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Difficulty II
Length 5.3 Miles
Gauge Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
Flow Range 2.70 - 6.80 FT
Flow Rate as of: 2 hours ago 5.94 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 12/02/2018 12:32 pm

River Description

Short whitewater section of the Potomac, as the Potomac passes Harpers Ferry, popularly referred to as the "Needles."

Three different putins have traditionally been used. 1) (Harpers Ferry Rd) - A short run from the Maryland side - proceed up river from the Sandy Hook, MD takeout to Lock 34 where the road turns away from the river. This short section used to be a common beginning whitewater boat training section when there was more access below the Dam, but today, there is no parking at this putin, which limits its utility.
2) (Bakerton) - A little longer run, putting in on the West Virginia side - follow Rt. 340 towards Charles Town to Bakerton Rd., where Millville Rd. goes off to the left and a substantial brick building and "Wilts Fruit Mart" is on the right. Turn right on Bakerton Rd. and follow it until the road goes under a stone railroad bridge.  After going under the railroad bridge, make an immediate right into the River Runners Potomac Put-in. There is a charge here, but there is parking and this put-in is only several hundred yards above Dam #3.

3) (Dargans Bend) - A much longer paddle (including 2.5 miles of flatwater) is to put-in at Dargans Bend Boat Ramp on the Maryland side, where there is plenty of free parking (but alot of flatwater).  After the flatwater there is a broken out Dam (Dam #3) that starts the Class II whitewater section.   

It's a Class II section of ledges under normal conditions. Caution should be used at higher water levels and colder times of year because the width of the river here can make a spill difficult to recover from.

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac. Putins and takeouts are not allowed here except in emergencies.  The Shenandoah comes in from river right towards the bottom of the run.  The West Virginia/Virginia state line comes down the river right side ridge to the Potomac (the river itself is always Maryland), so from here, the river right side of the Potomac is in Virginia.  

After the confluence, there is a set of Class II waves called Mad Dog Rapids, followed by a Class II+ (III at higher water) set of larger irregular waves known as White Horse Rapids. There are also popular playspots located among the rocks on river right.

The first takeout (Sandy Hook) on the MD side is 1/2 mile downstream from the confluence of the Shenndoah River on river left immediately before the US 340 bridge at Sandy Hook. To reach this takout from Rt. 340, take the last left as you approach the 340 bridge from the MD side, then take the first right to the bottom of the hill where the road approaches the railroad tracks. The takeout trail crosses posted railroad property and involves crossing two sets of very active tracks.  This once very popular takeout has been closed by the railroad.

The second takeout (Potomac Wayside) on the Virginia side immediately before the lower (MD) 340 bridge.  There is space for loading and unloading here, but there are only three parking spaces where you can leave a car.  Other parking options near Potoma Wayside are very limited and/or expensive.   An empty parking lot near the gas station is often utilized when it's not being used for fireworks sales and other intermittent activities. The whole parking and traffic situation on the VA side can be somewhat daunting because of the narrowness of the shoulder and the speed of the heavy two lane traffic.

Other take-outs include:  "Weverton" which is 1 1/2 miles of flat and moving water downstream from the US 340  bridge on the Maryland side.  This take-out is hard to see from the river and requires a long walk through the woods and down the tow-path, but it does have an authorized on foot at-grade Railroad crossing. The "Brunswick" take-out (also on the Maryland side) requires an additional 5 miles of paddling, with the last 3 1/2 miles consisting of flatwater; however, there is an authorized at-grade railroad crossing for vehicles and a boat ramp offers the convenience of easy access and close parking. 

The same takeouts can also be used to run the Millville/Bull Falls/Staircase section of the Shenandoah. This is a longer and somewhat more interesting run, but there are times that low water levels would make the Potomac the better option.

Rapid Descriptions

Whitehorse Rapid (Class III)

Class - III Mile - 5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Whitehorse Rapid (Class III, Mile 5.0)
Main channel is to the left. Lots of good play.


Summary of Gauge Readings

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Gauge NameReadingTimeComment
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
AW Gauge Info
5.94 ft 02h07m
AW Gauge Info
6.92 ft 01h01m

Directions Description

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No Accident Reports



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Upper Yough Access Fundraiser a Big Success

2019-01-07 21:16:00-05
Charlie Walbridge

Tonight American Whitewater presented the Town of Friendsville, Maryland with a $5000 check towards the extension of the Upper Yough Access Parking Area. This, combined with a $1000 donation from Keelhaulers Canoe Club, made a strong statement of how much paddlers value the river and the town! Under the leadership of Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle and long time paddler and Friendsville resident Jess Whittemore the town raised $7 in additional funding for every dollar paddlers donated - just like they did on the initial construction! This makes these gifts a great value for the whitewater community. A big shout out and thank you to ALL who donated!


Tony Allred Jr