Patapsco, S. Branch - Woodbine to Woodstock


Patapsco, S. Branch, Maryland, US

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Woodbine to Woodstock (South Branch)

Usual Difficulty I-III(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 14 Miles
Avg. Gradient 17 fpm
Max Gradient 25 fpm

mckeldon falls perspective


mckeldon falls perspective
Photo by mike kemp taken 2003 @ unknown

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
PATAPSCO RIVER AT HOLLOFIELD, MD
usgs-01589000 2.50 - 10.00 ft I-III(IV) 01h58m 1.77 ft (too low)


River Description

Note: read below and/or click the Map tab to see the multiple access points for this section.

This seldom paddled, (and seldom paddleable), little gem flows through a progressively deepening gorge that separates Howard and Carroll County and makes a delightful jaunt for either a day trip, or for a much shorter paddle when done in sections. Difficulty consists of a good deal of moving flatwater, a great selection of class 2+ ledges, and a couple of easy class 3's. With enough water, one class 4 waits downstream to excite the bored or terrify the challenged. Pray for rain though; it's going to be a long day without enough water.

Put on at Woodbine Road (Route 94) for the full trip, and proceed downstream through mostly 'moving' flatwater with a few class 1-2 rapids. You might notice that the river here is less than half the width of the main section downstream, which it will continue to be for the next 11 miles or so. The top of this section is seldom a 'pretty' trip, with plenty of structures and abodes peeking through the trees at the river, even in the lushest part of spring. And you will certainly know it if a train comes along on the often-used river left tracks that are seemingly overhead in certain areas. Depending on the whim of the river, strainers may be sparse, or ever-present for the three-mile trip to Route 97, and beyond to Gaither Road. Keep an eye peeled through here for the prevalent deer, groundhog, heron, and the occasional beaver.

When you see Route 97 ahead, be aware of the rubble left over from a breached dam. It usually doesn't require a scout, unless logs jam the two paths of the main current. Portage or run this concrete mess and proceed downstream through a couple of monstrous, river-wide strainers that allow a good deal of current through some twisted (unrunnable) arboreal chutes. Portage around, and continue to Gaither Road.

After passing underneath Gaither Road (an excellent starting point for shorter trips) the river starts to realize its potential. It now begins cutting into a gorge that continues to shelter it all the way to the confluence and beyond. Rapids are frequent and mostly easy with tumbles down boulder piles and ledges with a lazy, flat, but moving current in between. On no other place in the Patapsco watershed can you find as many class 2 to 3- rapids. There are some slightly technical, mini-boulder gardens and an occasional (but almost never river wide) strainer, but the trip is mostly just an interesting and highly entertaining ride all the way down into Sykesville.

After picking a line down the last rapid, you'll notice Baldwin Station, a restaurant built on the edge of the train tracks, dead ahead on river left. Outdoor dining in the summertime usually provides a small audience in case you decide to crash and burn. Proceed past (through?) downtown Sykesville to either the Main Street bridge, or the far larger Route 32 overpass for good takeout spots at both places. Or enjoy a series of continuous, rocky rapids into the Patapsco State Park. River Road, visible through the trees on river right, is also a good place to take out/put in, depending on where you're headed to/from. When the river takes a sharp right over a steep gravel bar, and then abrupt left to avoid flowing into the roadway, take care in picking a line. At high water, the current will try and put you directly into the (ragged concrete) river right bank, which would love to borrow a good deal of your unprotected skin.

A few boulder gardens and several riffles later, the river returns to a narrow, placid, winding waterway that wanders through the park. Scenery is very good here, and the rapids are mild. There are some narrow passages, and strainers do live here from time to time, but not with the frequency of their larger, more irritating, river-wide kin upstream. After a mile or so, notice a modern, barn-like structure through the trees on river left. This marks the beginning of three steep drops that, with enough water, will definitely surprise the unwary. Past these obstacles, the river continues to wind until it takes a sharp left, and then a sharp right into a spectacular jog jam. The current is very strong through (and under) here, and a flip could be bad for your health. Get out on river right and portage before you get into the turn.

Another mile or so provides another take out/put in opportunity at Henryton Road. Look for the remnants of an old bridge on both sides of the river, and a cement pipe that creates a surfable hydraulic at some levels. The river becomes even more shallow from here, and continues to meander down through the park with only occasional, small rapids. Scout the train bridge before running its culverts just downstream: they can be jammed with debris. At least one is usually passable. The next take out/put in is just downstream at Marriottsville Road. Continuing past here commits you to for another three miles and a meeting with confluence of the North Branch, which has been thoroughly dammed up at Liberty Reservoir.

Proceed from here with caution, for just a few hundred yards downstream lies McKeldin Falls, the largest single rapid on the Patapsco River. It's a solid class 4, quadruple-ledge drop that falls a total of about 12 feet over 20 yards. When the hills on river left become high and canyonesque, listen for it, and get out (river left) to scout. The portage is a wickedly steep climb up the hill/cliff on the left, and then around to a large pool at the bottom. For the experienced, a variety of routes can be used depending on water level, but beware of small sieves against either shore, and a very wide, flat, mildly undercut rock (usually submerged and creating a strange looking hydraulic) at the dead center of the river near the bottom. It looks as if it would love to eat the nice flat bow of a playboat.

From here, the river calms again for the next 3/4 mile to the confluence, and remains in character for next 2 miles to the takeout at Woodstock Road (steep climb out on the right) to the parking lot across from a roadside bar. Don't miss this high overpass: Daniel's Dam is the next best takeout, after a further five miles (of mostly flat water) downstream.

For the most bang for your buck, when time is of essence, the run from Gaither Road to River Road (just past Sykesville) offers the most fun. For those with a little more time, a continuation down to the falls is worthwhile, and one can take out here just afterwards on river left by planting a shuttle car at the top of the hill in the McKeldin area of Patapsco State Park for a mere $2 per person. Make sure you pick the correct parking lot (marked McKeldin Rapids) or the hike out could be somewhat traumatic. 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2011-04-10 14:24:01

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
3.0Rte. 97 and Concrete RubbleN/ATakeout Portage Hazard
4.2Gaither RoadN/APutin Access
6.0River Road, SykesvilleN/AAccess
17.0McKeldin FallsIVHazard Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Rte. 97 and Concrete Rubble (Class N/A, Mile 3.0)

When you see Route 97 ahead, be aware of the rubble left over from a breached dam. It usually doesn't require a scout, unless logs jam the two paths of the main current. Portage or run this concrete mess and proceed downstream through a couple of monstrous, river-wide strainers that allow a good deal of current through some twisted (unrunnable) arboreal chutes. Portage around, and continue to Gaither Road.



Gaither Road (Class N/A, Mile 4.2)

An excellent starting point for shorter trips.



River Road, Sykesville (Class N/A, Mile 6.0)

For the most bang for your buck, when time is of essence, the run from Gaither Road to River Road (just past Sykesville) offers the most fun.
Note: River Road runs along the river for about half a mile. The coordinates listed here are roughly the last location before the road diverges from the river. Choose your takeout based on what you see.



McKeldin Falls (Class IV, Mile 17.0)

mckeldon falls

mckeldon falls
Photo by mike kemp taken 2003 @ unknown

McKeldin Falls is the largest single rapid on the Patapsco River. It's a solid class 4, quadruple ledge drop that falls a total of about 12 feet over 20 yards. When the hills on river left become high and canyonesque, listen for it, and get out (river left) to scout. The portage is a wickedly steep climb up the hill/cliff on the left, and then around to a large pool at the bottom. For the experienced, a variety of routes can be used depending on water level, but beware of small sieves against either shore, and a very wide, flat, mildly undercut rock (usually submerged and creating a strange looking hydraulic) at the dead center of the river near the bottom. It looks as if it would love to eat the nice flat bow of a playboat.
Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from online maps.




User Comments

Users can submit comments.
March 18 2015 (771 days ago)
TonyAllred (3101)
For a minimum level, look at three gauges: Hollofield 500 cfs; Cedarhurst 150 cfs; Unity 90 cfs.
Hollofield is well downstream on the Patapsco Mainstem, so it can still be up when water's drained
out of the S. Br. Patapsco, but it is a good reflection of the watershed as a whole; Cedarhurst and
Unity are on parallel watersheds about the same amount upstream, so they can give some idea of "top
of the watershed" conditions. Because the S.Br. Patapsco is so flashy, you need to be aware that
water can run out from the night before to the morning of the run. I don't know what a maximum
level might be, but I would suggest that you go to the downtown Sykesville bridge and look at the
river. If your reaction is FUN!, run it; if your reaction is "Oh My God" it's too high.
March 14 2015 (775 days ago)
Bbyronellis5 (157155)
S. Br. Patapsco from Gaither Rd. to Henryton Rd. today with Tony during rain with snow melt, it was
high and brown. Hollofield 2,130 cfs and 4.27, Cedarhurst 1,120 cfs, Unity 546 cfs. Least that's
what it said when we got back, Gauges were 1/2 lower early morning before leaving home. No
strainers to portage. A lot of play was washed out. 4-5 good rapids with 2/3 moves to miss holes,
with no terminal holes. Intermediate run. Most of the rocks you would normally see around
Sykesville were submerged.
October 26 2009 (2740 days ago)
Jared EspleyDetails
We ran from Skyesville to McKeldin Falls on 25Oct09. It had poured the night before and the
Cedarhurst NB Patapsco gauge peaked at 870 cfs. However, looking at it after the fact, it looks
like that by the time we ran it that it had dropped to 108 cfs. The section was barely runnable but
we still were happy to be out on a beautiful fall day. We never had to walk but we did get
temporarily stuck on gravel bars several times. Mckeldin was runnable but boney. Given the same
level again, if it was a choice between not paddling and doing this, I'd paddle this. But if there
were anything else you could paddle I'd probably recommend that.
June 15 2009 (2874 days ago)
alienrace (150588)
Ran this with about 180 cfs on the Little Patuxent guage, 60 on NB at Cedarhurst. Level was pretty
low, but passable and still fun on the bigger rapids. The rapids below McKeldin Falls to the
confluence are alot of fun too, making it worthwhile to go down to Woodstock. Aside from the class
IV McKeldin Falls, the toughest rapids seem to be the three steep, bouldery drops past that barn.
April 5 2004 (4770 days ago)
tom reschDetails
Paddle from Gaither Rd. to Henryton Rd. on April 3, 2004, No river wide strainers, was a branch in
the second part of No Way Out rapid no problem just keep to left of it. Level was around 3.50' on
the Hollifield Gauge about 1300cfs
November 2 2003 (4925 days ago)
Jen MacPhersonDetails
Ran Gaither Road to McKeldon, 4 hours, on 11/2/03 at 2.6. Scrapey but runnable. Another 6" -
1' on the guage would be ideal for passing through all the rock gardens. Whatever log jam used to
be is no longer there. Had to portage 2 riverwide strainers, both in flat water, - 1 just below
Gaither Rd and the other in the park.


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