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Little Falls

Washington River Monitoring and Recreation Site

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Little Falls is the end of a 10-mile stretch of rapids, falls, and swift water where the Potomac begins the transition from a free-flowing stream to a tidal estuary. At Little Falls (10 miles downstream from Great Falls), the tidal influence is actually felt. Little Falls is also the river's "head of navigation," meaning that ships cannot navigate the river any farther upstream.

The location played a key role in the choice of a site for the Nation's Capital. In 1790, Congress enacted a law directing George Washington to select a site for the seat of government for the United States to be somewhere on the Potomac between the Anacostia River and Conococheague Creek (70 miles upstream at the town of Williamsport, Md.). The law was called "The Residence Bill," and it included provisions for assuming northern states' debts from the Revolution in return for supporting the Potomac River site. Thomas Jefferson was involved in negotiating the compromise that resolved several important issues in the early days of the republic. George Washington made the logical choice: locating the city just below Little Falls made it accessible to river and ocean commerce, but at the same time it was far enough upstream to present problems for any foreign invader. (Of course, navigating the river was not a problem for the British, who burned the White House during the War of 1812, only two decades later).

Little Falls was the site of the Little Falls Skirting Canal, one of the canals built by Washington's Patowmack Company prior to the development of the C&O Canal.

Current stream conditions are shown in the graph below:

Graph of USGS water data

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an on-line river forecast service for Little Falls available at this link. The forecast summary is shown below.

Flood Levels and Impacts

These impacts have been estimated by NOAA and FEMA based on flood levels at Little Falls

For detailed USGS real-time data on this site, select this link.

Nearby Potomac River Stream Monitors
To view a map of Potomac River Monitors,

Suggested Links

Click here for larger map and nearby sites.

Contact Information
National Park Service
Turkey Run Park
McLean VA 22101