Potomac - 2. Violette's Lock to Pennyfield Lock

Potomac, Maryland, US


2. Violette's Lock to Pennyfield Lock (GW Canal or Seneca Breaks)

Usual Difficulty I-II (for normal flows)
Length 3.4 Miles

The Surfer's Hole @ the GW Canal

The Surfer's Hole @ the GW Canal
Photo of Jeff Davis by Mark Anderson taken 06/15/01 @ 3.7 Ft

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01646500 2.20 - 6.80 ft I-II 00h33m 4.16 ft (running)

River Description

The Violette's Lock to Pennyfield Lock (GW Canal) run on the Potomac river is an excellent run for paddlers who are working on their skills.  Local canoe clubs use this river section extensively for training. The rapids are Class I-II in nature and are appropriate for practiced novice and higher skilled boaters.  The river seems to pick up a lot of strainers here, so be on the lookout for ever changing obstructions.  (The river can also be run in the main channel through an area known as area of islands and river debris known as the Seneca Breaks, but this isn't the traditional run.) 

[With use of the watered C & O Canal on the Maryland side of the river, this run has the additional advantage of not requiring a shuttle. In simplist terms, paddle down the river, then paddle back up the canal. - THE C&O CANAL HAS BEEN DEWATERED THROUGH 2018 AND MUCH OF 2019, SO THE LOOP RUN IS NOT AVAILABLE - IT MUST BE RUN WITH A SHUTTLE FROM VIOLETTE LOCK TO PENNYFIELD LOCK.]

The river section, located near the Virginia bank of the Potomac, is accessed from the Violette's Lock picnic area along the C & O Canal (see directions below). To putin, walk across the canal bridge and follow a faint trail to the right and down to the river bank at the top of a canal feeder channel. Paddle across the river, which is very wide here, above the old canal dam. Enter a river right channel on the Virginia shore and you are on the commonly run portion of the river. Parts of this intimate channel are formed by the old George Washington canal, a failed Virginia-side canal project that has now been retaken by the river here.

Once in the channel, the current picks up. Strainers are a constant problem, so please be aware and make sure you have the skill to avoid them. The first rapid is an open rock garden good for eddy turn practice. The next rapid is the Surfer's Hole that maintains a friendly hydraulic at many levels. Below here, there is a rapid with a ledge formation constricting most of the water into a narrow right-side slot. In late June 2001, this channel was mostly-blocked by potentially dangerous strainers, so stop and take a look. Paddlers with excellent boat control may be able to find their way around the trees on the far left of the right slot, but the route is complicated. There is also an S-turn that starts river left, and a final set of drops and chutes.

All told, the channel run is about 1 1/2 miles. After the chute drop, you can paddle back up an adjoining channel and out into the main flow of the Potomac. Ferry across the river to the Maryland side.  [CANAL DEWATERED FOR 2018/2019 - NO LOOP - During most of the year, when the National Park Service (NPS) waters the C&O Canal, you can takeout at a dirt bank and trail on the Maryland side. This trail leads to the C & O Canal. Put-in here and paddle north (upstream) back to the Violette's Lock picnic area. (Total run is 3.4 miles.)]  During the winter when the NPS dewaters the canal (or any other time you'd find running a shuttle to preferable to paddling the canal) an alternative is to run downstream to Pennyfield Lock  (Total run is 3.3 miles) or Swain's Lock (Total run is 6.3 miles), both also on the Maryland side.

Directions: The Violette's Lock picnic area is off of River Road (Route 190) in Montgomery County, Maryland about 8 miles north of Potomac, MD. From Potomac, travel north on River Road to a left turn onto Violette's Lock road. The turn is easy to miss. Its about a half a mile before the intersection of Route 112. You will know you have gone too far if you come to the stop sign and a sharp left bend in River Road.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-08-20 10:44:03


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.
October 4 2016 (800 days ago)
joelmale (158617)
Ran center line of Potomac off Violet's Lock in a broad loaded canoe. No issues river only slightly
swollen off last few days of rain. I-II's perfect little beginner run or control refresher. Avoided
right side channels plenty of strainers across the top made me doubt the run in a canoe, sure a
kayak could squeeze through.
June 7 2016 (919 days ago)
jwalksaab (158287)
GW canal running very well. No real hazards due to high river level.
September 13 2012 (2282 days ago)
x (1)
This is a great place to learn how to PooPoo Roll, but after that it is time to move on to the
peepee area.
March 17 2012 (2463 days ago)
Colin AbernethyDetails
Ran this today at 3.93ft and had a great time! It looks like a really long ferry across the river
to the Patowmack (GW) Canal section, but it passes rather quickly. Lots of choices to make while in
the canal section as the islands and debris piles cut the river into individual channels. When
nearing the end of the canal, note the large yellow arrow on the tree on the left side of the
right-hand channel. It'll be pointing left into what is (at this moment) a strainer. Simply run to
the right of the woodpile/strainer and then attain around the left hand side of the island to get
back to the main channel and run a couple of fun little ledges before starting to ferry left to the
shore line to take out. The best take-out is visible as two trees are marked with yellow paint
squares which you can see from just about anywhere on the river. The paddle back up the canal
starts out really shallow at the 4' mark, and then deepens for a bit, but once you are committed to
the canal, there's no real way out until the take-out at Violette's lock. At 3.93 feet, we had to
clamber up the canal bank 100 yards from the lock because it simply got too shallow to go any
June 9 2011 (2745 days ago)
JohnDeans (153193)
I recently taught my friend to paddle here and this is a GREAT section for it. One of the pluses
that I'm surprised not to see here is the play wavehole right at the put in! This is the most park
and play I've ever seen. BE WARNED: the wave is fun, but shallow after, so make sure you have a
solid brace and combat roll! For new paddlers, this is a great way to learn to run small drops and
power through holes (my buddy had a blast with that).
October 3 2010 (2993 days ago)
polarjud (152480)
I ran it today, three days after a topical depression passed over the area. Quite a bit of fun.
Several big trees headed downstream, competing with me for space. The level at Little Falls was
4.4. A bald eagle buzzed over me. No strainers today anyway.
April 28 2008 (3881 days ago)
Stephen J. EttingerDetails
The "maximum" level of 4.2 is rather odd here. At somewhat higher levels (I ran this at 4.6
recently, for example), some of the features tend to wash out, and the trip actually becomes more
interesting going down the Seneca Rapids on the river itself, but there is nothing dangerous in the
way that a "maximum" normally is meant to indicate.
May 13 2005 (4962 days ago)
As the above description says, take a right turn once you cross the bridge over the canal. There is
a very inviting trail off to the left that leads right to the water. Bad trail to take.
The river is damn near a mile wide here. And the play is on the opposit bank. So get ready to do a
whole lot of flatwater paddling to get across to the other side.
When you get to the river, you'll see a river wide shoal area. Make sure you ferry across the river
above the shoals. The entrance to the feeder canal is above the shoals. If you miss that move, one
of the channels below the shoals comes in just below the wave pictured here. Fun wave.<br
If I were in my long boat, I'd stay in the main channel and play with attaining my way back up over
taking the canal. Most of the upstream moves looked very do-able in the 3 foot range on the

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