Great Falls Rapids

© 2007 Adam Kenneth Campbell


Olmsted Island Trail
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Potomac, Maryland
United States


N 38°59’47.8″
W 77°14’57.4″


One of the most spectacular things to see in the Washington D.C. area isn’t the city itself. Many people don’t know about this natural wonder located located just fifteen miles from the Nation’s Capital.

The Great Falls of the Potomac River is a place where the river builds up speed as it is forced over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. The falls consist of cascading rapids and several 20 foot waterfalls, with a total 76 foot drop in elevation over a distance of less than a mile.

This particular shot was taken on a walk bridge spanning one of these cascades, on a short accessible trail leading to Olmstead Island. It was an overcast January day, so I focused on capturing more close up shots than expansive panoramas. The late afternoon sun created a slight diffuse glow through the clouds to give the shot just a little warmth in color and the fast shutter speed really shows the violence of force created by the rushing water.

The Potomac River narrows from nearly 1000 feet, just above the falls, to between 60 and 100 feet wide as it rushes through Mather Gorge, a short distance below the falls. The Great Falls of the Potomac display the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.


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