Patapsco, Maryland, US
|Usual Difficulty||I-III (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||14 fpm|
|Max Gradient||30 fpm|
|PATAPSCO RIVER AT HOLLOFIELD, MD|
|usgs-01589000||218 - 1880 cfs||I-III||01h39m||485 cfs (running)|
|PATAPSCO RIVER NEAR ELKRIDGE, MD|
|usgs-01589035||237 - 2230 cfs||I-III||05h49m||579 cfs (running)|
This long reach can be broken up into much shorter runs, and it usually is. The Old Frederick Road Bridge to Ellicott City run, for instance, is only about 4.0 miles. See below for a description of these access points, and click on the Map tab to see them.
Time: varies with water level. As little as 1.5 hrs to Ellicott City, and another 1.7 hrs to
Avalon/Glen Artney after very heavy rain with no play, or around 3 hours to Ellicott City and
another 3 hours to Avalon/Glen Artney at a mild pace under average conditions.
Difficulty: I-III at up to about 3' on the Hollofield gauge, with some areas drifting into the IV's above 4-5'+ range.
Fun Factor 6.5 out of 10. (High water can add 2 or more to this total)
Water Quality: Mostly good, with some suspicious-looking hues of brown during a heavy runoff.
History: Amazingly, this river was once a route for barrels of tobacco to get from Catonsville to the even more amazingly once-navigable tidal waters at the Route 1 bridge in Elkridge. Visit this portion some time and try to imagine a sailboat coming upstream at you. It ain't easy.
The Patapsco river is a convenient local conundrum to the paddlers of Baltimore in that it features too much whitewater for recreational boaters, and too much flatwater for some whitewater boaters. If you have the gumption in the first case, the patience in the second, or you like to experience a multitude of conditions from straight-forward rapids, to narrow chutes, to big, lake-like, half mile paddles, then this is the place for you.
You can start with a steep carry down at Woodstock Road, (just off Rte. 99) but to avoid nearly 5 miles of mostly flatwater, put in below Daniels Dam ([mile 4.5] at the end of Daniels Rd., just off Old Frederick Rd.). To trim another couple of mostly flat miles out, begin even farther down at the Old Frederick Road bridge [mile 6.3], where Old Frederick Road crosses the river. You'll still have a good four miles down to Ellicott City, and more than two more should you choose to continue to Illchester. (Click on the Map tab to see the location of these access points.)
If you have difficulty getting over the sandbar just a few yards downstream, it may still be runnable for the rest of the way: this is probably the shallowest spot on the entire river. The next mile is a mostly pretty run through the deepening gorge of the state park, that features a few class 2- rapids here and there. At high water this is a nice pushy, mostly rapidless run with trees (living, not fallen) being the biggest hazards.
Just below the US 40 bridge [mile 8.1], there is a small increase in gradient resulting in a
Class II rapid which becomes a wave train at higher water levels. This rapid is all
that's left of the once deadly and recently removed Union Dam. There are still some
remnants of the dam on river left and the river is still adjusting from it's removal.
The next mile or so features a variety of easy class 2 rapids, and a labyrinth of rock
gardens that will test all of your boat control skills at lower levels. There are a few
interesting ledges with very scrapy chutes, and some long pools that continue until the rocks
begin turning into boulders. Soon after you can make out the old Oella mill on river left,
marking the beginning of the drops through Oella.
Make your way down on river right until you see the first decent rapid called "Oella Falls" [mile 9.7]. It's a fairly long, bumpy (class 2+ at lower water and 3+ or above at 3.5+'[~1,100+ cfs]) ride, generally right to left, culminating in a steep class 3 center left, which ends in a nice recovery pool. After the pool there is a short section of class II boogy water that culminates in "Suicide" [mile 9.9 - Class III+], that begins below a house sticking out of the cliff on river left. "Suicide" starts with a right turn and takes a drop (take the drop center right; then move to center) then twists left (move to right) down into the backwater pool before Ellicott City.There are many lines here, and a decent surfing wave at the bottom of this at some levels. All these rapids are easy to eddy-scout at up to about 2.8' (~680 cfs) or so. Much beyond 3' (~828 cfs), and the eddies all wash out, making one wild III+/-IV run all the way from the river split (marked by a giant rock plastered with strainers in the center) to the bottom. At those levels, there are some sneaky holes with stopping potential through here, so keep a sharp eye out at the top of every big wave. A long pool takes you to the Ellicott City/MD 144 bridge [mile 10.3] where you can take out on river left, just before the bridge.
If you decide to continue, the fun begins again. A major flood occured July 31, 2016 and again May 27, 2018. The floods changed the river considerably in the "Doughnut Bend" rapid [mile 10.4 - Class III or Class III+ above 900 cfs] below the 144 bridge. After the floods, the line below the bridge is to stay river left through the first part of the rapid, moving generally to the center. Beware of debris from the floods scattered throughout this rapid, particularly some metal pipe described in the rapids section. Once that's past, there is a big, long, bouncy wave train which takes you down the left-turning bend with a couple of rocks to avoid around the corner.
After this, the ride mostly settles with small class 2 rapids and some riffles. The river begins to cut through sand/gravel bars which were deposited in the backwater of the now removed Simkins/Thistle Dam. On the Baltimore County side, a bridge (River Road) over Thistle Creek was washed out in the May 2018 flood, which has resulted in a rocky shoal that extends into the river from river left. A rapid (hard to notice at low water; class II+ at higher water) occurs where the Dam once was located [mile 12.2]. Shortly below here is the Ilchester Road bridge [mile 12.5] which is a common take-out for this section of the river.
Below the Ilchester Road bridge [mile 12.5] to the Bloede Dam removal project [mile 13.0], through 2018, the river has been closed, due to the demolition and heavy construction work going on at the Dam. To see the lower river, enter the Avalon area of Patapsco State park [fee required] turn left across the bridge to the Howard County side and drive up to the Orange Grove area to put-in. Below here, there are some fun class 2+ rapids (turning into wild wave trains at higher levels).
The rest of this run is a pleasant drift through Patapsco State Park, featuring lots of easy riffles, some precariously shallow gravel bars at low water, and interesting scenery, including a swinging bridge, plenty of heron, and the occasional marauding beaver in colder weather. Takeout is at the Avalon/Glen Artney area [mile 15.7] of the Park, marked by a brick bridge running over the water just past some ballfields and no-swimming sign on river left. If you continue on to Elkridge, you'll get to see the Thomas Viaduct [mile 16.4] a largely unmaintained, ancient stone train bridge (still used) that's a bit unnerving if you happen to be under it when a train comes by. The next takeout is at the Route 1 bridge on river left in Elkridge [mile 17.0]. If your shuttle happens to be a motorcycle, enjoy a beer at Daniel's, one of the last drive-up motorcycle bars on the continent. And don't ask for a draft...
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|6.3||Old Frederick Road Bridge||N/A|
|8.1||Old Union Dam Remains||II|
|10.3||MD 144/Ellicott City Bridge||N/A|
|12.2||Simkins/Thistle Dam Remains||II+|
A common put-in for this stretch of the river. Recently (August 2017) Jersey barriers were put up to severely limit parking at this location. Apparently MD DNR's concern was the accumulation of trash in the park while Howard County's concern was people jumping/sliding off the Dam resulting in emergency calls to fire & rescue. Anyway, it's unclear what the "powers that be" are doing here. Plan ahead.
The Old Frederick Road Bridge trims 6.3 miles from Woodstock and 1.8 miles from Daniels of mostly flatwater/moving water from the top of the Oella stretch. The Old Frederick Road Bridge is where old Frederick Road (Howard Co.) and Hollifield Road (Baltimore Co.) meet. You'll still have a good four miles down to Ellicott City, and almost seven beyond that should you choose to continue to Elkridge.
Just below the US 40 bridge, there is a small increase in gradient resulting in a Class II rapid which becomes a wave train at higher water levels. This rapid is all that's left of the once deadly and recently removed Union Dam. There are still some remnents of the dam on river left and the river is still adjusting from it's removal.
Soon you can see the old Dickey mill on river left, marking the beginning of "Oella Falls". Make your way down on river right, when you get to the main drop, the river shoals up to the right and the current moves from right to left with rock dodging all the way. It's a fairly long, bumpy (class 3- at lower water and 3+ or above at 3.5+' [~1,200+ cfs]) ride which ends in a nice recovery pool.
Suicide begins below a house sticking out of the cliff on river left. The river first turns right and takes a drop (take the drop center right; then move to center) then twists left (move to right) down into the backwater pool before Ellicott City. There are many lines here, and a decent surfing wave at the bottom of this at some levels. All these rapids are easy to eddy-scout at up to about 2.8' [~680 cfs] or so. Much beyond 3' [~828 cfs], and the eddies all wash out, making one wild III+/-IV run all the way from the river split (marked by a giant rock plastered with strainers in the center) to the bottom. At those levels, there are some sneaky holes with stopping potential through here, so keep a sharp eye out at the top of every big wave.
A long pool takes you to the Ellicott City bridge where you can take out on river left, just before the 144 bridge.
[Class III or Class III+ above 900 cfs.] Below the MD 144/Ellicott City Bridge, the fun begins again. A major flood occured July 31, 2016 and again May 27, 2018. Both floods changed the river considerably below the 144 bridge. After the floods, the line below the bridge is to stay river left through the first part of the rapid, moving to center as you pass the flour mill on river left. Below 3' (828 cfs) stay in the center of the channel for the run-out behind the mill -- there are eddies both right and left at the bottom of the runout. At higher water, you still start river left, but there is a mid-channel rooster tail that suggests navigating a little to the right. But don't let the rooster tail push you far right, because there is a metal pipe is halfway down the rapid, clearly on river right below 2.8' (680 cfs), but well into the current above 3' (828 cfs). It was about 4-5 inches in diameter and roughly 3-4 feet long, connected as a T to another pipe running left to right across the river. At higher water there is a big, long, bouncy wave train which takes you down the left-turning bend with a couple of rocks to avoid while approaching the abandoned train siding bridge around the corner.
At lower water you will hardly notice the small rapid at the location of the removed Simkins/Thistle Dam, but at higher water there is a noticeable Class II+ rapid here.
Take-out under bridge river right.
The Bloede Dam [mile 13.0] is in the process of being removed. As a result, through 2018, the river is closed below the Illchester Road bridge [mile 12.5] to Orange Grove [mile 13.7] in the Avalon section of Patapsco State Park, due to the demolition and heavy construction work going on at the project location.
Takeout is at the Avalon/Glen Artney area of the Park, marked by a brick bridge running over the water just past some ballfields and no-swimming sign on river left.
A long pool takes you to the US 1 Elkridge bridge where you can take out on river left.