Potomac, S. Branch - 4. US 220 Bridge North of Upper Tract to Big Bend Campground

Potomac, S. Branch, West Virginia, US


4. US 220 Bridge North of Upper Tract to Big Bend Campground (Upper Smokehole)

Usual Difficulty I-III+ (for normal flows)
Length 9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 25 fpm
Max Gradient 40 fpm

LandSlide Rapid,SmokeHole

LandSlide Rapid,SmokeHole
Photo by ZZ taken 07/31/03

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01605500 2.50 - 5.50 ft I-III+ 00h41m 2.81 ft (running)

River Description

The easiest put-in is a 200 yards below the US 220 Bridge on river left at a river ford.

The first rapid as you enter a small box canyon is called Landslide and is more impressive looking then difficult. Boaters unfamiliar with this rapid should scout from river right. A river left boat scouting eddy comes and goes according to how severe the last high water affected it.
or boaters going to Big Bend there will be a portage at a low water bridge about 5 miles from the put-in.
A shorter trip can be made by taking out at "Eagles Rock",a tall rock face pinnacle on River right.It will come into view once you leave the canyon and into flater water.A short acces road will be to your left with room to leave a vehicle.There is also a gated area but if you decide to use the field beyond it,please be mindful to chain the gate.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2008-10-01 23:19:25


Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 26 2015 (633 days ago)
Chris PreperatoDetails
There's a lot across the main exit of the landslide rapid. You could still exit left, but the tree
was chest high and sketchy at best 400cfs at the Franklin gauge.
May 27 2014 (966 days ago)
Timtation (156553)
A big group of us put in at the 220 bridge and took out at the low water bridge. maybe 5 miles. The
gauge was reading 2.7. Two of the canoes had two dogs and two paddlers, and another in the group
was in an open touring kayak. Most of us ran the "landslide rapid" (w/o the dogs), and ended up
swimming. Only one canoe made it through upright, they lined up way right. Nobody got banged up
here. I highly recommend this float, and I wouldn't worry about open canoes, at this level a bail
bucket and some moderate river skills is all you will need.
May 23 2013 (1335 days ago)
Brett HagertyDetails
In response to the previous comments about this section - The four mile stretch from 220 to the
picnic bridge is a great run for those who are wanting a beginner creek experience. It is class III
with some pools but lots of continuous water. Open canoes should consider this an expert run, but
it is not class V. Landslide rapid could be considered a III+ at higher levels.
April 18 2012 (1736 days ago)
jgarder (151938)
May 2010: We ran this at 2.75 feet Memorial Day weekend and got worked hard because we made the
mistake of bringing open canoes, loaded ones at that, onto the upper section. To be clear to all
readers, open canoes have no business above the campground at this level or higher unless you have
excellent skills and air bags. More water would have definitely helped, and to be clear, we did not
run landslide; we put in below that. Our advice: save those open canoes for the section from the
Big Bend campground down to Petersburg, which is a relatively straightforward float at that water
level. Update April 2012: We ran from halfway down upper smokehole (a few miles before Big Bend)
down to Petersburg 4/14/12-4/15/12 at 2.25 feet. It was bony but we had very little walking and it
was beautiful. With good reading skills and lighter gear, this can be run below recommended, though
I wouldnt' run it lower than this. The final rapid at the dam had rebar sticking out but it wasn't
sketchy. I recommend anyone running it at this level bring a battery-powered saw and cut that rebar
out to do a big favor for boaters at higher water levels.
May 30 2011 (2060 days ago)
hugetroll (153145)
We consider this our club run. We usually run it at least 6-10 times a season. Landslide is usually
easier than it looks. Everybody in our group has rolled in it and just flushed right through. We
always scout it on the left. Stop on the sandbar and walk carefully along left bank. I'ld call it a
IV but only because a line too far left will put a new scratch on your helmet. As always...make
your own decision. Shoot me an email if you're a solid class III paddler with a bombproof roll, and
you'ld like someone to paddle this section with. hugetroll@yahoo.com
May 16 2011 (2073 days ago)
Sarahjane (153043)
My dad and I paddled this stretch April 30, 201 | [RIVER LEVEL]: 3.9 (at put-in), 3.77 at take-out
[PADDLER EXPERIENCE]: Bow (19 y/o f): novice; Stern (56y/o m): experienced paddler | [BOAT]: Dagger
caption complete with front and rear flotation, kneeling pillars, thigh straps, and no camping
gear. | [PERSONAL GEAR]: Full wetsuits, helmets, and water/tennis shoes. | This stretch was an
absolute blast. 9 miles of nearly non-stop class 3 rapids (a few stretches of calm, but there were
definitely more rapids than not). Great fun for the experienced. Guaranteed no boredom! [LANDSLIDE
RAPID]: This rapid is the first one you'll hit right if you put in at the 220 bridge. At 3.9, this
was a raging V. Experienced kayakers, have fun, but to anyone who's brainless enough to hit this in
a canoe or as an amateur in a kayak, I seriously hope you've got your will in order. Hey, this is
how natural selection works, right? When you see car-sized boulders, pull off to the right
immediately (left is a sheer cliff) and portage around or at least scout it. There is a calm place
to put in just downstream. The portage isn't the best (about 15 minutes through bramble-infested
cliff trails). If you're on the fence deciding whether or not to shoot this, don't. This is not the
place you want to have river rescue pull you out. The cliff by the road is high and impossible to
climb and pulling out here would be impossible. There is no cell reception, so you'd have go to
downstream to a quarter or a half mile to pull out and hope a car comes by to give you a lift. |
["SCHOOL BUS RAPID"] I don't know the official name of this rapid, but there is an old school bus
on the left shore, which is why we refer to it as such. There is a sand-bar/island right by the
bus. At 3.9 the river was a bit low on the right, so we went left. We got sucked in by the bank and
flipped in a solid III. The channel here is narrow, but the water is deceptively deep. at 5'9", I
couldn't touch bottom. The current here is pretty fierce and there's another solid III just a bit
after which you definitely don't want to swim, so if you flip, get out asap. It's deep, but there
are still lots of nasty rocks. My dad and I both came out bleeding from this one. | [LOW WATER
BRIDGE]: There is a great stretch of III's right before the low water bridge. Warning signs to
watch for are a sign to the left for Smoke Hole Cave (you'll just see the plaque, though), then a
broken down RV (if it's still there, but it looked like it had been there for quite a while).
You'll have to pull out in the middle of a long stretch of III's unless getting sucked under the
bridge is particularly appealing or you. There is not good place to pull out. We ended up grabbing
the left bank trying to stop. Good luck. [WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY]: (1) Worn a light
life jacket. My wetsuit provided some buoyancy, but with the current and depth, I would have
appreciated an extra boost. (2)Worn something over my ankles, considering I paddled this over two
weeks ago and the four inches between where my wetsuit stopped and my shoes began are still a
painful grey/blue from deep tissue bruising and complimented with some lovely battle scars. (3)Gone
with a decked canoe. Especially with higher water levels, there isn't a whole lot you can do in an
open boat not to swamp against 3-4' standing waves. | [ADVICE] (1)Take this with a grain of salt as
I'm still an amateur, but I lost one paddle, so I'd definitely bring an extra even if you're in a
kayak, and two or three if you're with a partner in a canoe. You're toast if you're trying this
with only one person paddling. Don't forget to strap them in! (2)Don't touch this if you're not a
good swimmer. (3)Leave the kids at home (4)Don't make this a training trip for new paddlers. I knew
the basics of paddling and still got us capsized 4 times. (5)Wear a full wetsuit even if the water
is gloriously warm. No one plans on capsizing, but if you do, when you get out and see the knicks
or tears in your suit, you'll be glad it wasn't your body. Happy Adventuring!
May 2 2011 (2087 days ago)
scottw (152307)
My adult daughter and I ran this section on April 30, 2011. We put in when the Franklin gauge was
at 3.9 (about noon) and took out at Big Bend Campground about 5 PM when the gauge was at 3.77. We
were in a 14' Dagger Caption designed for whitewater, with kneeling pillars, thigh straps and
flotation bags in front and back. We were in wet suits and helmets. I'm a well-seasoned amateur; my
daughter has been down 3 very easy rivers, so still a novice. I read a guide book online that said
"the first rapid below 220 is the best" and described it as a class III. Fortunately, someone at
the campground warned me about it (Landslide rapid). We walked around it. It looks like a mankiller
to me, definitely a class V. I think a world class kayaker could do it, but anyone less is taking
an unreasonable risk with their life. The portage "path" on the right is simply awful--high sharp
boulder, thorns and brambles, etc. But I'm still glad I portaged. Not too far above the low water
bridge at Smoke Hole the river splits--where an old dilapidated brownish school bus sits on the
left. We scouted (as we were driving to the put in) and ran the left side. There is a very large
boulder near the left bank with a very heavy flow of water over it and to the right of it. It looks
runnable just to right of the boulder, and we tried, but I think a cross current caught us and we
swamped, got bashed up a little bit. (If you swamp here, you need to get out fast, because there is
another very heavy rapid right ahead where the river re-converges and you don't want to swim it.)
The low water bridge looked deadly--about 6" of daylight between the top of the water and the
bridge, with heavy water flow. I could find no good place to get out above the low water bridge.
The water is very swift and heavy along the entire length--no eddies, sandbars, banks, etc. We
ended up grabbing saplings on the left bank and that finally stopped us, but it was not pleasant.
Otherwise, we had an awesome time. We encountered LONG stretches of non-stop class III waves. We
shipped some water in some of the waves (had to pull off and empty out). There were actually not a
whole lot of turns to be made--main challenge was picking the right spot and keeping the boat
absolutely straight when hitting the waves. We viewed the river one day before when the Franklin
gauge was at 4.34. There were a lot of REALLY ugly looking waves (backward bending whitecaps) at
that level. I was highly relieved when the level dropped to 3.9, and those ugly waves tamed down
considerably. We swamped 4 times. There seems to be NO "good" place to swamp on this river--the
fast, heavy flow is practically non-stop. Our flotation bags helped considerably in making the boat
more bouyant and easier to pull over to a bank. (There is a quiet pool below landslide falls--for
the lucky ones who survive.) When I do it again, I'll wear a life jacket to supplement the bouyancy
of the wet suit. My daugther got scratched up where her ankle area was exposed between where the
wet suit stopped and her water shoes begain. Next time she'll have uninterrupted coverage there in
case we swim again. I wore Frogg Togg neoprene wader booties (purchased at Gander Mountain) as
socks inside sneakers and I was fine.
May 25 2010 (2430 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
As an addition to my comments below, immediately downstream of the crux rapid, there is a ledge
with a very sticky hydraulic that could well be fatal if you aren't lined up straight and paddling
hard, so you need to maintain good control as you exit the main drop.
September 8 2004 (4514 days ago)
Bruce FleckensteinDetails
Something happened to the gauge at Petersburg. It is reading much higher than it used to. I'm
guessing about 2 foot. Does anyone know what changed?
December 10 2003 (4787 days ago)
zeth zajacDetails
Hurricane Isabell has altered the entrance to LandSlide Rapid.The sand bar on river left is gone.It
also appears that a large rock has migrated to the very end of the rapids wall on river left.There
is a juicy hole in the center waiting as you complete the S turn.

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