Patapsco, S. Branch - 1. Woodbine to Henryton Rd.

Patapsco, S. Branch , Maryland, US


1. Woodbine to Henryton Rd. (Gaither Gorge/Upper S. Branch Patapsco)

Usual Difficulty II+(III) (for normal flows)
Length 9.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 17 fpm
Max Gradient 17 fpm

Eddy behind Big Rock at "No Way Out" at moderate low water

Eddy behind Big Rock at "No Way Out" at moderate low water
Photo taken 07/11/17

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01589000 500 - 1880 cfs II+(III) 00h31m 498 cfs (too low)
Patapsco, S. Branch - Woodbine to Henryton
virtual-221050 240 - 2000 cfs II+(III) 00h48m 194.2 cfs (too low)
usgs-01586000 150 - 1180 cfs II+(III) 00h45m 122 cfs (too low)
usgs-01591000 90 - 820 cfs II+(III) 01h00m 72.2 cfs (too low)

River Description

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.  Shortly below that a creek comes in from river right which is the River Road (short) Take-out.
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 drops, the third of which is the steepest and longest (see "Lower Labyrinth" in the rapid section).  
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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-10-01 11:39:05


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
4.5Gaither RdN/APutin
5.8No Way OutIIIPlayspot
6.3River RoadIIHazard
6.5Upper LabyrinthIIHazard
6.7River Road (short) take-outN/ATakeout
8.2Lower LabyrinthII+Playspot
9.5Henryton Rd. Take-outN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Gaither Rd (Class N/A, Mile 4.5)

Put-in - Park next to Railroad. River winds into a small gorge called Gaither Gorge

No Way Out (Class III, Mile 5.8)

You'll come to a large rock in the center of the Stream, pull out and scout.  Behind the big rock, at most levels the river goes through a rocky shoal.  This rapid is harder at low water.  Chose your own line, but basically eddy out behind the big rock and work your way to river right through the rocks.  There is no clean line and you will get stuck (hence the name) in the rocks, but at lower water, getting stuck is not a problem and at higher water, the line is clearer.

Sykesville (Class II+, Mile 6.0)
You'll notice Baldwin Station, a restaurant built on the edge of the train tracks, dead ahead on river left as the rapid starts. Outdoor dining in the summertime usually provides a small audience in case you decide to crash and burn. The rapid starts center and work left and back to center and eddy out at the bottom.  But you're not done.  The rapid resumes under the Main Street,  Sykesville Bridge.  For this second half, start in the center and dodge rocks - favor the center and right sides.  Avoid the left side, as there are pinning opportunities on the far left at the bottom of the rapid.  Eddy at the bottom.  

River Road (Class II, Mile 6.3)
The river suddenly takes a sharp right over a steep gravel bar, and then makes an 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.  

Upper Labyrinth (Class II, Mile 6.5)

This rapid is very dependent upon water levels.  At higher water there is an easy line down the right side involving little more than punching a wave.  At low water, the right side is dry, so you need to make a sharp left turn above a large rock, but this move is fairly easy at low water because theres not much current into the large rock.  This rapid is hardest at moderately high levels when the right side is too low to run, but there's significant current into the large rock as you make the left turn.  Usually class II, but class III at certain water levels.  There is a tree root strainer on river left immediately below this rapid.

River Road (short) take-out (Class N/A, Mile 6.7)

River road continues to follow the river below the "River Road" and "Upper Labyrinth" rapids.  Where a small creek comes in from the right, there is a short takeout if you don't want to go all the way to Henryton Rd.

Lower Labyrinth (Class II+, Mile 8.2)

There is a lead in of two easy unnamed ledge rapids.  The third and last of the rapids in the lower (River Rd. to Henryton Rd.) section of this reach, is called "Lower Labyrinth" for the way it twists and turns over rock ledges.   "Lower Labyrinth" can  definitely surprise the unwary. 

Henryton Rd. Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 9.5)

Take-out - Park where Henryton Rd. abruptly ends at a bridge abutment for a now gone bridge.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 22 2018 (239 days ago)
TonyAllred (3101)
(moved from old location dated March 14, 2015) Byron Ellis: S. Br. Patapsco from Gaither Rd. to
Henryton Rd. today with Tony during rain with snow melt, it was high and brown. Hollofield 2,130
cfs and 4.27, Cedarhurst 1,120 cfs, Unity 546 cfs. Least that's what it said when we got back,
Gauges were 1/2 lower early morning before leaving home. No strainers to portage. A lot of play was
washed out. 4-5 good rapids with 2/3 moves to miss holes, with no terminal holes. Intermediate run.
Most of the rocks you would normally see around Sykesville were submerged.