Potomac - 0.7 Dargans Bend Boat Ramp to Sandy Hook/Potoma Wayside

Potomac, Maryland, US


0.7 Dargans Bend Boat Ramp to Sandy Hook/Potoma Wayside (Potomac Needles)

Usual Difficulty II (for normal flows)
Length 5.3 Miles
Avg. Gradient 5 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
noaa-hfew2 1.20 - 6.10 ft II 00h53m 7.3 ft (too high)
usgs-01613000 2.70 - 6.80 ft II 00h49m 11.73 ft (too high)

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-12-02 12:32:55


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
5.0Whitehorse Rapid (Class III)IIIPlayspot

Rapid Descriptions

Whitehorse Rapid (Class III) (Class III, Mile 5.0)

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

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