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Day Trippin’: Great Falls Park This beautiful spot is a not-so-well-kept secret.

This month, my pup and I headed to Virginia to one of my favorite hiking spots, Great Falls Park. Only a little over an hour away from Baltimore, this nature-lover’s oasis is a must-do, offering a rich history, beautiful views and a family-friendly atmosphere.

There are several overlooks from which you can view the Falls, each offering a unique view of the Potomac as it cascades over rocks and flows through a narrow gorge. Add in the sound of rushing water, the circling birds overhead and the wildflowers peeking out from the rocks below and, honestly, it doesn’t get much better. This was my second visit, and I found it to be as captivating as when I stood in the same spot a year ago.

Follow the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail (moderate to hard), and you can walk along the Potomac, pausing to take in the views from one of the 25- to 75-foot high cliffs above. Each time I stopped—and I did so frequently—I was surrounded by children, families, hikers and tourists just marveling at the spot’s beauty. (I overheard one man proclaim himself an “instant nature lover” from just one view.)  P.S. If you’re brave, and experienced enough, you can hit the water and take your raft or boat downstream.

The Patowmack Canal Trail (1.25 miles one way, easy) follows the remains of one of the first canals ever to be built in the United States and is perfect for a leisurely walk away from the crowds. It’s easy to find yourself pleasantly lost in the woods, with only the sounds of your footsteps below and the occasional click of a camera.

So, pack your lunch (picnicking is encouraged!) and hit the road. On a Saturday, this well-known preserve was packed. If you’re able, go on a weekday or early in the morning when there might be less foot traffic. The views are exquisite, and the secret’s out!

Note: The Great Falls are also visible from the Maryland side via the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

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