River Safety

A person being rescued by the U.S. Park Police helicopter

U.S. Park Police helicopter rescue

National Park Service

In Great Falls Park and the river gorge below, the waters are deep and high in volume with powerful, fast moving currents. This area is NOT a swimming hole. Over the years many people have died swimming in the Potomac River Gorge, as well as from falling in the river along the steep rocky shorelines. More than half (51%) of all river related injuries in the Potomac River Gorge are fatal and 72% of river related incidents are shoreline based activities (not kayaking/canoeing).

The appearance of the river can be deceptive. The Potomac often looks calm on the surface. What is not visible are downward moving currents that can pull a human being or dog down to the bottom.

Your safety is your responsibility.


News Report: Hear from volunteers, fire and rescue personnel, park rangers, and survivors, who spoke at the press conference on May 22nd, about river safety.

Movie: How long can you hold your breath? Park rangers and river rescue personnel talk about what happens in the Potomac when people take risks. Also available in Spanish and Vietnamese.

From the Washington Post: an interactive article on river currents and why people drown in the Potomac at Great Falls. There is also a feature article on the factors that cause drownings, and an interview with a survivor.

Learn more about kayaking on the Potomac.

Did You Know?