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Difficulty II-III
Length 2.6 Miles
Flow Range 325 - 2000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 2 days ago 79.9 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 03/25/2020 1:48 am

River Description

This is the best section of Cabin John Creek, and it is an excellent paddle. The first half a mile has frequent class IIs, alongside first River Road and then Seven Locks Road. There is one island a few hundred yards below River Road; the left channel has more water. Where the creek turns sharply left and passes below Seven Locks Road, just past the pipe that spews out an uninviting brown waterfall, there is a short but bouncy class II+ drop, best run on the far left. The rapids then ease up to class II-, for the middle third of the trip. The creek passes beneath the Beltway, and Booze Creek enters soon afterwards, through a garishly-grafittied tunnel under Cabin John Parkway. Then, as Cabin John Creek enters an attractive semi-gorge, the gradient and rapids pick up. For a half mile there is one long class II+ or III- rock garden after another, with one solid class III. And there are lots of good surfing waves and holes.
Take out on river left just before the culvert under the C&O Canal, after passing beneath Macarthur Boulevard, Cabin John Parkway and Clara Barton Parkway, and drag your boat up the wide grassy slope to the small gravel area on the shoulder of Clara Barton Parkway. (Alternatively, you can paddle under the C&O Canal -- if the water is not too high -- and a quarter mile down to the Potomac, and take out a mile downstream at Sycamore Island, but this results in a much longer and steeper carry. Also, there is about 6 inches less clearance on the downstream side of the culvert than on the upstream, so donÂt go under the Canal unless you are sure you can get out!)
To shorten the shuttle and avoid a possible ticket for illegal parking, leave your car in the large parking area on Macarthur Boulevard just east of the single-lane bridge over Cabin John Creek. From the Canal take out, follow the wide grassy trail under Clara Barton Parkway, and, a quarter mile later, up the stairs to Macarthur Boulevard.

Rapid Descriptions

495 Pile Up

Class - N/A Mile - 1.25
The pylons for the beltway have collected numerous trees stopping the flow,  mirroring the rush our traffic above. Typically portaged on the river right side.


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12 years ago

From the Monocacy Canoe webboard: Posted by MarkB on August 17, 2004 at 16:48:39: In Reply to: Cabin John Creek? posted by Brad on August 17, 2004 at 12:56:44:

I did it several years ago. It comes up and goes down pretty quickly, so you need to be opportunistic go get it. Putin at River Rd near the fire station. Takeout at Lock 7 or 8. From what I recall there were several strainers, one of which (a large fallen tree spanning the creek) looks semi-permanent. I hiked it last year and it had not budged.

Other than the strainers, it's a fun run and worthwhile if you can catch it up. Small, twisty, with not a lot of flat water. No major hazards other than downed wood.

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14 years ago

From the Monocacy Canoe web:

Posted by MarkB on April 03, 2005 at 14:53:31:

Ed Safford and I were on our way to Passage Creek on Saturday morning and decided to check out Cabin John Creek just to see if it was up. Hard rain had just started to fall. We parked at the bridge on River Rd and walked down to the water, which looked high enough, but not lapping at the banks. If anything it looked a bit lowish to me, but I'd only run this once several years ago at canoe zero level. We decided to go for it and set shuttle at Lock 7.

By the time we got back to the River Rd putin, a lot of water had fallen. Ed walked down to check it out and reported that it was roaring. We discussed the obvious hazards - strainers, flash flood conditions - and decided to go ahead but be prepared to abandon the trip if it got dicey.

It got dicey rather quickly. As Ed had reported it was roaring along at a really rapid clip. Surfing waves appeared right below the putin, where riffles had been 45 minutes earlier. Eddies were few and of the bank jamming variety and we were catching any that were available. Lumber was floating alongside us and low hanging branches were getting lower. A pretty good sized hole appeared, which we punched with the aid of our river-adided momentum.

We found an eddy before we went under the 7 Locks Rd bridge and made our way along river right to scout it. Before we walked away, I stuck a stick in the sand bank so we could gauge if the water was rising. The passage under the bridge looked like a lot of fun: very fast water rounding a left hand bend, a big wave train, a strainer on the left, a branch hanging down over the middle, some nano eddies along the right.

The truth be told, we were a little intimiated by the scene, particularly since we knew of at least one river-wide strainer about half-way through the run. We had also bank scouted a section off of 7 Locks that was gathering flotsam and jetsam, with a log bobbing up and down across most of the creek. Finding an eddy when we most needed it, just might be problematic.

We decided to go back to our boats and see if the water was rising or falling, and maybe wait it out a bit, hoping that it would fall as fast as it had risen. When we reached the boats, the stick I had planted was under water. The sand bank we had gotten out on was under water. It had risen a foot or more in about 10 minutes. We planted another stick and watched the creek continue to rise several inches within a few minutes.

Time to abandon ship! We ferried across to river left and caught the last chance eddy, pulled our boats out and walked back to the putin. We ended up going to Angler's, clawing our way up the back channel and across to center chute and them made our way down river to lock 7. Nice surfing wave in the center of the river on the right hand side of the island below Offut (don't know its name). Everything else below Anglers was washed out.

On the way back home I couldn't resist a peak at Cabin John Creek. Stopped near the bridge at 7 Locks and found it was still roaring. A little less than when we were on a couple hours before, but still pretty fast.

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15 years ago

Posted by Mothra on August 17, 2004 at 18:54:53:

In Reply to: I Ran it Once posted by MarkB on August 17, 2004 at 16:48:39:

Third time the zipper on my drysuit broke so I couldn't put on. It's kind of like a micro-mini Nantahala type run. Very enjoyable but kind of weird once you get to the Potomac as you have to limbo under the bridge if the PO is high - as it generally would be if the creek is running. We had a writeup of our first trip in the Smoke Signal - Phil DiModica and Mike Feinberg were there, maybe a couple of others, it was a personal first descent for all of us. It was c. 1993, I believe.

Gage Descriptions

Visual gauge painted on rock at the put in. It will take a major rain event to bring it up but it holds longer than the other area creeks.

0 = minimum (about bottom of rock), scrapey in places
0.5 = getter better, scrape is disappearing

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.

No Accident Reports




Stephen J. Ettinger


Bill Durr


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1194185 04/09/08 Stephen J. Ettinger n/a
1214542 03/25/20 Bill Durr updated description