What kayak athlete wouldn’t love a place with class V+ waterfalls, plenty of activities for the family, and just up the Potomac River from the nation’s capital? That is the recipe for a great vacation, bring your family and your kayak.
You can tour Washington DC and fit in an adventure with your kayak at Great Falls while the family enjoys the national parks on either side of the river. The C&O Canal National Historical Park is on the Maryland side of the river, and Great Falls National Park is on the Virginia side.
The National Park Service runs both parks, and the low entrance fee gets you access to both for three days. The parks have plenty of recreational activities for the family including hiking trails, bike paths, picnic areas, river overlooks and of course chutes, rapids, and falls for your kayak.
Be sure to bring your action-cam because you will want to share this adventure with your friends. A favorite place to kayak in addition to the main falls is Mather Gorge with sheer rock walls lining the canyon. You will often see climbers scaling the walls there.
A favorite place to put in on the Maryland side is near the large parking area, and you will see many kayakers parking in the lot on a beautiful day.
The way in from there is to portage across the end of the picnic area farthest from the refreshment stand and paddle the short distance across the canal to the towpath. Take out at the towpath and portage down the trail that starts just on the other side of the path. The trail is unmarked, but it is well worn.
If you are unsure about where to launch, ask one of the rangers or a friendly local kayaker you see in the lot.