This section of the North Branch Potomac has fairly continuous whitewater consisting of primarily open Class II-III rapids with waves and holes. The water is cold, however, because it is usually drawn from deep in the reservoir. Be prepared for 50-55 degree water anytime of year. Short pools break up the rapids.
The rapids start right below the put-in. A little more than half-way down is the most difficult rapid: "Robin's Nest. After "Robin's Nest" the rapids become generally progressively easier down to the town of Bloomington, MD and the take-out, on river left. A detailed description of the rapids follows below.
Take Out: There is now an official public take-out at Bloomington, at the wastewater treatment plant, river left, just upstream of the arch railroad bridge. From I-68, take the MD 36 - Frostburg/Westernport exit and go South on MD 36 through Midland and Lonaconing to Westernport (notice that in Midland and Lonaconing the speed limit drops to 25 mph) (Another option - somewhat longer/more stoplights but it goes by Keyser WV supermarkets - is to take US 220 South from Cumberland to McCoole, MD, then take MD 135 West to Westernport). Once in Westernport, take MD 135 West through Luke to Bloomington. Approaching Bloomington, the road will make a sharp left turn at a woodyard and rock wall and cross the Savage River. Drive west and uphill from the Savage River on Rte 135, over the railroad to the first left (Hamill Ave). Across from the school, take the next left (Owens Ave) downhill to the access. Once again, we emphasize model behavior (slow driving, no public nudity), as we will be creating traffic in a residential neighborhood. After being closed for a long time, the "Have-A-Lot" (the little restaurant in Bloomington) has been reopened (as of April, 2018) as a sandwich/ice cream take-out and there are a number of places to eat in nearby McCoole, MD or Keyser, WV (and by the way, there's a teensy snack and bait shop in Barnum, WV too, that also sells firewood).
As for using the original take-out at the mouth of the Savage: that is still OK, too. Just remember: the popular parking lot at the take-out, in front of the two-story brick building, is on private property. Please take care not to block the driveway (even just to unload for a minute), change clothes in the open, or do anything else to offend the tolerant owner, or the caretaker who lives out back in the trailer (where we have no business being). Poor behavior by some in 1997 almost cost us the use of the lot. So be on your best behavior and watch over the other guy too. (From Ed Gertler:)
Put in from Bloomington, MD Take-out:
Directions to the Barnum Whitewater Area (BWA) from Bloomington, MD Take-out. Take Owens Road up the hill to Hamill Ave (Drive slowly through this residential area). Turn Right onto Hamill. Take Hamill to MD 135. Turn right onto MD 135. Take MD 135 down across the Savage. After the road makes a hard right turn at a rock wall, look for a bridge to the right across the N.Br. Potomac. Turn right onto the bridge (WV 46). Take WV 46 up the hill. At the top, WV 46 turns right onto the shuttle road (still WV 46). Follow the shuttle road (WV 46) for 3.5 miles, which includes a double switchback towards the end of the 3.5 miles. At the end of the 3.5 miles a road comes in from the left: Ignore it and stay to the right onto the main road (WV 46). Follow WV 46 another 1.3 miles down and up a hill and past a couple of churches. Look for Barnum Road on the right. Turn right onto Barnum Road and follow it down to the take-out at the bottom of the hill.
From I-81 Winchester
Exit Interstate 81 at VA 37 north of Winchester, VA. From VA 37, take US 522 north to VA 127 west, which becomes WV 127 at the WV state line. At the Forks of the Cacapon, WV 127 ends where WV 29 comes in from the right - stay straight onto WV29 south. At Slanesville, WV, turn right onto WV 3 (Slanesville/Springfield Pike) and follow it to Springfield, WV. At Springfield, WV, go straight onto WV 28 to Fort Ashby, WV. At Fort Ashby, turn left onto WV 46 to Keyser, WV.
(Ed Evangelidi claims that from Keyser, it is faster to cross the Potomac River at this point and take MD 135 through Westernport and Bloomington and turn left onto the usual shuttle road than to take 220 south to 50 west to 46 north to Barnum road; which means that you might as well run by the Bloomington take-out and set shuttle. But, if you want to go directly from Keyser to the Barnum put-in -- keep reading.)
First Caviat: This route is not for RVs or other long vehicles that would have a problem with short steep switchbacks or drivers that dislike the same. To the put-in from Keyser, WV take WV 46 to West Piedmont Ave (depending upon how you get there, probably a right turn). Turn left onto 'D' street, then right on Fort Ave, then left onto Parkview Drive, which becomes Hoover Hollow Rd. Follow Hoover Hollow Road up the mountain (switchbacks) and after you cross the ridge, just before you get to a lake on the left, a side road comes in from the right (ignore) which changes the name of the main road to Pinnacle Rd. Continue straight onto Pinnacle Road which curves around the lake to the left (the total distance of Hoover Hollow/Pinnacle Road is 5.9 miles). Once you've completely passed the lake start looking for a right turn onto Kantor Cutoff Road. Kantor Cutoff Road (2.0 miles) will take you down to WV Rt 46 east. Turn right onto Rt 46 and in less than a quarter mile, Barnum Road will appear to the left. Turn left on Barnum Road and follow it down the hill to a grassy parking area at the Barnum Whitewater Area --Approximately 2 1/2 miles. Second Caviat: Be aware that GPS tracking devices will get you into trouble in Keyser, WV -- whoever did the work assumed a connection between US 220 south of Keyser and Hoover Hollow/Pinnacle road that does not exist.
Called "Woodsmoke" because in cold weather paddlers can often smell the campfires of the camping area downstream from the put-in. Just below the put-in, the river splits in two around a small island and the natural line from the put-in is to stay to the right of the island. In this channel, stay on the right side tongue to avoid a large rock/hydraulic in the center left of the channel. After you pass the rock, there are eddies both left and right to catch. The remainder of this first boulder garden rapid has offset eddies, waves and rocks - no more than class II-. There is a pool at the bottom where the Barnum automated gauge is located.
A class II boulder garden, ending with a short pool with eddies both left and right, the right eddy under the boughs of Rhododendron and a couple of Pine trees. Both eddies (particularly the right one) have rocks just below the surface that can flip a boater on the eddy turn - keep an eye out on the eddy turn.
Class II boulder garden, very similar to the one before it, ending with a short pool. If you're having a bad day there is a nice eddy behind a fairly large rock on river right and a trail up to the road back to the put-in, that provides an Easy Out if you'd like to walk back to the put-in.
After a longish pool, the river shoals up on the right, so the line is to move river left with the main current. There are a series of eddies against the left shore that can be worked, then the river comes together at the bottom and dissipates into a pool.
A sweeping turn to the right with a pool at the bottom and cliffs to the left. The name "Blue Hole" actually refers to the pool at the bottom, but has to some extent migrated to the rapid that leads into it. The river access at the "Blue Hole" pool is the last road access to the river (on river right) for a short take-out.
A rocky rapid that makes a sharp left turn at a concrete wall which continues after the turn. After the sharp left turn, there is a playhole, which can be surfed to the enjoyment of the paddlers that gather on river left to eat lunch. After the lunch stop, there is a little bit of "boogie water" before the next rapid.
Named after the town of "Warnick" that was once on the river right side at this rapid. The traditional line is to start at center work to the left, passing just to the right of a rock that appears to block the channel. The river right side of this rapid has been opening up in recent years and there is a line down river right, as well, with a rocky turn back to the center at the bottom.
The most difficult rapid is "Robin's Nest" which occurs near the bottom of a river right channel formed at the split of an island. Avoid the near riverwide hole center and center right. Run this river left or look for a tongue just to the right of a rock at the center left. (There is a far right side eddy hopping line for those that like to be challenged, but this line involves clipping the right side of the upstream hole in one of the hops. On this right side line, if you don't make the move with enough power, or if you lean back, you're in for a surprise.)
Located just below a long low staging rock. "Top of the World" is a fun and bouncy wave train. It shoals up to the left at the beginning of the rapid and is run center to right; stay right for big waves that are not stoppers, but if a dryer run is desired, move back to the center/left, after passing the left side upper rapid shoals.
This rapid has a pretty easy line just staying right, with a line down the left that has more current and involves more hole dodging and punching. At the bottom center of the rapid is a pretty big hole that you wouldn't want to float into, and the water is a little boiley on river right below the hole.
In 1996, when the Piney Swamp Run watershed was being logged and surface mined, there was a summer thunderstorm that blew out the creek and created a huge delta of rocks and silt that blocked the center and right of the N. Br. Potomac. This created a (then) new rapid which has been named for the creek. For about a decade after the rapid was formed, there was a pretty good long surfing wave here, but lately the channel has been widening and the wave lost its downstream curler, so that surfers slide off the river right side. The delta continues downstream becoming a shoal with a line down the right of the shoal and a line down the far left of a shoally island.
Not really of interest, except this is not the take-out railroad bridge.
As the river approaches the Bloomington, MD take-out, the main channel goes over a shoally gravel bar, which begins a turn to the left. At the top, behind an Island, there is a far right side channel that sneaks behind the island. Either way, at the bottom of the Island, the two channels come together and form a series of standing waves against the right shore, much like a less steep, but longer "Top of the World". The take-out is at the bottom of this rapid on the left, just upstream of the arch railroad bridge.
The Bloomington, MD take-out is on the left, at the wastewater treatment plant, just upstream of the arch railroad bridge.
Link to release schedule: click here
Main COE link: click here
Lots of photos of this section: click here
the AWW info is incorrect, i called Barmum at 12 pm 5/23/08 and its running at only 450 cfs and will be like that for the weekend, unless it rains.
Fantastic release last weekend. Robin's Nest was in full form and the paddling was great!
The final big left-hand bend in the river where the channels split around several islands holds some downed trees in the left channel. Stick to the main channel or the right. Definitely a fun run!
Nice wide easy class 2 run at 1000 cfs.
Below the Barnum to Bloomington stretch is a nice Class 2 section that is rarely paddled since you first have to portage the Westvaco dam on river right, then paddle by the huge monstrosity that is the paper mill. But the river entertainment continues all the way to Keyser.
6 years ago
by Jon Nelson
9 years ago
10 years ago
by David Hill
Releases usually occur 4 times in the spring (usually every other weekend in April and May) and a couple times in the fall. This section also runs frequently at other times of the year following heavy rainfall in the area. It also runs at moderate flows during extreme drought, when water is released for drinking supplies downstream.
See the Corps of Engineers website for updates on releases.
The whitewater releases are sponsored by the Mineral County Parks and Recreation Commission. They can be reached for further information at 304-788-5732.
We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Blue Hole Pool
Blue Hole and Jump Rock
North Branch Potomac - Whitewater Release
North Branch Aerial Map (large file)
skirting robins nest
Top o de World
Typical wave train
Robins nest 2
Robins nest 1
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
The second 2010 whitewater release on the North Branch Potomac from Jennings Randolph Lake for this season will be on Saturday April 24 and Sunday April 25. The whitewater release will extend from 9 AM to 3 PM each day. The release rate will be 1000 cfs each day.
The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced a Water Quality release from Jennings Randolph Lake that will be held on August 28-29, 2010. They plan to release a flow of 850 to 1000 cfs for about 30 hours beginning on Saturday morning and continuing until early Sunday afternoon.
A report released today links acid mine drainage remediation on the North Branch of the Potomac River with significant regional economic benefits of angling and paddling. The report reveals a compelling and cautionary case study of the economic benefits of protecting and restoring rivers.
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!
Nancy Kell, a very experienced Mid-States kayaker, died on February 24th after flipping in a Class II rapid on West Virginia's Red Creek. There were a number of strainers in the vicinity above and below the water. One of them snagged her tow tether, pulled her out of her boat, and held her under water. She was with a very experienced crew but they could not reach her quickly enough. Equipment snags are a real risk. In the light of this accident I strongly urge anyone using a cowtail, pigtail, or tow tether to recheck your setup, and to consider whether wearing a tow tether makes sense. Be certain that your tether releases cleanly at both ends. Do not attach the front carabiner to a non-releasable point, like a pocket or strap. Ms. Kell did this, and it may have been a contributing factor. Apparently many current rescue PFD designs to not feature a front release point! Do not attach a tether to the rear of your PFD with a non-locking carabiner, as that may inadvertently clip into a rope. The tether should fit very snugly, without sagging, but as the photo shows Ms. Kell did that, and it did not protect her! The harness release should be quick and foolproof. Practice harness releases under pressure before using it on the river. Finally, remember that any additional strap is a potential snag hazard. Ask yourself if the usefulness of a tow tether is worth the risk, especially on small, strainer infrested creeks. Carry it in a PFD pocket or dry bag if necessary. Click for a link to the report in the AW Accident Database. (Jeff Macklin Photo)
Get your groove on baby! This year Gauley Fest is a 60’s themed event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. To memorialize that historic event we are flashing back to another era for a 60’s throwdown. Started in 1983 to celebrate the derailment of a hydro-electric project that would have disrupted the flows on the Gauley River, Gauley Fest has grown to become the largest paddling festival in the world.
American Whitewater received the following open letter to boaters from the rangers and staff of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. This letter will keep you up to date on important management actions of the National Park Service on the Gauley River. Enjoy your paddling season on this classic whitewater river. As in past years, American Whitewater has leased the field above Masons Branch, also known as the Legg field, for overflow parking.
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