An excellent resource for the area is Eric Horst’s Rock Climbing Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. The section on Great Falls provides one-sentence overviews of the routes. There are also photos, taken either from a boat or from the Maryland side, of the crags, and the photos have useful diagrams showing the locations and directions of the routes. The guide leaves the step-by-step concerns, and the fun, to you.
Even better is the PATC Climbers' Guide, which focuses just on the Great Falls area.
Navigating the Crag
Some of the climbs offer enough natural protection to allow lead climbing, but most climbers employ toproping here and elsewhere in the park, especially since the access trail leads to the tops of the cliffs rather than to their bases.
The attached pictures, if you click on them, will provide more details about the crag and some of the routes on it.
Getting ThereLocals will know their own best ways. For others, though, these directions are easiest to follow:
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. There are two large parking lots after the entrance station. However, make an immediate right instead and drive into the "Lower Lot," which is popular with climbers and kayakers and closer to the crags.
To reach Juliet’s Balcony, hike to the River Trail, which is the maintained trail closest to the river. After passing the Sandbox and Dihedrals access points, the trail drops down some wooden steps, makes a bridged stream crossing, and then climbs a set of wooden steps. At the top of the climb, the trail splits in three, with the River Trail heading right. The left fork just goes a few feet to a rocky overlook of the river (scrambling opportunities here). Go straight, though, up to the rock outcrop directly ahead of you. Once there, you will be atop the Juliet’s Balcony crag. Look down to view the Balcony just to make sure you’re in the right place. From the parking lot, it takes around 15 minutes to hike here.
Then there are a few ways to access the climbs. To reach Epigone and Sciolist, make a short scramble down the upstream side of the cliff. There is a photo of these routes on this page, so they should be easy to find. Both climb the upstream-facing wall that marks one end of the Juliet’s Balcony crag, and both begin from a gently sloping ledge; no river exposure on these two climbs.
Some climbers descend Trellis instead.
To reach the downstream crag, scramble or rappel down.
Red TapeThe park is open from 7 A.M. until dark every day except Christmas. There is an admission fee, good for three days, of $10 per vehicle Annual and interagency passes are also available (the latter costs $80).
Climbers are asked 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. If you use chalk, try to use colors that blend with the rock here.
The area is popular and can be quite crowded, especially on weekends spring through fall. Also, some of the people there, skilled as they may be, are less the sanctity-of-nature types and more the types who see mountains and crags as a climbing gym with cool views. Try going on a weekday or in winter if you want quiet, especially at this popular crag.
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. The humid period from late spring through early fall features gnats, mosquitoes, and other biting insects.