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It had been a long, long time since our first visit to Great Falls with Joseph (when he was only 3 years old!). We rectified that situation with a return trip over the Memorial Day weekend. This time we explored the Maryland side, and it was a completely different experience. The Virginia side is really just a big, open park with nice views of the Potomac River and the falls, but the Maryland side also offers access to the C & O Canal and the towpath that runs more than 180 miles all the way to Cumberland (where we visited in 2012).
The canal was essentially a water highway connecting the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and was a "lifeline for communities" along the rivers. The canal itself drops more than 40 vertical feet in this area, so a series of 6 closely spaced locks were built to help lower boats safely. Most of the locks don't look particularly functional anymore.
We enjoyed following a series of boardwalks and bridges across the Potomac that took us to Olmstead Island and the Great Falls Overlook.
There are spectacular views of the Falls and Mather Gorge at the Overlook!
We crossed back and walked along the towpath a little longer until the whining of a bored and ever hungry 7 year old was enough. I continued on alone down to the beginning of the first section of the Billy Goat Trail, which would have to wait for another day.
On our way out we got to sit and watch a passenger boat go through one of the locks. No motor boats back then - it was drawn by mules!
Quite impressive how high the boat was raised by the water level inside the lock.
Our little outing inspired me to go out the next day and buy a bike rack for my car. Even though they have a wonderful free bike borrowing program to utilize, I'd love to bring my own bike down someday and explore on my own.