Little Falls (Potomac River)

"Little Falls of the Potomac River" redirects here. For other uses, see Little Falls (disambiguation).
Little Falls

View of the river near Little Falls
from the Chain Bridge
Location Border of Arlington County and Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Type Cascade
Elevation 13 feet (4.0 m)
Watercourse Potomac River

Little Falls is an area of rapids located where the Potomac River crosses the Atlantic Seaboard fall line, descending from the harder and older rocks of the Piedmont Plateau to the softer sediments of the Atlantic coastal plain. Situated at the point where Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia meet, it is the first "cataract", or barrier, to navigation encountered on the Potomac River in going upstream.[1] It may be viewed from the heavily-trafficked Chain Bridge, about a half mile downstream. It is named in contradistinction to Great Falls, about 5 miles further upstream.

Captain John Smith (1580–1631) of England was the first European to explore the Potomac as far as Little Falls. When he arrived there in 1608 he noted that "as for deer, buffaloes, bears and turkeys, the woods do swarm with them and the soil is extremely fertile."[2] By 1757, the name of a nearby Anglican Church building — "The Falls Church" — referenced this location near the main tobacco rolling road circumventing Little Falls. The local settlement of Falls Church, Virginia, which grew up there, soon followed suit.



  1. Bradley E. Gernand and Nan Netherton, Falls Church—A Virginia Village Revisited. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 2000. Page 13, citing interviews with Fairfax County archeologists Michael Johnson and Martha Williams.
  2. Gernand and Netherton, Falls Church, p. 13, citing Fairfax Harrison, The Landmarks of Old Prince William, pp. 143, 148.
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