additional Information: 

Get there by 10AM on weekends if you want a good shot of getting a table and parking. Also, check out the website to read other advice and warnings before you make the trip. I had spotty cell phone reception with an IPhone 4GS. However, my Nike running App, I used it to track distances, worked brilliantly.

Begin at the Visitor's Center and get a map. They are larger and easier to read then the 8.5x11 versions on the web. The people in the Visitor's Center are very friendly so ask them if you have any reservations about the trail. Locate signs for the River Trail on the side of the Visitor Center opposite the parking lot. Generally speaking, the trails are pretty well signed, so you should not get lost. It may be difficult to walk a dog or take small children on the trail due to the rocks and plentiful tree roots. However, it still may be worth it to try and turn around if the trail becomes too challenging. Talk to the park staff to get a recommendation.

Take the opportunity to stop off at the overlooks on your left as you begin the trail. They provide great views of the Falls and river and provide great photo opportunities. As you enter the forest, follow the green boxes on the trees to follow the trail as it can be ambiguous at times. There are lots of pretty views along the River Trail, so take your time and enjoy them.

After Cow Hoof Rock the trail bends inward towards the woods. The River trail ends somewhat abruptly, as you will come to a set of signs near two sections of wooden fence. You can simply turn back if you want to redo the River Trail, or as suggested here you can hike back on another trail. We suggest you try the Matildaville Trail, as it provides a nice walk through the forest with different scenery. It is a little bit more pleasant than the Old Carriage Road. Note that all three options are about the same in distance and are easily navigated using the map.

If you choose to walk the Matildaville Trail on the way back, make a right at the signs and fence sections to walk on the Ridge Trail. You will be on this for about 0.3 miles. You will pass a sign for Old Carriage Road and shortly after you will see the Matildaville sign. Make a right. You are greeted with a couple of large downhill slopes. Note that these would be uphill if you started on the Matildaville trail. The trail is very pretty and takes you through the forest. There is very nice shade, which is great in the summer. Simply follow the signs back to the Visitor Center (1.3 miles).

I do not recommend you try to run this trail because of the rocks and tree roots that protrude from the ground. It would be very easy to trip.

Environmental conditions in cities, parks, etc. can change rapidly and without our knowledge. We do not make any claims as to the accuracy of information presented on this page. Further, hiking can be a dangerous activity that may result in bodily harm and possibly death. We hope the information that we provide will help you prepare for your hike, but do not imply that the information provided is complete. It is your responsibility to prepare yourself for whatever challenges you may face. If you decide to use any of the information on this page, you do so at your own risk.
Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park