I can’t imagine the awe that early explorers felt when they first viewed the Great Falls of the Potomac. However, I know what I expected to see the first time I left Martinsburg, WV and traveled down I-70 and I-270 in heavy traffic to within 10 miles of the DC line. Not much! Honestly, the idea of something this beautiful on such a large river–all within a few minutes of the nation’s capital–still blows me away.
There’s a saying–You can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. I can relate. I prefer the western end of the C&O Canal, but the area around mile marker 14 contains some of the most remarkable scenery in the park. Nevertheless, this combination of beauty and a metropolitan area translates into large crowds. Serious hikers and bikers should expect delays in the Great Falls area. I’ve seen groups of people walking side-by-side across the entirety of the towpath, but who can blame them? This part of the C&O is a great place to spend the day.
Generally, boat rides on the Charles F. Mercer are available from Wednesday-through-Sunday, but we were surprised to see the pride of the canal up on blocks. On a positive note, though, this was the perfect opportunity for a top-to-bottom view of the boat. With The Georgetown out of commission, the Mercer is a popular tourist attraction. Hopefully, it’s either being painted or made ship-shape for future canal enthusiasts.
The Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center is another of the many highlights of this section of the canal. It was originally built as a hotel in 1831–just three years after ground was broken on the C&O. Today, this wonderful structure contains canal exhibits and lots of interesting souvenirs. I couldn’t leave without getting a pack of note cards and a refrigerator magnet. In all, seeing Great Falls again made for a really nice trip, but I’m guessing that my next C&O Canal excursion will be somewhere in the wilds west of Hancock. Until then, here’s a parting shot of the tavern from a different angle.