Potomac, North Branch - 4. Barnum, WV to Bloomington, MD

Potomac, North Branch, Maryland, US/West Virginia, US


4. Barnum, WV to Bloomington, MD (Bloomington Section)

Usual Difficulty II(III) (varies with level)
Length 6.4 Miles
Avg. Gradient 30 fpm
Max Gradient 30 fpm


Photo of Dick Gramm hitting the perfect line by Brenda Dinne, Monocacy Canoe Club

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01595800 400 - 2800 cfs II(III) 00h28m 318 cfs (too low)

River Description

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.  


Directions to Keyser, WV (& Put-In [BWA]) from Interstate 81/Virginia

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-08-25 23:52:22


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put-In Barnum, WVN/APutin
0.1"Woodsmoke" [Boulder Garden 1]II
0.4"Rocks & Rhododendron" [Boulder Garden 2]II
0.7"Easy Out" [Boulder Garden 3]II
1.0"The Slides" [starts as Boulder Garden 4]II+
1.4"Shoal & Eddies"II
2.0"Blue Hole"IIPhoto
2.2"Lunch Stop"II+
3.2"Robins Nest"IIIPhoto
3.7"Top of the World"II+
4.1"Rock Face"II
5.1"Piney Swamp Run"II
5.7First Railroad BridgeN/A
6.1"Last Rapid" or "Bloomington"II
6.4Take-out (upstream of Arch railroad bridge), Bloomington, MDN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

"Woodsmoke" [Boulder Garden 1] (Class II, Mile 0.1)

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 channelstay 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.

"Rocks & Rhododendron" [Boulder Garden 2] (Class II, Mile 0.4)

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.

"Easy Out" [Boulder Garden 3] (Class II, Mile 0.7)

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. 

"The Slides" [starts as Boulder Garden 4] (Class II+, Mile 1.0)
Approximately the fourth boulder garden rapid from the top, starts as a boulder garden, but then forms a series of nearly river wide surfing ledges.  All the ledges can be surfed, but the first two are pretty powerful, so if you don't want to surf them, they need to be solidly punched.

"Shoal & Eddies" (Class II, Mile 1.4)

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.

"Blue Hole" (Class II, Mile 2.0)

Blue Hole Pool

Blue Hole Pool
Photo by Kimberly Riggle taken 04/15/16 @ 1000 cfs

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.

"Lunch Stop" (Class II+, Mile 2.2)

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. 

"Warnick" (Class II, Mile 2.7)

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.

"Robins Nest" (Class III, Mile 3.2)

skirting robins nest

skirting robins nest
Photo of steve f. by courtny c. taken 09/02/04 @ 850cfs

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.)

"Top of the World" (Class II+, Mile 3.7)

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.

"Rock Face" (Class II, Mile 4.1)

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.

"Piney Swamp Run" (Class II, Mile 5.1)

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.

First Railroad Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 5.7)

Not really of interest, except this is not the take-out railroad bridge.

"Last Rapid" or "Bloomington" (Class II, Mile 6.1)

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.

Take-out (upstream of Arch railroad bridge), Bloomington, MD (Class N/A, Mile 6.4)

The Bloomington, MD take-out is on the left, at the wastewater treatment plant, just upstream of the arch railroad bridge.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 2 2012 (2298 days ago)
Jon NelsonDetails
Robin's Nest: Removed a nasty tree from the far left sneak route. 10/01/2012
May 9 2012 (2444 days ago)
Nice wide easy class 2 run at 1000 cfs.
August 31 2010 (3061 days ago)
Colin AbernethyDetails
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!
June 18 2008 (3865 days ago)
David HillDetails
An Ohio company is proposing constrcution of a hydrolectric plant below the dam. This company may
try and fast track the permitting through FERC and local paddlers need to get involved ASAP. Check
out the FERC website and do a general search under docket number "P-12715"
http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/search/fercgensearch.asp Your recreation opportunities and release
schedules may be at risk.
July 21 2007 (4198 days ago)
February 21 2007 (4348 days ago)
Julianna WilsonDetails
Link to release schedule: <a target="_blank" href=
"http://www.nab-wc.usace.army.mil/northBranch.html">click here</a> Main COE link: <a target=
"_blank" href="http://www.nab-wc.usace.army.mil/">click here</a> Lots of photos of this section:
<a target="_blank" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mundobizarro/tags/nbp/">click here</a>
June 29 2002 (6046 days ago)
Ed EvangelidiDetails
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.


Calendar Control Date:
Calendar by Date by Title

May 2018

Potomac, North Branch Release
10:00 am -4:00 pm est
1000 cfs

Potomac, North Branch Release
10:00 am -4:00 pm est
1000 cfs

Potomac, North Branch Release
10:00 am -4:00 pm est
1000 cfs

Potomac, North Branch Release
10:00 am -4:00 pm est
1000 cfs


Potomac, North Branch Release Luke,MD runs 08/26/06 - 05/20/18
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