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Riverbend and Great Falls

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Hike Summary

Riverbend and Great Falls Parks are both adjacent to each other, yet their views of the Potomac river could not be more different. Riverbend is a regional park, overlooking a placid section of the river as it rounds the corner, with sandy soil and many wooded sections. Great Falls, on the other hand, is almost alien, with it’s rocky gorges and violence.

This was my second visit to Riverbend, and it was just as quiet and deserted this time as it was in the middle of the winter. I saw a couple of people, but not many, and almost entirely on the Potomac Heritage section of the trail. I set out, walking along sandy soil with a profusion of Virginia Bluebells, just short of blooming, although I did manage to find a couple that had bloomed already. If I had waited perhaps another week the ground would have been carpeted with pale blue and green instead of deep purple and green. It was an beautiful sight, and although a little less flashy than the famed cherry blossoms of the district, it’s something that anyone in the area should try to get a chance to see.

The forests were still pretty stark and barren, often looking still like late autumn rather than early spring, as I hiked along the interior sections of trail. This part of the trail is more scenic, I imagine, later in the spring and on towards the summer, when the grass and wildflowers are out. There were a few bits of stream but not much else.

Things changed a bit as I made the transition over into Great Falls Park. The trail widened to more of a road, and there were more side trails and things to see. I took a side trail and went along a cheerful brook before heading into the main section of the park. I thought about but didn’t stop at the visitor’s center. I had my dog with me (as I always do) and tying him up outside seemed like a bad idea. It was a decent place to stop and eat a snack, however.

I went away from the hubbub of the main part of the park and headed along some other trails, which were pretty quiet, eventually crossing out of the park for a tiny bit to follow along Difficult Run. This section was very scenic, although there was one section that had been washed out, and I had to make a challenging ascent up an almost vertical hill to get around it. Seeing the spot where the run met the Potomac was almost an anticlimax though.

The trail turned north and became more rocky, and also became much more busy. I was a little surprised at just how busy — I was having to stop to let other hikers by about every 5 minutes. I could see a lot of people on the Maryland side as well. The sights of the cataracts are definitely a draw, and I could see why. It was a bit of a relief to get past all the noise and people and back into Riverbend park for the last leg of my journey, to get some peace again.

Riverbend & Great Falls
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