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Difficult Run- Great Falls, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
5.1 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

2.5 hours
260 ft
National Park Service
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Park at the 25 car parking area on Georgetown Pike. 38.97838, -77.24913

With fifty percent of the Difficult Run hike following the Potomac River at one of its most scenic spots, it's easy to see why so many people make Great Falls Park one of their favorites. Just 2.8 miles from the Scott's Run Nature Preserve, this is one of two scenic loop hikes just outside the Capital Beltway.

From the end of the parking area, take the Difficult Run Trail as it follows the run bank before passing under Georgetown Pike in 0.3 miles. Just after passing under Georgetown Pike, the trail will become wider as it continues along Difficult Run for another 0.9 miles and past the junction of the Ridge Trail on your left. Continue downhill past the Ridge Trail, where the Difficult Run Trail ends at the confluence of the Potomac River.

Return to the intersection of the Ridge Trail and turn right. Follow the trail to the top of the rise and turn left following the ridge. In 0.5 miles turn right downhill on the blue blazed River Trail as it steeply descends toward the Potomac River.

The trail is hard to spot in places because of blow downs, just follow the blue blazes. The trail passes over a small footbridge and a paved road, then continues just to the right on the other side.

Continue on the blue blazed trail as it follows the river before arriving at Patowmack Canal ruins. In 50 yards, turn right over the footbridge then left following the green blazed River Trail. The trail will descend over a large footbridge before arriving at the main picnic area of Great Falls Park. Stay right and pass the two main scenic overlooks at Great Falls Park.

Just past the second overlook, cross the footbridge turning left back through the picnic area. Stay right, then at the fork, bear left towards the bathroom facilities (right is a parking area). After passing the bathrooms, turn right onto the Old Carriage Road.

In 0.5 miles, turn right on the Swamp Trail. Follow the Swamp Trail for 0.4 miles where it ends at the next trail junction. Turn right climbing over the hill and in 0.3 miles the trail ends at the junction of the Ridge Trail.

Turn left, and in 60 yards, at the bottom of the depression, a small trail marked only by a single split rail post turns right downhill. Turn right on the trail as it heads down the ravine for the remaining 0.2 miles back to Georgetown Pike and the parking area. BE CAREFUL crossing Georgetown Pike, there's a lot of fast-moving traffic on the road.

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Hiker Reviews For The Difficult Run Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Difficult Run hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Long Beard Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 19, 2016
My son ,wife and I hiked this trail for fathers day. If you enjoy obnoxious drivers on the crowded roads of northern va and a 45 minute line leading into the park and crowds of sweaty smelly people this hike is for you. I did enjoy the views of the river, always wanted to see it. Other than the nice river views it was a nice easy walk in the woods, nothing spectacular. Now that I have seen it I will mark this one off my list as well as anything else in the vicinity of northern Va.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, November 11, 2015
First time hiking Difficult Run. I've been to Great Falls on the VA and MD side before but never done this trail. Overall it was a very pleasant hike. I'd recommend it if you don't have a lot of time and really need to get out there for a quick one. The only negative would be the crowds around the main falls area, but other than that it is very nice.

By: Matt Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, January 25, 2015
Needed a quick afternoon hike.  This is one of my favorite quick hikes.  Trail was clear of snow and ice and in good repair. 

By: Dawn Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, January 17, 2015
The washed out part of the trail has been completely fixed and it is an easy passage from Old Georgetown Road/Difficult Run to the Ridge trail. The park service and VDOT did a fabulous job with the path.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, November 02, 2014
Returned to this wonderful, close-in, loop hike with several novices early Sunday morning. Arrived at Rt 197 parking lot 9:30am and got one of a few spots left there were more hikers there than I expected for a Sunday, but was not terrible. We went further along Difficult Run leg and slightly north along Potomac River then my previous visits, granting us more great views! Within easily 10 minutes we were at the top of Ridge Trail providing another whole perspective of the river. There were climbers and kayakers to really impress the 11 yr old (new Scout) and plenty of outcroppings just off the trail for great views, snack and lunch spots little ones must be sure-footed for some or Mom may get nervous. We encountered people on every leg, even holding us up to allow them passage, but this is some of the best Great Falls as to offer, so this must be expected. The overlooks are certainly a major highlight and for first timers, not to be missed (well get crowded on beautiful days and after major storms).

Hiking upwards map was very helpful in providing plenty of detail for our older scout to not get lost,... at least when he consulted the map :-). The new NPS trail signs, together with the map, make this a full-proof, all-around wonderful afternoon from which you will return to car right on time!

Hike rates 5-stars, if not for amount of other people along single-track paths.

    View all 41 reviews for the Difficult Run hike
Mid January
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