Summer :: Great Falls Revisited

Summer :: Great Falls Revisited

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all.”

– Stanley Horowitz

I’ve used that quote a few times when I’ve talked about the fun of exploring nature through different seasons, but the more we explore Virginia through the seasons, the more truth it’s had for us. It’s helped us to notice and to appreciate that in nature, nothing is ever the same. The paths, the rocks, the rivers, they’re all still there, but with the changing seasons, they take on new palettes, new moods, new personas.

The last time we hiked Great Falls National Park, we were just moving from winter into the first sunny days of spring. The rock felt like the rough etching, the water like the watercolor, in Horowitz’s quote. It was a somewhat paler, somewhat quieter version of what it could be in other seasons.

This past weekend, we headed back out to the park to see what summer had done to the palette. What we found was an amazing, rich, vibrant torrent of color and life. From the raging storm-filled river to the lush life blooming everywhere on shore to the wildlife watching from between trees, summer brought Great Falls to lush and vivid life.

For context, here’s what Great Falls looks like during winter.

We took these photos roughly the same time of day as we took the previous ones. But here, the colors are richer, the river fuller, the shadows darker from the intensity of the summer sun. The roaring of the water was intense. I wish we’d shot some video to capture the sound.

Many of the trails we’d walked previously were flooded as well, indicating that the river had surged well over its banks. We used caution when our path took us anywhere near the river. Even though there were still a few intrepid kayakers out and about, we had the feeling that we’d be easily swept away.

Which might have been what these fellows were waiting for.

I think they were lost and some joker just told them they were at Splash Mountain after all. With the river that high, it was really creepy to see that many buzzards hanging about.

We took the opportunity to explore some of the higher trails this time as well, and pay a little more attention to some of the upper details that we’d missed on previous trips. The lure of the river pulled us away the previous times. This time, it’s roughness pushed us to explore new facets of the park.

I always am amazed, when I look back through our hike photos, that we almost always manage to find at least one bridge to wander across in the middle of shooting.



  • 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean VA 22102
  • The park opens 7:00 AM most days and closes 30 minutes past sunset
  • The park is closed Christmas Day
  • There is a $5 entry fee per person walking in or $10 per vehicle
  • For more information, call (703) 757-3103 or click here!


  • Check out the NPS site for info on free park days for your favorite park!
  • Presidents’ Day? Totally free park day.
  • We definitely recommend getting there early.
  • The vehicle line backs up at the gate starting around 10:30 AM and you can wait up to an hour to get in the park!
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable for walking and have good tread – the rocky paths get slippery.

We’ve loved seeing the park in at least two of its seasons, and we’re very excited to come up here for a fall look when the leaves start turning! I know July is too soon to start getting excited for fall, but the weather for this particular hike was in the high 60s F and we saw a few red leaves out on the trail…so…

How have your favorite places changed from season to season? What do you enjoy most about visiting them in certain seasons?