Is swimming allowed at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve? The short answer is no.
There’s no doubt that wading or swimming in a river or stream can be relaxing, invigorating, refreshing and sometimes, all of those at once. It’s fun – but it’s not safe or responsible to do in the Potomac Gorge.
The Potomac Gorge is special, probably more special than most folks in the Washington area realize. It’s one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. The gorge is a 15-mile stretch from Riverbend Park in Great Falls down to Theodore Roosevelt Island near Georgetown. There are floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys within the gorge, carved over eons by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. It is a dynamic union of rocks and river that is home to many unusual plants and animals along with unusual combinations of some species.
Scott’s Run, a part of the Gorge, was named for the large stream that flows through the park’s western edge. Thousands of hikers each year experience its scenic beauty, rugged trails, and dense forests. Designated as a nature preserve, the entire area and all of its resources are protected, including the creeks and streams.
The beauty of the Gorge’s carved valley, though, can be deceptive. The water’s thunderous power is obvious at one of the gorge’s feature attractions, the cascades and falls at Great Falls National Park. But that’s not the only place along the river’s run that the gorge creates quick, dangerous currents and underwater hazards.
With the large creek flowing through its western end and the Potomac River bordering its north edge, Scott’s Run inspires in some visitors the idea of swimming or wading, particularly on a warm summer day. But swimming or wading in the park is illegal and dangerous. Yet the perception of Scott’s Run as a safe swimming hole persists, fueled by social media posts of people on rocks around the creek and near its low waterfall.
The falls where Scott’s Run spills into the Potomac is the preserve’s most visited and scenic spot. The creek’s beauty and often clear water mask its flashy nature. Within minutes, the stream can transform from tranquil to torrential. Scott’s Run originates near Tyson’s, in one of the highest spots in Fairfax County. During rainstorms, all the water that falls on roof tops and parking lots enters the stream rapidly and rushes only four miles before it reaches the nature preserve. This can create a dangerous situation in a short time for anybody in the water.
Fairfax County Park Authority regulation 1.21 states that swimming, bathing, and wading are prohibited in parkland bodies of water. That includes streams, creeks, ponds, and lakes on Fairfax County Park Authority property. Deceptive currents and submerged rocks can create hazardous situations. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department website says 72 percent of the department’s river-related response incidents are shoreline-based activities, not boating incidents. In addition, entering the water degrades banks and increases erosion, which affects water quality.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of the most beautiful, alluring, remarkable parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority. It’s just a gorgeous place to be. We want you to visit, be a good steward of its resources, and enjoy this special place responsibly.
We also want you to arrive safe and sound at home after your visit.