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.
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 blue 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.
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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Reviews For The Difficult Run Hike (5 Most Recent)
I hike this trail about twice or three times/month, and encourage everyone I know who loves to hike to check it out.
Yes, there is a section of the trail along Difficult run that's been washed out so the going is tricky. However, I have been able to navigate this section by carefully scooting down the rocks and back up the embankment. The rocks look like they may have been cut for this purpose. It's maybe 12 or so feet down and it's right by the water's edge. The water seems pretty calm at the foot, but I've never been there after a very heavy rain. I'm fairly fit but I've passed this with a 70 year old man and his 62 year old wife(both quite active, but they probably wouldn't describe themselves as athletic). You must be very cautious and aware off what you're capable of. Wear sensible shoes. *Don't risk it if you're not sure you can do it.* I would not take a young child.
If you are able to get past this area, you'll be rewarded by some of the best scenery imaginable just outside of the Washington beltway or really anywhere. I make a left onto the Ridge trail (off of Difficult Run) then a right on to River Trail and follow that up to Great Falls. *Sections of the River Trail can be dangerous too* as you'll surely be tempted to get a good look at he rushing river below. So beautiful. Use your head. Don't take your three year old or a gooofy tween. There are also some rock scrambles along this section. You will have to be at least a little agile and strong.
Once in Great Falls Park stop for a drink and to use the facilities if needed. there are various ways of getting back but if you'd rather not navigate the washed out section of the Difficult Run Trail, head up Old Carriage Road (kind of boring but okay you're still in the woods) to the end, Cross Georgetown Pike, go over the guardrail to pick up the trail again and turn RIGHT to get to the parking lot.
Date of Hike: Friday, February 01, 2013
I started out from the parking lot and headed downstream towards the river. I've hiked this trail many times before in all seasons and have always found something new every time. I particularly enjoy the solitude during the wintertime, and being mobbed by butterflies in the warmer months-- but I have some very bad news:
The trail is washed out below the second set of rapids/falls (38.97699 -77.24078). It is wholly impassable at this point. The rains that hit the area on 1/30/13 tore out a twenty foot high, fifteen foot wide chunk of the cliff supporting the trail, and it is impossible to pass this point as to your right are the rapids and to your left is the sheer, muddy side of the hill that may not be stable. There are signs up that state the trail may be narrow or obscured, but they do nothing to convey the fact that the trail is completely gone. I do not know when this is planned to be repaired, but be advised that you will be physically unable to reach the Potomac River from the Difficult Run parking lot for the time being.
This is the only time I've ever given a one-star review for a hike, and it's because of some clear and present safety issues.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 15, 2012
It's been awhile since I've hiked here. I was surprised that a portion of the trail is now hard to pass. There is an area where it is single file between a rock wall and the river. The dogs would not go that way. If you go down to the rocks below you can pass that way. Of course the dogs ended up swimming around it.
This area is between the crossing under Georgetown Pike and the Potomac.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I've hiked through this area many times (Riverbend/GF/Difficult Run). It's a beautiful hike considering the location. The visitors area at Great Falls Park can be pretty crowded. The trails become less populated as you get further from the parking areas, but you will always see a few people while you are out... and usually a few pets too.
"Difficult Run Hike" is really just a name for the best loop to hike, although there are other loops, and a few other side trails. You can get a map from the guard hut at GFNP or in the visitors center. It costs 5$ to get into GFNP but there's a good parking area just east of the park on georgetown pike that is free. It's not as secluded as the Shenandoah or other parts of the AT, but it beats any other scenery nearby!
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 09, 2012
I parked in the long parking lot adjacent Georgetown Pike and walked downstream along Difficult Run (DR). There was a section of the trail that was washed out. I did not see any signs that the trail was closed. There was a path up the hill which looked slick and a path that went towards DR that I took. It was possible to go down if you were careful but climbing up was difficult.
I reached a section of the trail that had a series of steps down toward DR. I took that and thought that there was another trail along DR. Once I was at the bottom, there were nice rocks to sit down and watch a small waterfall. However, since I didn't want to climb back up the same way, I followed a very small trail that required some rock climbing. Eventually, this let back to the main trail. <
There was a side trail down to the beach at the mouth of DR. I thought that trail along the Potomac may lead back to the main trail but it took me up VERY steep rocks. It was a challenge and was very dangerous and was not marked. When I went up, I could see places to step and hand holds but you can't see places to step when you go back down. I finally made it but please don't go that way, it was real dangerous.
I got back on the path and took the old carriage trail back to the parking lot.