The Potomac Gorge (Potomac Palisades)

Preserving the natural beauty of the Potomac Gorge has long been a priority alongside the development of DC.

The beauty of the Potomac Gorge was recognized from the city’s beginnings, and since the time of the McMillan Plan, it has been preserved in its natural state. Over thousands of years, natural forces at work in the Potomac Gorge have created a deep, narrow valley. Here, rainwater from a 11,500-square mile area upstream is funneled through a constricted passageway, where plants have adapted the ability to survive in the face of intense flood scouring.

The Potomac Gorge is located in the "fall zone," where the river passes from the hard, erosion-resistant bedrock of the Piedmont to the softer, sandy deposits of the Atlantic Costal Plain. Over this 15-mile corridor, the river drops from an elevation of 140 feet to 10 feet about sea level.

Public parkland in the Gorge includes the National Park Service's Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Park and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which administers Turkey Run Park, Great Falls Park, and Glen Echo Park.

The site of the federal city, at the opening out of the valley where the Potomac breaks over the fall line from Piedmont uplands onto the coastal plain, was chosen for political, practical, and aesthetic reasons. Located on the symbolic dividing line between North and South, and near George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, the selection placed the city at the head of river navigation, with access to fertile hinterlands and the potential for waterpower from the falls just upriver.

DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)



Potomac River upstream from Key Bridge