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' (828cfs) on the Hollofield gauge, with some areas drifting into the IV's above 4-5'+ (1880+cfs) 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.
Put in below Daniels Dam ([mile 0] 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 1.8], 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 now 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 5.2]. 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 5.3 - 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 5.8] 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 5.9 - 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 7.7]. Shortly below here is the Ilchester Road bridge [mile 8.0] which is a common take-out for this section of the river.
Below Ilchester Road, the river picks up gradient through where the now removed Bloode Dam once was located. The river is very unstable through this area and is constantly changeing, but is now run by more adventuresome paddlers. For the class II boater that wants 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 11.2] 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 11.9] 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 12.5]. 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...
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 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 now 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. Much beyond 3' [~828 cfs], and the eddies all wash out, making one wild III+ 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 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.
As the river is adjusting from the removal of the Simkins/Thistle Dam just downstream, it has exposed two fiber-optic pipes. Although our group was able to easily find a slot over them, if not corrected, over time they will eventually become a strainer hazard
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.
Below the Ilchester Road bridge [mile 8.0], the gradient increases above where the Bloede Dam has recently been removed [mile 8.5], to the Orange Grove area of Patapsco State Park [mile 9.3]. The river is very unstable through this area and is constantly changing. There are still signs posted that the river has been closed through this area, although there's not much enforcement. River stabilization work continues, resulting in continued earthmoving going on at the location of the removed Dam.
[see picture (of Andrew Froom; photographer Brandon Thompson) above] Yes, that is some sort of steel beam sticking out on the right. There is some really sketchy stuff above and where the Bloede Dam used to be. Be careful.
River access & parking just upstream of the swinging bridge.
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.
[Hollofield gauge was restarted by USGS]. There is no longer a USGS Hollofield gauge. The North Branch of the Patapsco at Cedarhurst USGS gauge http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?01586000 can give you an approximation (it correlates fairly well with the old gauge). I prefer running it at higher levels (above 500 cfs). You should be good to go at 400 cfs and above on the North Branch gauge. Another good indicator is that if there is a wave train just past the Main Street Bridge in Ellicott City, then the Patapsco is running. You need about an inch of rain to get the Oella section at a "fun" level. It is very flashy, so catch it while you can and scout before you run it.
Ran this yesterday at about 180 cfs and 1.8 at the Hollofield guage. Went from below Daniels Dam to Old Frederick Bridge. Had to scrape over quite a few spots. Still fun as first season run. At 2.0 or above should be ok. 200 cfs is a good threshold for any section below Woodstock Rd. put in. Good area for beginners at low levels. Use a boat that has good tracking as there are decently long stretches of flat. Lots of snags and interesting debris left over from the August 2016 Flood period.
The July 2016 flood has indeed changed the "Doughnut Bend" Rapid. Now, as you go under the MD 144 bridge at Ellicott City, take the leftmost arch. Stay to the left for the first part of the rapid, crossing to the center right at the bottom where the cliffs are.
The 120 cfs minimum that this site uses for this run probably refers to the Cedarhurst gauge, which was the gauge used for this run before the Hollofield gauge was re-activated. For the Hollofield gauge, 200 -- 218 cfs would be a better minimum.
There is an error in the minimum level indicated in the river description. The 120 cfs minimum referred to the 'Cedarhurst' gauge which was used for this run before the Hollofield gauge was reactivated. If you're using the 'Hollofield' gauge, the minimum level for this run is 'Hollofield' 2.0 or 218 cfs. 120 cfs at 'Hollofield' is just scraping rocks.
Strainer on the left before suicide falls is finally gone ! Yay
Waters cold but running about 3.5 feet in old Ellicott city. 2/28/2014
Has anyone run this section since the removal of the Union and Simkins dams? I've seen in the comments section where people were running it during the removal, but no word on how it's changed the river since.
Also, the Bloede Dam is currently under review for removal which will make the section from Daniels down to the inner harbor free-flowing once again.
Ran this Friday morning, May 4, 2012 when the gauge jumped above 120cfs.
Put in at Old Frederick Rd, out at Ilchester Rd. Some good fun.
Notes: Being completely new to this river, we did not know the section flowing under Rte. 40 is closed, until well after we were committed. The bad news is that there is some serious construction ongoing that looks no where near completion. The river is clearly marked as 'CLOSED' with almost no reasonable method of porting your boat around the constructiion site. The good news is that the 2 dams in this section that most of the literature describe, have been removed making for longer, more consistent linking of rapids. Currently, there is no logistical barrier to running the river through the construction site, and the construction folks have done a great job of creating a fun rapid over the remains of the dam. There is, however, obvious risk of being struck by falling construction debris and possibly legal consequences for running a 'CLOSED' river. So when the signs come down and water is up, this will be a much improved stretch of river for Baltimoreans with few hours and an urge to run some rapids.
There is currently construction on the Patapsco River. They are in the process of removing dams on the river. We were unable to pass where Union Dam used to be. There was crane work and construction workers not allowing us to pass. There is no easy portage there unless you want to cross route 40 or walk train tracks thru a tunnel. The good news it the old Union Dam site will eventually have a nice rapid there instead of a nasty keeper hole.
Robert: if the Hollofield gauge reads the same way now as in '04, 3.56 ft = 1330 cfs.
I caught this in 2004 at @ 3.56 on the Hollofield gauge--any idea what cfs this was? Anyway, it was high, and on a similar occasion later, I paddled down to the harbor, on a cold winter day. So I'll just say, for whitewater boaters, take out at Ellicott City. The section after that is mostly flat water, with the 3 dam portages, the second of which had so much spray that I couldn't even see the base of the dam. All drowning machines, for sure. Flat water paddlers should drive down below the third dam and put in. I ran Daniels Dam on the right, but scout, because on walking trips, I saw a log jammed at the base of the dam for a while one season. Also, Union Dam seemed like Class 5 at high levels.
11 months ago
by Tony Allred Jr
2 years ago
The minimum level, suggested by Steve Ettinger, should be viewed as a rough guide only. Steve also notes that you need less water when Liberty Lake is full.
Usually needs several days of hard rain in summer and fall. Beware, it's a flashy river. The gauge has risen as much as 4' in less than an hour...
Permits are not required for this reach.
To get to the Daniels area of Patapsco State Park or the Old Frederick Road bridge from I-70, go north from I-70 to US 29. US 29 almost immediately ends at a stoplight at which you turn right onto Rogers Ave. Take Rogers Ave. to a traffic circle at which you circle about 270 degrees to exit onto Old Frederick Road. Once on Old Frederick Road you can either turn left onto Daniels Road to go to the Daniels area put-in or follow Old Frederick Road down to the river where if you turn right before the bridge (coming from the west), there is some parking along the river next to the railroad.
To shuttle to the Ilchester Road take-out (Howard Co. side), take Old Frederick Road to the traffic circle. Take the first exit from the circle to Rogers Avenue North/West to the stoplight at US 29. Take US 29 South to the MD 103 exit. Take MD 103 South/East to Ilchester Road. Turn left onto Ilchester Road and follow it down to the Ilchester bridge over the Patapsco River. Reverse directions to get back to the put-in. (The once more common shuttle from the Baltimore County side of the Ilchester bridge through Ellicott City is currently longer and more difficult because the bridge over Thistle Creek is out [destroyed by the May 2018 floods] that has closed both River Road and Thistle Roads on the Baltimore County side.)
Andrew Froom boofs
Changes since July 2016 Flood
Henryton to Old court rd.
Rt. 40 bridge
First section of falls
Plugging the Nookie
Surfing Below Suicide
Surfing Oella Falls
Riiz at Dave's Nookie
Suicide Panoramic View
Suicide at High Water
The 'Calmer' water below Suicide
Eddied out in Oella
Running Union Dam, Patapsco
Union Dam top, Patapsco
Dam breach at highwater, Patapsco
Union Dam, Patapsco River
Entrance to Oella, Patapsco
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