Dike Creek Crags
Dike Creek is the stream hikers cross via a wooden bridge as they travel along the River Trail between the Dihedrals and Juliet's Balcony areas. Just upstream of the bridge is a small cascade, one of just a few in the Great Falls area. Downstream, near where Dike Creek meets the Potomac River, is a climbing area with several short routes in the moderate to difficult range, easy Class 5 routes suitable for scramblers, and plenty of bouldering opportunities.
These crags get little attention from roped climbers, seemingly for two reasons: the routes are short (only 25-35'), and the faces, corners, and overhangs are not as visually spectacular as those at the closest neighbors are. But that lack of attention is one of the area's virtues; Great Falls is an increasingly popular climbing area, and the Dike Creek crags provide a solitude that is often difficult or impossible to find at the really popular spots. Set up a toprope near a cluster of routes and try them all; practice your leading skills on short, moderate routes; play around on the boulders and small outcrops; or put on your rock shoes or sticky-soled hiking boots and your helmet and try any of several faces, cracks, and corners.
A bonus here is that unless the water levels are high enough so that the river reaches the base of the rocks, there will be a beach of soft sand making for much better landings (for boulderers, scramblers, and free soloists on many of the short routes) than one will find almost anywhere else at Great Falls. That's not an invitation to recklessness, though; don't try something you normally wouldn't just because you think the sand below you is going to save you from serious injury or death.
Accessing the Crags
This is so easy. From the "lower lot" (see Getting There), hike east along a wide gravel path until you reach the signed River Trail, where you turn right. Shortly after passing two open clifftop areas on your left, the trail descends some wooden steps to a wooden bridge crossing Dike Creek. A primitive but much-used trail leaves the main trail just before it crosses the bridge, and this trail follows Dike Creek for the remainder of its short journey to the Potomac River. During drought periods, the creek's bed will be dry enough for hiking, and this is actually a little easier on the feet than the uneven, root- and rock-laden primitive trail.
Climbing at the Dike Creek Crags
There are two main clusters of named routes. The first is along the cliffs lining Dike Creek itself (on the southeast) where the small gorge opens to meet the Potomac River. The second cluster is around the corner to the right (downstream). Because the routes are so short and do not attract much attention from roped climbers, I will not list them all here but will instead recommend obtaining the climbing guide referenced in the External Links section if you are interested in the established routes. There are two pictures on this page, however, that depict some of the routes and give brief descriptions of them.
Those interested in bouldering can go just about anywhere.
Scramblers who like to keep things at Class 3 and maybe a little Class 4 will find a few different options scattered about; many are adjacent to technical routes. Scramblers who like 5.0-5.2 will find the best options the farther downstream they go. There are several corners, cracks, and broken faces to try. Two photographs on this page detail some of these options and identify their locations as well.
There are also some cliffs upstream of Dike Creek's confluence with the Potomac. These cliffs are very close to the Dihedrals area but are not considered a part of it. I did not climb on these cliffs, though, and can't recommend routes or estimate their difficulties.
Some notes about climbing at Great Falls: Most people toprope the routes, but the ratings are based on lead conditions, so topropers may think some routes are easier than their ratings suggest.
The climbs at Great Falls are short ones, but they are not sport routes. Most old bolts have been removed, and it is illegal to alter the rock by drilling or other means. Toproping is the predominant style here, but many routes are leadable. The rule at Great Falls: if you can't lead it with natural gear, toprope it just as everyone else does. This is the local ethic and was before the Park Service tightened rules about bolting and altering the rock.
From the western part of I-495, a piece of the Capital Beltway, take Exit 44 for Route 193, Georgetown Pike; this is the second exit south of the Maryland border. Drive west for a few miles until you see the well-signed road leading to Great Falls Park. Turn right and follow the road about a mile to the entrance station. Enter and take an immediate right to reach a large parking area used by most climbers and boaters here; this is commonly called the Lower Lot since it is downhill from the entrance station. Don't expect to find a parking spot here after 10 on a nice weekend day.
The park is open from 7 A.M. until dark every day except Christmas. There is an admission fee, good for three days, of $5 per vehicle or $3 per person entering on foot or by bicycle. Annual and interagency passes are also available (the latter costs $80).
Climbers are required to register (free). There is a registration box at the climbers’ parking area, and there is also one at the visitor center.
Drilling to place bolts is prohibited.
The area is popular and can be quite crowded, especially on weekends spring through fall.
The park is home to copperheads. It’s unlikely that they hang out in holds on the cliffs themselves, but be aware. The danger, though slim, is greatest near the clifftops, where there are more places for snakes to be.
Poison ivy is abundant, especially along the descent route. The humid period from late spring through early fall features gnats, mosquitoes, and other biting insects.
None; day-use-only area.
Great Falls NPS Site
A great resource is the PATC Climbers' Guide, which focuses just on the Great Falls area.