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Located just 15 miles from the Nation's capital, the Great Falls of the Potomac (a name given the area by the first European colonists) is considered the most spectacular natural landmark in the D.C. metropolitan area. Here, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through a narrow gorge. This dramatic scene makes Mather Gorge, named after the first director of the National Park Service, a popular site with local residents and tourists from around the world who are visiting the Washington area.
The falls consist of cascading rapids and several 20 foot waterfalls with a total 76 foot drop in elevation over a distance of 3500 feet. Arising from a calmer and much broader flow upstream, the Potomac constricts at Great Falls from 2500 feet just above the falls to between 60 and 100 feet along the gorge for over a mile. The Great Falls of the Potomac display the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.