Patapsco, S. Branch , Maryland, US
1. Woodbine to Henryton Rd. (Gaither Gorge/Upper S. Branch Patapsco)
||II+(III) (for normal flows)
Eddy behind Big Rock at "No Way Out" at moderate low water
Eddy behind Big Rock at "No Way Out" at moderate low waterPhoto taken 07/11/17
Note: read below and/or click the Map tab to see the multiple
access points for this section.
This seldom paddled, (and seldom paddleable), little gem flows through a progressively deepening
gorge that separates Howard and Carroll County and makes a delightful jaunt for either a day
trip, or for a much shorter paddle when done in sections. Difficulty consists of a good deal of
moving flatwater, a great selection of class 2+ ledges, and a couple of easy class 3's. Pray
for rain though; it's going to be a long day without enough water.
Put on at Woodbine Road (Route 94) for the full trip, and proceed downstream through mostly
'moving' flatwater with a few class 1-2 rapids. You might notice that the river here is
less than half the width of the main section downstream, which it will continue to be for the
next 11 miles or so. The top of this section is seldom a 'pretty' trip, with plenty of
structures and abodes peeking through the trees at the river, even in the lushest part of spring.
And you will certainly know it if a train comes along on the often-used river left tracks that
are seemingly overhead in certain areas. Depending on the whim of the river, strainers may be
sparse, or ever-present for the three-mile trip to Route 97, and beyond to Gaither Road. Keep an
eye peeled through here for the prevalent deer, groundhog, heron, and the occasional beaver.
When you see Route 97 ahead, be aware of the rubble left over from a breached dam. It usually
doesn't require a scout, unless logs jam the two paths of the main current. Portage or run
this concrete mess and proceed downstream through a couple of monstrous, river-wide strainers
that allow a good deal of current through some twisted (unrunnable) arboreal chutes. Portage
around, and continue to Gaither Road.
After passing underneath Gaither Road (an excellent starting point for shorter trips [2 miles
from Gaither Road to River Road just past Sykesville; 5 miles from Gaither Road to Henryton Rd.])
the river starts to realize its potential. It now begins cutting into a gorge that continues to
shelter it all the way to the confluence and beyond. Rapids are frequent and mostly easy with
tumbles down boulder piles and ledges with a lazy, flat, but moving current in between. On no
other place in the Patapsco watershed can you find as many class 2 to 2+ rapids. There are some
slightly technical, mini-boulder gardens and an occasional (but almost never river wide)
strainer, but the trip is mostly just an interesting and highly entertaining ride all the way
down into Sykesville.
After picking a line down the last rapid, you'll notice Baldwin Station, a restaurant built
on the edge of the train tracks, dead ahead on river left. Outdoor dining in the summertime
usually provides a small audience in case you decide to crash and burn. Proceed past (through?)
downtown Sykesville to either the Main Street bridge, or the far larger Route 32 overpass for
good takeout spots at both places. Or enjoy a series of continuous, rocky rapids into the
Patapsco State Park. River Road, visible through the trees on river right, is also a good place
to take out/put in, depending on where you're headed to/from. When the river takes a sharp
right over a steep gravel bar, and then abrupt left to avoid flowing into the roadway, take care
in picking a line. At high water, the current will try and put you directly into the (ragged
concrete) river right bank, which would love to borrow a good deal of your unprotected skin.
A few boulder gardens and several riffles later, the river returns to a narrow, placid, winding
waterway that wanders through the park. Scenery is very good here, and the rapids are mild. There
are some narrow passages, and strainers do live here from time to time, but not with the
frequency of their larger, more irritating, river-wide kin upstream. After a mile or so, notice a
modern, barn-like structure through the trees on river left. This marks the beginning of three
steep drops, the first two unnamed, but the third and last of which is called
"Labyrinth" for the way it twists and turns over rock ledges. These drops,
particularly "Labyrinth", can definitely surprise the unwary.
Past these obstacles, the river continues to wind until comes to a area where the river bed is
very unstable. Here, look for at least one riverwide strainer, requiring a portage, and
particularly after a hard rain, a spectacular jog jam. The current is very strong through (and
under) here, and a flip could be bad for your health. Keep an eye out and be ready to portage.
Another mile or so provides another take-out opportunity at Henryton Road. Look for the
remnants of an old bridge on both sides of the river, and a cement pipe that creates a surfable
hydraulic at some levels.
Although Henryton Road is the usual lower take-out for this run, Marriottsville Road is
downstream from Henryton Road for an additional 1.3 miles of moving water/flat water with the
occasional strainer. There's no particular reason why
a whitewater boater would want to run this additional length, unless for some reason, the
Henryton Road access is unavailable, If you decide to add this additional length, be aware
that the railroad bridge about halfway down tends to attract wood/strainers.
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Last Updated: 2018-07-30 10:17:34