Crabtree Creek - Swanton, MD to Savage Reservoir

Crabtree Creek, Maryland, US


Swanton, MD to Savage Reservoir

Usual Difficulty III-IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 6 Miles
Avg. Gradient 130 fpm
Max Gradient 160 fpm

Down We Go

Down We Go
Photo of Laura Breeden by Jeff Jarriel taken 9/2003

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01596500 500 - 1200 cfs III-IV+ 00h26m 511 cfs (running)

River Description

ATTENTION: As of March, 2007 Crabtree Creek might better be called OhCrapAnotherTree Creek. There are numerous trees requiring portaging and an equal number requiring careful attention to get beyond in a boat. A few are in bad spots around blind bends or midway through rapids after it is too late to easily stop. When in doubt scout to avoid problems.

This creek is hard to catch because the Savage River drainage lies in the rain shadow of the Allegheny Plateau. With snowmelt or a big rain, however, Crabtree Creek is well worth checking out by boaters with Class IV creeking skills.

The latest edition of West Virginia Wildwater - now called A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to West Virginia - includes a brief description of the last 1.8 miles. This description covers 6 miles from the confluence of the north and south forks to the reservoir. The creek has nonstop action and several Class IV stretches.

The Rapids:

The stream starts off flat and narrow - maybe 10 ft. wide - and has the feel of an oversized drainage ditch. The first half mile is easier, then the creek begins to tilt into a pretty rhodedendron and hemlock forest. Eddies are a premium throughout the run and from here you can expect constant Class III and Class IV action, with several blind corners, dops, tight moves. There are several long slalom rapids with multiple drops and three biggies that tend to sneak up on people. Watch out for wood and railroad related debris - the adjacent rail line dumped many cross ties down the banks along the creek.

Features worth noting include 6 railroad bridge crossings. The last bridge funnels the creekflow through a very long tube. Scout this from both ends before running through to make sure it is clear of debris. The end of the tunnel slants down a sloping sluiceway into a juicy hole (Class IV+). Midway through the run there is a large sloping ledge that drops about 10 feet (Class IV) and has an abrupt and tight entry. Wood and railroad ties have been found clogging the top of the drop, so stop and scout this as well. Though it can probably be run most anywhere - as long as you remain upright - the best line is down the left. Further down is a long rapid in a right-hand bend (Class IV); it starts with a narrow chute guarded by an undercut then flows over two medium ledges (the second is broken in a pattern that looks like giant teeth). Finally, the rapid goes through a series of slides just around the bend. Near the end of the run you will encounter a sloping falls that looks undercut on river right and is guarded by an overhanging ledge on the right. A low water inspection reveals the rocks aren't undercut enough to pose much danger, but there is a mean hole at the bottom and a shaky line could get your head taken off (Call it IV+).


For the run, putin in Swanton, MD downstream of a bridge on river right in the railroad right-of-way. Please be discreet at the putin (come dressed to boat and leave as many vehicles as you can at the takeout). There has been friction with a man who lives on river left at the putin bridge. Takeout at the last bridge before the Savage Reservoir.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2007-03-26 17:03:14


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.
March 21 2007 (4325 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
March 20, 2007. I ran this after on-site inspection. After returning home, I saw that the Savage
(Barton) level was 2.7 and 400 cfs and still rising slightly. This was a good, but definitely
minimum, level---rocky at times. I couldn't find the in-water gauge at the gauging station. The
level was rising due to some (light?) rain on some small amount of snow (possibly heavier residual
snow locally on the river-right, north-facing slope---brrr). I put on at the last railroad
crossing, 1.7 miles downstream from Swanton. The creek upstream of this point looked trivial and
annoying, and there was a wide, dryish rocky bar just before the last tunnel. I'd say that this is
the best put-in. The creek seems more natural below this point. I walked the shuttle up the
railroad tracks, after leaving my boat at the top. There is a trail down to the water near some RR
switches/signals, river left. This would be a great, fabulous, Class 4 (5) run except for about 15+
log jams. Now, I'm better than average at snaking under, over, through, or around log jams without
portaging, but they nevertheless severely reduced my enjoyment of this otherwise excellent run. The
first time that I swam at a log jam on this trip was merely annoying, even though I had to walk
about 300 feet downstream to reclaim my paddle (lost gear doesn't get far on this creek), and I
really should have stopped to scout the 4 drops where it jammed, anyway (4, including a "ledge"
formed by a log). (Also, I did pull a large branch out of this slot, before running it, so that was
good.) But soon, there I was, headed backwards down a slide toward yet another horrendous log jam
after missing a not-really-last-chance pseudo-almost-eddy. I made it over, under, and through that
one (but definitely not around), but there is another one down below, soon after where the road
appears on river left, where I pinned in a fast, meaty, and blind rapid, and was definitely in fear
for my life (can't see it from the road). After pulling my boat loose (lets see: 75 gallons times 8
pounds per gallon . . .), it got away from me (through the barely-boat-size hole under the log,
hint) and went 1/4 mile or so downstream through some trivial rapids without me, stopping just
above the private bridge. True, I carried or pinned at only four or five log jams, and the creek
would be fabulous without the logs, but I can't really recommend this creek under these conditions.
Hands down, this is the loggiest creek that I have ever paddled, and I thought (until this) that I
had paddled some stinkers!!! Oh, and if, after this "glowing recommendation," you still just have
to paddle it, watch out for the big roadside ledge below the drainage ditch tributary waterfall.
The hole is sticky and the undercut on the right that it feeds into seems deep.
May 18 2006 (4632 days ago)
Robert MillerDetails
I ran Crabtree on Monday May 15, 2006 and the Savage was running between 1000 and 1100 cfs in
Barton. Crabtree should have been raging but it was at a nice level. The upper part was pretty
scrapy. As more tribs dumped in, eventually the creek changed to a great level. I ran the lower
stretch along the road once at 500 cfs but I doubt you could go any higher upstream at that
What a great creek! I ran it for the first time 10 years ago and always love going back!