Potomac - Harpers Ferry - Dam #3 to Rt. 340 Bridge

Potomac, West Virginia, US


Harpers Ferry - Dam #3 to Rt. 340 Bridge (Needles)

Usual Difficulty II+ (for normal flows)
Length 2.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 5 fpm
Max Gradient 5 fpm

Needles, Potomac

Needles, Potomac
Photo of Erik by Bernie Lager taken 2006

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
noaa-hfew2 1.20 - 6.00 ft II+ 01h11m 4.68 ft (running)
usgs-01613000 2.70 - 6.80 ft II+ 01h07m 5.34 ft (running)

River Description

Short popular whitewater section of the Potomac in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry.

Two different putins are usually used. A short run can be had by proceeding up river from the Sandy Hook, MD takeout to Lock 34 where the road turns away from the river. This is a short run, and parking is very limited at this putin.

To do the full run, follow Rt. 340 upstream to Bakerton Rd., where there is a flea market on your left. Turn right on Bakerton Rd. to where the road goes under a stone railroad bridge and make an immediate right. This puts you several hundred yards above Dam #3.

Dam #3 is usually run from one of the middle chutes. Check to see they are clear.

The section below the dam to the confluence of the Shenandoah is referred to as Needles. 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.

After the confluence, there is a set of Class II waves called Mad Dog Rapids, followed by a Class II+ 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 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 is on posted railroad property and involves crossing two sets of very active tracks. Despite its dubious legality, this takeout is very popular.

You can also set your shuttle on the VA side of the Potomac 340 bridge. A popular short whitewater option is to run between this bridge and the 340 bridge across the Shenandoah about a mile upstream. This gives you access to the bottom of the Shenandoah Staircase Rapid as well as the playspots on the Potomac.

Parking is very limited on the VA side of the 340 Potomac bridge and non-existent at the Shenandoah 340 bridge. An empty parking lot near the gas station is often utilized when it's not being used for fireworks sales and other intermittent activities and the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center has a flat fee for the use of their take-out and parking. 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.

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 it's up less frequently, especially in the summer.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-11-09 16:00:05

Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 29 2011 (2722 days ago)
hunsetra (153261)
I'm a new paddler, I have been in a kayak 4 times ever, and a friend is taking me down this Sunday
as a first whitewater experience. I will make sure to let you know how it goes.
May 5 2011 (2777 days ago)
enolakardia (153058)
Anyone run this for 2011? Curious if the potomac is back down there or not. Brad
June 1 2010 (3114 days ago)
John SundaDetails
the riverside campling area and ramp at the end of Bakertion Rd just uppstream of Dam #3 in WV has
been purchased by River Riders and was posted. The signs say No trespassing and that a $25 annual
pass must be purchased to use the ramp/park. I called River Riders today they said the $25 fee
allows for ramp access and parking for one vehicle and is good for the caledar year. The pass (a
sticker) must be placed on your front bumper. They are in the process of developing a day pass -
probably good for one vehicle - that you could purchase at the office off of Rt 340. They haven't
printed them yet and official policy is not set. The person said that for now to call them ahead of
time - they probably would be willing to allow day access (for a fee) even though the program is
not in place yet.
June 20 2009 (3461 days ago)
x (1)
The Harpers Ferry gauge is now off line(hello AW is anyone listening/) it is advisable to go to the
railroad bridge and look at the gauge as using the Hancock gauge is not accurate.
June 5 2009 (3476 days ago)
x (1)
All the outfitter's trips end on the other side of the river at that point. They don't run below
the bridge.
April 22 2009 (3520 days ago)
x (1)
The maximum for this should be raised....you can run the needles well into the double
digits...highest ive ran it was at like 16-18 feet in a playboat.
October 28 2008 (3696 days ago)
x (1)
There are some nice little surfing waves and holes right before the confluence with the Shenandoah.
The hole in White Horse is a good surf but is impossible to reach from the eddies below the rapid
at lower flows

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Associated Projects

  • Harpers Ferry River Access (WV/VA/MD)
    A collaborative effort to identify and deliver on opportunities to enhance river access on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers near Harpers Ferry, WV.