Difficult Run Trail

MODERATE 112 reviews
#3 of 14 trails in

Difficult Run Trail is a 9 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near McLean, Virginia that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.

9.0 miles
564 feet

dog friendly


horseback riding

mountain biking

trail running







Variety is the word to describe this hike. Descend to Difficult Run and follow it as it winds to the Potomac River. Enjoy the cool water in summer or view the unusual ice formations in winter. After a short, steep climb to the ridge, follow the rim of Mather Gorge towards Great Falls - a channel believed to be 180 million years old. Pass by remains of Matildaville, named by Lighthourse Harry Lee in honor of his wife, and the Potowmack Canal, planned by George Washington and operated for 26 years before being bought out by the Chesapeake and Ohio Co. and abandoned. Follow the trail as it winds along to Great Falls Park, with overlooks of the falls, and then within a few minutes the Swamp Trail where wild flowers and wildlife abound.

3 days ago

Nice dog friendly trails

12 days ago

Not bad for my first hike in Virginia. The trail is easy to find. Locals jog in the morning or take the dogs to play into the water. If you like going into the “woods” for a while and forget about the city without going too far away, this is a good one. Simple, easy to walk it. If you follow the Google maps line, you can easily find the entrance to the trail and follow it.

2 months ago

Not difficult and not fun in my opinion. The trail can go one way into an urban greenway along the Jerry Connelly cross country trail while the other gets you into Great Falls. If you don’t mind a few miles you can get into Great Falls without much effort. Parking is TERRIBLE and it is dangerous getting in and out of the parking area.

3 months ago

Nice route with the exception of the very dangerous crossing over Georgetown Pike. Take a look at that bend in the road — cars speed down around the bend and sometimes can’t see hikers until the last minute, or at least one hopes they see the hikers.

5 months ago

Due to work and timing, I was only able to make it from Colvin Mill to The Potomac, but it was a great first hike.
The trail head is easy to find if you follow the directions provided to you when you open them in google maps.

5 months ago

Enjoyable on a nice day, but really not that difficult. On a sunny day, it is some nice afternoon exercise. Photos are better in the afternoon with the sun at your back.

6 months ago

The trail head is actually really easy to find, and you park in a gravel lot right next to the trailhead. Don't go through the housing development...walk towards the trailhead. It is the CCT (Gerry Connolly Cross Country Trail) that starts from the parking lot.
This trail has a diverse set of terrain to cover and a good mix of flat and climbs. 2 river crossings (big boulders and pillons to walk on while crossing). Gets pretty busy near the Great Falls Area--pretty empty on the stick part of the lollipop loop.

8 months ago

Couldn’t find the trail... drove all the way to the starting point instructed by the app and it ended up taking me to a Cul-de-sac. I felt too weird just leaving my car in a random neighborhood and walking through some random person’s yard to get to the trail. I wish there was a parking lot or a more public starting point. I tried looking for the park that the maps and google maps app said was in the area but it once again the apps took me to a gated community and dead end cup-de-sac

9 months ago

a word of caution the trailhead is not clearly marked and if you did like us you'll end up walking into the Housing Development I am sure the homeowners are tired of this they should put up their own sign saying not the trailhead is to the right following the water pumping station it looks wrong as you walk through the wire fences once on the Trail Follow The Horseshoe or Horse Trail instead of the Gerry Connolly Trail if you want to stay near the water's edge and a better walking surface it will take awhile to get to the Great Falls so my suggestion is skip this whole event and just go to the Great Falls Park.

9 months ago

WTF? where is the trail? I'm in big housing development!

10 months ago

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Saw a fox and a hawk on our hike. Great with our dog as it wasn't too crowded.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Nice trail. We didn't do the full leg out into the Difficult Run portion of the loop because it was rained out. We walked mainly the River Trail portion, which was delightful. The drawback is that the area closest to the river is very crowded and in particular by non-hikers (flip-flops, street clothes, confusion) which detracted from the beauty of the hike. We went on a Sunday afternoon so likely peak time. Some of it is craggy and uphill which made it fun and challenging in short spurts--not too much. We had to wait about ten minutes for a parking space but other than that no troubles. I'd go again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I actually found this hike on another app but because it didn't have enough details and I couldn't record my hike, I switched over to the All Trails app. To start, you're actually looking for the Colvin Mill parking when you arrive. Not exactly sure if you're allowed to park there but every review online directs you there. Just note that they close their gate at sunset so plan accordingly. After you park, you walk down the street back towards Leesburg Pike and off to your left you'll see a gravel path that, at the time of writing this review, was a construction zone. However you can enter the area and once you see the construction buildng stay to the right. The start of the trail is right behind the bungalows. The hike is actually multiple trails, with the first being Difficult Run Trail. This part is mostly flat with you winding through people's backyard but once you get closer to the river, the trail picks up in incline and it becomes the Ridge Trail. Once you hit the river, the trail then becomes the River Trail, which is where you'll begin to see some small boulders. However this is also where you'll get the best view. The hike only takes in part of the River Trail before it reaches a park/bathroom area. At that point you'll begin you're turnaround towards the Swamp Trail which will lead you back to the Ridge Trail which will then lead you back to the Difficult Run Trail for you to head back to your starting point. The hike although has some elevation is easily achievable even for a beginner. However to not underestimate the length of the trail. With some added detour for pictures your hike can end up close to 12mile roundtrip. I encourage hikers to bring Camelback's (or other types of water bag). When you run out of water you can refill them at the restroom stop. Towels would be helpful if you sweat a lot and if it's hot out, some sunscreen would be nice as well. The paths for the most part are shaded but there are quite a few areas that are exposed to sun. Lastly, if you feel that hike is too long, there are many trails that you can cut through to get there/get back quicker, just make sure you stay on the trail (there are deers and other animals out there). So there you go. Grab a buddy, go out there and take the scenic in. Stay hydrated and have fun!

mountain biking
Sunday, July 17, 2016

The beginning of the trail starts behind a construction site, we picked up this trail after riding from Lake Fairfax. the start was a nice ride, not too difficult but once we got into the Great Falls park there was so many rocky areas we carried the bikes most of the way. The river trail was impossible to ride but we cut inland and it was a nice ride. The view of the falls was nice. Overall we did a 13.5 mile ride and would do it again.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The directions are wrong they take you to somebodys house above the trail, just follow the map on the app not the directions. First leg of the trail was not heavily trafficked which was nice. it was a pretty walk but muddy even though it hadn't rained in a few days there were still large puddles to walk around.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A little muddy, it had just rained but almost completely deserted. The trail head was behind the construction site.

mountain biking
Saturday, June 04, 2016

Very muddy and short not well maintained.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Directions are wrong

trail running
Sunday, May 15, 2016

Difficult Run is a gorgeous trail that is part of the larger, 41 mile Cross County Trail. It has varied scenery, and lush forests. For running, it can be very technical at times and muddy after 16 straight days of rain; but well worth it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Really enjoyed the section south of the parking lot on Georgetown Pike. Really great scenery and fairly easy hike. Wasn't crowded at all on veterans day morning.

The section north of the lot was fine, but I wasn't feeling the proximity to the road.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Very scenic though close to roads. Great hike!

trail running
Friday, August 21, 2015

Great trail for running. Shady and not crowded.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Easy to moderate. Not crowded; shaded and beautiful

trail running
Friday, April 10, 2015

Great Trail for trail running. Have ran this out & back multiple times and overall the trail is in good condition for trail runs. I usually start outside Great Falls Park at the intersection of Leigh Mill Rd & Kelso Rd. From there you can pick up Difficult Run trail heading towards the Potomac. Be wary if it has rained recently as this trail can get quite muddy, like the last time I ran it. Also, if the Difficult Run stream is higher than normal expect to get a little wet as you jump/step from rock to rock crossing the stream. Once you get further towards the Potomac there is a stretch that is washed out and you have two options: 1) take the "high road" where you are shimmying along the rock face/ledge about 15ft above Difficult Run or you can climb down to the banks of Difficult Run and then back up to meet the trail on the other side. Overall a fun trail but can get quite crowded on nice summer days/weekends so be prepared if you like to hike/run in relative solitude.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Some of the photos here are a bit misleading. Difficult Run trail ends at the Potomac, where you get just a single view of the Potomac, but certainly not a view of Mather Gorge, nor of the Great Falls. The trail does, however, get you to the Ridge Trail where you can hike to those sights.

That said, it's a nice walk on a decently well maintained trail. As of fall 2014 work is underway to repair a section that has washed out. There is an alternate/detour trail of only about 50' that will get you around the missing section. The trail 'pin' identified on the map here is the location of the small-ish parking lot. Get there early on the weekends.

From the lot, the upstream section has decent mileage, but is fairly flat. Fine for walking or off-road biking. All the trail is along the water of Difficult Run, with a couple crossings of the run via stepping stones. Going downstream from the lot is more interesting, although shorter. The water gets more interesting with more boulders and some moderate falls. The trail is close to the water and visible at all times, with spurs off the trail that take you closer to the water. This section includes the missing trail section.

In the downstream section, close to the intersection with the Potomac, you can take a connection trail to the Ridge Trail, from which you can see more of the Potomac. This trail takes you all the way up to Mather Gorge, the ranger station, and Great Falls overlooks, Sandy Landing, and other trails along that side of the Potomac. You can continue from there on the same trail upstream to Riverbend, Seneca, and beyond.

Using the Ridge Trail you can loop back to the Difficult Run parking lot without having to double back on trail you have already walked. That section from the Ridge Trail to the lot is not marked, so use your GPS to find that short connection trail. If you are looking for it the trail will be obvious.

Monday, August 04, 2014


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Grew up in the area but this is the first time I've tried the Virginia side of the falls. Very nice hike for the location - some good elevation changes along the Ridge Trail, and the views of the Potomac and Great Falls from the Virginia side were every bit as good as the Maryland side, but much less crowded once you get away from the visitors enter. The trail even still had a bit of ice left over from the polar vortex. All in all, a beautiful way to start a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

I've been here many times since I grew up in the area. The park charges by car entry, so try to carpool.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Great off-road hike with good elevation changes, beautiful views and gravel paths. Not for the new-to-hiking but good for moderate ability.

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