Difficulty II+
Length 5.3 Miles
Flow Range 2.70 - 6.80 FT
Flow Rate as of: 52 minutes ago 3.26 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 06/22/2019 12:42 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

White Horse

Class - III Mile - 5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Main channel is to the left. Lots of good play.


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7 years ago

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travis Hunsecker
8 years ago

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.

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8 years ago

Anyone run this for 2011? Curious if the potomac is back down there or not. Brad

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John Sunda
9 years ago

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.

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10 years ago

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.

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10 years ago

All the outfitter's trips end on the other side of the river at that point. They don't run below the bridge.

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10 years ago

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.

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10 years ago

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

Gage Descriptions

The NWS sets bankfull stage at 24' and flood stage at 30' for the Hancock gauge.
The Shepherdstown, WV gauge can also be used. Min. 1.8, Max. 4.0

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2019-08-03 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2015-01-31 High Near Miss/Rescue High Water Read More
2010-03-16 High Near Miss/Rescue Solo Paddling Read More
2006-04-15 Low Near Miss/Rescue Other Read More
2001-07-14 n/a Fatality Inexperience Read More



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Support Improved Potomac River Access at Harpers Ferry (WV/VA/DC)

Kevin Colburn

A local planning agency has championed a study of the Weverton access site just downstream of Harpers Ferry. This site is an important Potomac river put-in/takeout site for Shenandoah and Potomac River paddlers who have few access options in the area. At issue is an informal crossing of the two-track CSX railroad used by almost 27,000 paddlers, Appalachian Trail hikers, and visitors to the C&O Canal National Historical Park last year. The study outlines two options to formalize this access site and improve the safety of crossing the railroad tracks. Either option would be a big improvement, as would a standard road crossing, and paddlers are encouraged to submit a supportive comment by the June 15 deadline. 

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Upper Yough Access Depends on Everyone

Charlie and Sandy Walbridge

Many thanks those who have contributed to AW's Sang Run Access Fund on line. We raised over $1200 to pay for the porta potty and gravel. Thanks to you, we've maintained this site for the State of Maryland for over 20 years! Let's also give a special shout out to Don Millard, who has cut the grass in both Friendsville and Sang Run for many years to keep our access costs low. If not for him you might see a parking fee of $5 a head at both ends! Jeff Macklin Photo

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Gauley Fest - September 13-16, 2018 - Summersville, WV

Mark Singleton

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.

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2018 Letter To Gauley Boaters From The NPS (WV)

Mark Singleton

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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Harpers Ferry Access Options at Outfitters Clarified for 2016

Kevin Colburn

Over the past couple years American Whitewater has been working with regional paddlers, the National Park Service, and other interested folks to improve river access on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers near Harpers Ferry, WV. One outcome of that effort has been recognition of the parking, access, and shuttle services the rafting outfitters in the area offer provide. The outfitters worked with private boaters to share a fact sheet of the various services they offer, which you can download.

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AW and NPS Co-Host Access Meetings in Harpers Ferry (WV/MD/VA)

Kevin Colburn

Earlier this month American Whitewater and the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program (RTCA) hosted a series of meetings and site visits in the Harper's Ferry, WV area.  We met with roughly 35 interested groups and individuals, including 18 leaders from the paddling community, and visited over 20 river access sites.  The meetings kicked off a collaborative effort to create and implement a river access Plan for the Harper's Ferry area, and were highly successful.  

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Cheat Canyon Settlement Reached; Land Set Aside for Endangered Species

Charles Walbridge

After two years of intense negotiations an agreement reached to protect endangered species in the Cheat River Canyon. Allegheny Wood Products acquired roughly 5,000 acres in the Cheat Canyon below Albright, WV in 2003 for $9.75 million. When they began building roads and cutting trees the following year the government took no steps to enforce the Endangered Species Act. A lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Friends of Blackwater Canyon, the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Cheat Lake Environmental and Recreational Association. Although American Whitewater was not a party to the litigation we are gratified that an agreement was reached and commend both parties for their efforts.
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Attention Virginia Boaters!

Jason Robertson

During the high waters of Spring 2003, there has been a noticeable increase in reported confrontations between boaters and property owners in Virginia. Please remember to be respectful and courteous to property owners; do not trespass; and avoid confrontation in order to preserve access in the future.

Tony Allred Jr


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1208466 11/09/17 Tony Allred Jr 11-9-2017 - cleanup
1208469 11/09/17 Tony Allred Jr 11-9-2017 - cleanup
1208468 11/09/17 Tony Allred Jr 11-9-2017 - cleanup
1193078 04/17/07 n/a 10-2-2017 - cleanup
1210684 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - combined WV with MD listing
1208470 11/09/17 Tony Allred Jr 4-15-2018 - small edit/cleanup
1210683 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - combined WV with MD listing
1210685 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - combined WV with MD listing
1210686 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-1-2018 - update of description started
1210698 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - cleanup
1212984 06/22/19 Tony Allred Jr updated description
1212986 06/22/19 Tony Allred Jr updated image position
1212985 06/22/19 Tony Allred Jr updated name