Potomac - 2. Violette's Lock/GW Canal Loop


Potomac, Maryland, US

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2. Violette's Lock/GW Canal Loop (Seneca Breaks)

Usual Difficulty I-II (for normal flows)
Length 4 Miles

The Surfer's Hole @ the GW Canal


The Surfer's Hole @ the GW Canal
Photo of Jeff Davis by Mark Anderson taken 06/15/01 @ 3.7 Ft

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
POTOMAC RIVER NEAR WASH, DC LITTLE FALLS PUMP STA
usgs-01646500 2.40 - 6.00 ft I-II 01h49m 3.64 ft (running)


River Description

The Violette's Lock/GW Canal run on the Potomac river is an excellent run for paddlers who are working on their skills. Local canoe clubs use this river section extensively for training. The rapids are Class I-II in nature and are appropriate for practiced novice and higher skilled boaters.

The river seems to pick up a lot of strainers here, so be on the lookout for ever-changing obstructions. With use of the watered C & O Canal on the Maryland side of the river, this run has the additional advantage of not requiring a shuttle. (The river can be run in the main channel through an area known as area of islands and river debris known as the Seneca Breaks, but this isn't the traditional run.) In simplist terms, paddle down the river, then paddle back up the canal.

The river section, located near the Virginia bank of the Potomac, is accessed from the Violette's Lock picnic area along the C & O Canal (see directions below). To putin, walk across the canal bridge and follow a faint trail to the right and down to the river bank at the top of a canal feeder channel. Paddle across the river, which is very wide here, above the old canal dam. Enter a river right channel on the Virginia shore and you are on the commonly run portion of the river. Parts of this intimate channel are formed by the old George Washington canal, a failed Virginia-side canal project that has now been retaken by the river here.

Once in the channel, the current picks up. Strainers are a constant problem, so please be aware and make sure you have the skill to avoid them. The first rapid is an open rock garden good for eddy turn practice. The next rapid is the Surfer's Hole that maintains a friendly hydraulic at many levels. Below here, there is a rapid with a ledge formation constricting most of the water into a narrow right-side slot. In late June 2001, this channel was mostly-blocked by potentially dangerous strainers, so stop and take a look. Paddlers with excellent boat control may be able to find their way around the trees on the far left of the right slot, but the route is complicated. There is also an S-turn that starts river left, and a final set of drops and chutes.

All told, the channel run is about 1 1/2 miles. After the chute drop, you can paddle back up an adjoining channel and out into the main flow of the Potomac. Ferry across the river and takeout at a dirt bank and trail on the Maryland side. This trail leads to the C & O Canal. Put-in here and paddle north (upstream) back to the Violette's Lock picnic area. Total run is about 4 miles. The river can also be run further down to Pennyfield Lock or Swain's Lock, both also on the Maryland side.

Directions: The Violette's Lock picnic area is off of River Road (Route 190) in Montgomery County, Maryland about 8 miles north of Potomac, MD. From Potomac, travel north on River Road to a left turn onto Violette's Lock road. The turn is easy to miss. Its about a half a mile before the intersection of Route 112. You will know you have gone too far if you come to the stop sign and a sharp left bend in River Road.


StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2009-03-19 12:47:14

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.

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