The DMV has no shortage of hiking trails (we are lucky like that), but there’s only one that is almost synonymous with family hiking. After a few years of struggling with strollers and battling the needs of our small people, we finally got hip to the fact that the best place for an outdoor hike with little ones is Great Falls. Here’s how to make the most out of your next visit.

3457219639_1f3687a936_o (1)Photo: ADVENTUREinPROGRESS  via Flickr

Why Great Falls?
The first great thing about Great Falls is that it isn’t far. Unlike the better-known Shenandoah National Park, Great Falls is relatively close to most D.C. locations (it’s about a 20 minute drive from Arlington and the District). This makes it a perfect morning trip on a busy Fall weekend and an ideal trip with small children who don’t enjoy any excursion that begins with a long car ride.

There are stroller-accessible waterfall outlooks (!!!)
The second great thing is, of course, the waterfalls. Stopping to look at the Potomac rushing along and tumbling over rocks and cliffs can be enchanting even for the smallest among you. A very short walk from the Visitor Center (which is steps from the parking lot) brings you to three overlooks with three different views of the waterfalls. So you can see them all before the kids start to fade. Finally, two of the three outlooks are wheelchair (and stroller!) accessible.

How to plan
Lines can get long in the Fall when everyone has the same idea. But if your kids have you up early, the park opens at 7 am. Bring your stroller; most of the trails that you’ll want to explore with small kids are stroller-friendly. Picnic tables and grills are available on a first-come-first-serve basis so consider bringing a few snacks or picnic lunch. Just remember that Great Falls is a trash free park so everything you bring in must leave with you. 

What to see and do
Although the waterfalls are the main attraction, if you and your kids are up for it, there is more to see and do. The park boasts about 163 species of birds so grab your binoculars if you have a bird watcher among you. For older kids, bicycling, boating, climbing, and fishing are all permitted. And if hiking is your thing, fifteen miles of hiking trails wind along the Potomac. Maps for the trails are available at the Visitor’s Center. For younger kids, there is a Children’s Room inside with a please-touch table showcasing the items you’ll encounter in the park, not to mention games, puzzles, and coloring.

Go now; and then just keep going
While Great Falls is a beautiful park at any time of year, it is particularly stunning in Autumn. Vibrantly colored leaves go on for miles and set a beautiful background for the falls. It’s the perfect setting for a new family picture. But what we love most about this annual excursion is using it as a time to connect. After all, the summer days of lazily enjoying each other’s company are over and busy school schedules tend to shift into our world high gear fast. There is truly no better way to help your family reconnect than a walk through nature.

Cost: $10/car
9200 Old Dominion Dr. (McLean, Va)
703-289-2513

Where do you like to hike with your kids in the Fall?

–Tricia Mirchandani