Hiking the Billy Goat Trail A at Great Falls

We were going to do this hike last weekend but laziness won and we slept in. So this weekend we got up bright and early on Saturday morning to go hike the Billy Goat Trail down at Great Falls. We last did this hike almost exactly one year ago just before Brady started at his new job and we decided it was about time we go do this again.

The Billy Goat Trail A is an extremely popular trail in the region and can be very crowded on the weekends. The plan was to get there around 8 and park in the Anglers parking lot which would have been free but we didn’t get there til after 8:30 and it was full. It was $10 to park up at the main entrance but the parking lot was still relatively empty and we hopped straight onto the towpath to get down to the trailhead. Even though it was first thing in the morning, the trail was already more crowded than last time. Since you’re scrambling on rocks for the whole trail, it’s definitely much easier to maneuver with less people, so on the weekend, the earlier, the better. 

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling

It’s somewhat hard to see the rock climbers on the other side of the river (see if you can find them!) and there’s also a kayaker in the river.

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling

Blue Blazes mark the way on the Billy Goat Trail

I have a few favorite sections of the trail with the first being the section being what I believe the National Park Service calls “Pothole Alley”. It’s an appropriately named section because there are many opportunities for an ankle to suddenly disappear if you aren’t careful with your footing. I find it’s fun to go through this area because there’s a lot of balance work involved. 

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, pothole alley

Yeah, that’s the trail. 

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, pothole alley, Mather Gorge

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, pothole alley, Mather Gorge

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, pothole alley, Mather Gorge

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, Mather Gorge

This section runs along the Mather Gorge where the river appears to be pretty calm but is apparently a deceiving death trap <- really cool interactive article. There we a lot of people in this section as we were hiking through and as we were enjoying the view, this kid came along and started scooting down an angled rock close to the edge of a dropoff. His family went ahead without noticing and here he is, STILL inching closer. Brady and I are about to have a panic attack because one little slip and this kid would be on the news. I wasn’t about to let that happen so I snapped at him and he quickly reversed and went after his family. 

Please watch your kids if you take them on the Billy Goat Trail and keep people like me from having a panic attack over your child.

One of the other exciting parts of the trail is the “50 foot traverse”. I feel like it looks more intimidating than it is and I wouldn’t even say it’s the hardest section though it looks it. There were quite a few people on this section and I can imagine that lines form at the top and bottom when it’s crowded. I like it because it feels like you’re getting to experience rock climbing on a more horizontal elevation.

Billy Goat Trail A, Rock scrambling, 50 foot traverse

I can imagine it’s probably more fun to go up than down.

We did end up getting stuck behind a youth group and a boy scout troop at a couple choke points but otherwise we had pretty smooth sailing and only really stopped for a few minutes to split a Clif Bar and drink up. 

I assume the biggest draw to the trail is the rock scrambling opportunities, but I think another thing that makes this trail great is the diversity in views. You frequently find yourself in little pockets within these large boulders and rock mountains and it’s a surprising find when you come across a small isolated lake.

We joined back up with the towpath and trekked the approx. 2 miles back to the car. We saw a lot of fish and turtles in the canal and a high point was getting to watch a great blue heron wrestle with a small snake from only 12 feet away.

The trail itself is about 1.75 miles and with our moderately fast pace and a few breaks to enjoy the view it took us about an hour and 20 minutes to complete. Overall we hiked close to 4.5 miles and that took about 2 and a half hours. 

Besides having less people on the trail, a big perk to starting early in the morning is the cooler temperatures. It was still in the 60s when we started and was in the mid 70s by the time we finished. It was humid which meant I couldn’t wear my glasses for much of the hike or else they’d fog up.

Since it was a short day hike, there wasn’t too much we needed to carry. We took about 3 liters of water for the two of us which was plenty since it wasn’t too hot. I put ice cubes in before we left so that the water would be colder longer. We didn’t have a large breakfast before going so a couple Clif Bars were great and of course sunscreen is a must whenever you’re spending time outdoors.

Including our drive to and from the park, our excursion took about 4 hours. At some point we’ll have to make it a longer hike and do the B and C sections of the Billy Goat Trail as well. 


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