Hike Difficult Run in Great Falls

Difficult Run, McLean, Virginia, United States

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    3 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    350 Feet

Easy Parking
Picnic Area

Hike along Difficult Run to Great Falls National Park with amazing views.

Difficult Run is a popular hiking location right down the street from Great Falls National Park. Starting at the Difficult Run parking lot you head to the trail at the far end of the lot. The trail will split. The green blazes will take you to the left but you can also stay to the right and hike along the run for a short ways before meeting back up with the official trail.

Hiking along the run is very beautiful and allows for opportunities for rock scrambling and birding. You may spot hawks, eagles, woodpeckers, and blue herons while hiking. The trail will take you under Georgetown Pike and you'll start increasing your elevation. You'll have wonderful views down into the small rapids and rock formations of Difficult Run.

Shortly after passing under Georgetown Pike you'll see wooden stairs heading down to the river. If you'd like to see some beautiful rapids, carefully make your way down and spend some moments on the rocks listening to the water as it gushes over the large rocks. When done, climb back up and continue on the trail.

You will come to a marker where trails intersect. For this hike you will want to make a left onto Ridge Trail. This trail will take you towards Great Falls National Park and eventually into the park itself. Here you'll hike through the woods and start seeing glimpses of the Potomac River to your right.

At another intersection of trails you should make a right onto River Trail. The elevation gain at this point is pretty significant but not difficult. Once you reach the top you'll have a wonderful view of the Potomac River. The trail will continue down to the river where you can rest and relax on the large boulders. Please, do not go into the water as the Potomac River is very dangerous.

Once rested, return the way you came back to the Difficult Run parking lot.  You can continue further down the trail to the Great Falls Visitors Center if you would like a longer hike.

Notes: On beautiful weekend days plan to arrive early as it is a small parking lot.

Research for this hike can be found at Fun in Fairfax.

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Snacks and water
  • Binoculars for birding
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Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

An amazing hike. Beautiful rapids and near the water most of the time. Felt like more of an adventure then some of the hikes in the area. We started at great falls national park.

10 months ago
10 months ago

Jenn Gonzalez

I live the crazy life of a full time working, suburban mom of two. It can get stressful. The times I can get out into nature settle me. That moment, when you're standing among the mountains with only the sounds of nature, are the very best stress reliever.

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