Potomac, Maryland, US
4. Mather Gorge to Lock 10 (Mather Gorge)
||I-IV (for normal flows)
2004: The Year Of Rocky
2004: The Year Of RockyPhoto of Peter Bross by Lauren Rarick @ 4 ft.
The Potomac River below Great Falls is literally in the back yard of Washington, D.C. This fact
contributes to the strong boating community in the metropolitan region. Mather Gorge, where this
section begins, is a stunning cliff-lined gorge. Further down, the river maintains it's wild and
remote feeling, except for at choice spots where Virginia has allowed sloppy development to mar the
The river offers play and practice for beginners to experts and numerous sections can be run. This
description will deal with the rapids and access points and doesn't provide details on the numerous
It should be noted that the stretch of river from O-Deck just below Great Falls thru Wet Bottom
offers some of the best big water paddling in Maryland. 10,000 cfs thru a 100 foot wide gorge makes
for some large waves, surging eddies and boiling eddylines. Below Mather gorge the rapids get
considerably easier. Here is one playspot guide: Potomac Playspot Project
. And another:
. Another popular
playspot guide developed by David Mackintosh is currently offline. It will be linked here if it is
Great Falls is located to the west of Washington DC. Best access is off of I-495 to Clara Barton
parkway/Carderock exit on the Maryland side. Take the parkway west about two miles to McArthur
Blvd. Continue west on McArthur about another mile to the Anglers Inn parking area. To access the
Virginia side, exit I-495 to Old Georgetown Pike/Hwy 193. Go west about 4 miles to Old Dominion
Drive and take a right into the park.
- Sandy Beach. Park at Great Falls National Park (fee area), reached via
MacAuthur Blvd. in Montgomery County, MD. Carry 1/4 mile south along the C & O Canal towpath; take
trail on the right that leads to Sandy Beach putin.
- Angler's Inn. Reach via MacAuthur Blvd. Park in one of three gravel or dirt lots across from the
Angler's Inn, a fine restaurant. Carry across the canal, then 100 feet south on the towpath, then
right down to the shore. From the river, the beach is easily seen on river left.
- Carderock. Reach via Clara Barton Parkway. Park at Carderock picnic area. Path across grassy area
leads to small access. From the river, the access is a muddy bank.
- Lock 10. Reach via Clara Barton Parkway. Park at Lock 10 lot. Trail leads down to shore. From the
river, you need to take a river left side channel to find the path.
- Fisherman's Eddy. Park at Great Falls National Park (Virginia - fee area).
From lower lot, carry across picnic area to steep trail that leads to Fisherman's Eddy.
- Rocky Island. From Great Falls, Virginia, walk south on trail from picnic area to a small
footbridge and walk left down the rocky gully access Rocky Island surfing waves.
Rapids (in order from the base of Great Falls to Lock 10).
-- O-Deck (Class III).
Primarily a playspot with large surfing waves. Adjacent to Fisherman's Eddy. Using this for a
downriver trip is inconvenient because shuttle must be set on Virginia side of river.
-- Fishladder (Class II+-III). Formed by current from fishladder around Great Falls. Fast current,
big waves and a messy pourover at some levels.
-- S-Turn (Class II-IV). Converging currents and constricted river form dynamic waves, current and
whirlpools. Rocks form pourover holes at lower levels.
-- Rocky Island (Class II-III). At 4-5 feet on LF gauge a fine series of surfing waves exist. Lower
levels present Class II waves.
-- Wet Bottom Chute (Class II). At normal levels is a 3 foot sloping ledge drop that can be run
-- Difficult Run Rapids, Maryland, Center and Virginia Chutes (Class II). Washington's practice
spot and home to the Maryland chute playspot. Each chute offers a different type of practice. All
lines are straightforward.
-- Offut Island (Class II). Series of tight breaking waves on river left below Angler's Inn putin.
Best at more than 4 feet.
-- Yellow Falls (Class II+). Two step drop through breaks in river wide ledge. Can be scouted from
river right ledge. At low levels a tricky rock is exposed near the bottom of the traditional
-- Stubblefield Falls (Class III). Large and long series of standing waves just above I-495. The
last whitewater before Lock 10.
Playspot List & Levels:
2.5' - 4.2' Wet Bottom (Class 3)
2.6' - 2.8' Horseshoe (Snodgrass) Wave (Class 3+)
2.7' - 2.9' Fishladder Wave
2.7' - 2.9' Portage Waves (Class 2)
2.7' - 3.0' Annie's
2.7' - 3.0' O-Deck 3 (Class 3)
2.7' - 4.0' Maryland Chute (Class 2+)
2.7' - 4.2' Virginia Chute Wave (Class 2)
2.8' - 3.3' Bloody Good
3.3' - 3.6' O-Deck 2 (Class 3)
3.6' - 3.8' O-Deck 1 (Class 3)
3.6' - 3.7' S-Turn (Class 3)
3.7' - 3.9' S-Turn
3.7' - 4.1' Showcase (Class 3)
3.9' - 4.1' Simon Says
3.9' - 4.8' Rocky Island Waves (Class 3)
4.1' - 5.4' Center Chute Ledge (Main Hole) (Class 3+)
4.2' - 4.7' Upper Center Chute Ledge (Class 3)
4.2' - 4.4' Fish Counter
4.2' - 5.4' Offut Waves (Class 2)
4.5' - 6.0' Tight Quarters
4.8' - 5.2' Gil's Hole (Lower) (Class 3)
4.9' - 5.4' Gil's Hole (Upper) (Class 4)
5.3' - 6.4' Rodeo Zone
5.4' - 6.5' Center Chute Wave (Class 3)
6.0' - 6.7' Rocha Motel
6.0' - 7.6' Skull Island Wave (Class 2+)
6.2' - 6.6' Dave's Wave (Class 3+)
6.4' - 8.0' Showcase
6.7' - 6.9' Super Dave
6.7' - 7.0' Shoulder Snapper (Sweetie-pie) Wave
6.8' - 7.5' Corner Hole (Fudgepacker) (Class 4)
7.0' - ?.?' Sweetie-pie Wave
7.2' - 8.2' Last Supper
7.3' - 8.0' Elbow Wave
7.3' - 8.8' Dead Cow Hole (Class 3+)
7.9' - 8.8' Bud (also called Butt) Hole
8.0' - 9.5' Pencil Sharpener
8.0' - ?.?' Zambezi Wave
8.5' - 9.5' Eraser
9.0' - 9.5' Round the Corner
From Potomac Paddlers website, added May 2004
National Park Service Great Falls Page
NPS Great Falls Map
These guide books provide good references for this section: Sehlinger, Bob, et. al.; Appalachian
Whitewater, the Southern States. Gertler, Ed; Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails.
StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2004-06-07 23:28:34