Growing up in Northern Virginia, I visited Great Falls a few times on various school trips or with my parents, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized this landmark was actually a National Park. How cool is that? A National Park right in my backyard and one that is pet friendly at that!

Last summer I wrote about our attempt to visit Great Falls National Park with Luna, which sadly failed since the line to get in was too long. As I hinted on Sunday, we finally got back around to visiting. This past weekend we were able to get in and spend the day at the park. Great Falls is definitely dog friendly and I’m looking forward to bringing Luna back, but there are a few things you might need to know before visiting.

12 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Great Falls National Park

Things You Should Know Before Visiting Great Falls

1. Great Falls National Park is 800 acres situated below the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, where the river picks up speed as it falls over jagged rocks. In addition the waterfalls, the park also features the remainder of the Patowmack Canal.

2. The Potomac River acts as a border between Virginia and Maryland. While the park resides on the Virginia side, there is another park with an overlook in Maryland. This is part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park. However, there is no bridge, so you will have to drive if you would like to visit both sides.

Luna and Struan at Great Falls National Park3. During peak times, the wait to get into the park could be as long as 45 minutes to an hour. Weekend afternoons during spring and summer months are the most busy. Try coming earlier or during the week to avoid a long wait.

4. If you are faced with a long line, there is another nearby park with various hiking trails called Difficult Run Trail. If you are looking for a longer hike, one of those trails actually takes you right to the waterfall overlooks.

5. There is a fee to get into Great Falls National Park. Currently the fee is $5 per car or $3 per person if you walk or bike.

6. Great Falls National Park features three different overlooks of the waterfalls, as well as trails for hiking, biking, jogging, and horseback riding. You can also spend the day fishing (with a license), bird watching, picnicking, and rock climbing.

7. Picnic tables and barbecue grills are available in the park, so you are welcome to bring in outside food for a picnic. A concession stand is also open during peak months. The tables can be somewhat close to one another, so keep an eye on dogs known to steal food.

8. Great Falls is a trash free park, which means you need to bring out what you bring in including trash. This means count on having to dispose of your dog’s poop elsewhere. If holding your dog’s poop makes you squirmish or you just want to have your hands free, bring something along to make carrying the used bags a bit easier like The Fifth Paw.

9. Dogs are allowed on all trails and in all parking lots, picnic areas, and overlooks, but not in the Visitor Center. Dogs must be kept on a lead no longer than 6 feet long.

10. The park can get very busy with a lot of people, children, and other dogs, so it might not be the best for dogs who are reactive or overwhelmed by crowds.

11. You may encounter wildlife in the park or on hiking trails. Keep your distance and do not feed or disturb any wildlife you come across. Keep your dog close to prevent harm to your dog or any wildlife.

12. Do not enter the river or allow your dog to do so. Swimming, wading, or entering the river in any manner is prohibited all year. It may be tempting upstream, but dangerous currents, rocks, and rapids downstream make the river hazardous. Use caution around cliffs and keep your dog away from edges. You may see the occasional boater in the water. These people are highly experienced and are doing so at their own risk.

Luna at Great Falls National Park

Have you visited a National Park with your dog?

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Jessica Shipman

Jessica Shipman

Jessica Shipman is a bargain hunter, food lover, and software engineer figuring out how to be a pet parent for the first time. Jessica has been a long time lover of all animals (especially llamas and manatees) and is happy that she can finally combine that love with technology.
Jessica Shipman

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  • That’s wonderful that dogs are allowed at Great Falls! Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed at some of the best national parks here in Colorado, such as Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain.

  • GlamistaHome

    I visited the park with Daisy and she loved it. As soon as she got out she was wagging her tail all the way on the trail. She wanted to climb the rocks and acted like a “big” dog without any attitudes. We like visiting the area. Thank you for sharing, I didn’t know about the Difficult Run Park, good to know.

  • So cool! We love taking the boys to check out new trails and parks!

  • Thanks for all these tips!! Hopefully I’ll be able to stop by in a couple of weeks!!

  • Pip

    Great tips! Love that last picture.

  • travelanimalDr

    This is a really informative article, thank you! We enjoyed finding and hiking at Great Falls! We found Difficult Run Trail just this past weekend. It was gorgeous and very fun climbing the rocks.

  • Terrie

    We took Lacey and Clayton on the only dog-friendly trail in the Great Smokie Mountains Park. We had a great time but the “watch out for bears” signs everywhere made me uneasy. I think I’ll stick to non-bear parks from now on.

  • Cathy C Bennett

    Sounds like a great place, will add it to our list of places to experience this summer.

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