Safety In and On the Potomac

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department

News Release 14-73
Date:  July 28, 2014

Every year many recreational visitors injure themselves in the Great Falls Park, especially the Potomac River Gorge area. More than half, 51 percent, of all river related injuries occur in the 14-mile stretch and in death.

Additionally, 72 percent of river related incidents are shoreline based activities, not kayaking or canoeing. Recent statistics show if you are doing something from the shore of the river, without proper gear, fall into a situation where injury is likely, there is a high chance of drowning or serious injury.

  • Swimming, wading, and entering the river is strictly prohibited year round.
  • Rock climbing can be extremely dangerous and should be attempted by experienced climbers with proper equipment. (Register at the visitor center or lower parking lot before climbing).
  • Use extreme caution and keep a safe distance from cliff edges.
  • Be careful while hiking or exploring near the river and in rocky areas.
  • Boating is for experienced boaters only. (Boaters must enter the river below the falls at Fisherman's Eddy or farther downstream).
  • Wear a lifejacket in or near the river, including those that fish.
  • Be alert for natural hazards such as poison ivy, stinging insects, spiders, and ticks. The only venomous snake, the copperhead, is found in the park.

To view a short public safety announcement video on the dangers of the river featuring firefighters from Fire and Rescue Station 12, Great Falls, go to

For more information and safety tips, go to the U.S. National Park Service at

For more information, call Daniel L. Schmidt or Captain I Randal Bittinger,
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, 703-246-3801 and TTY: 711.
Duty PIO (Weekends/After-hours): 703-877-3702
Fairfax County is committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in all county programs,
services and activities. Reasonable accommodations will be provided upon request.
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Fairfax, VA 22030

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