Potomac - 4. Sandy Beach/O-Deck to Anglers Inn

Potomac, Maryland, US


4. Sandy Beach/O-Deck to Anglers Inn (Mather Gorge)

Usual Difficulty II-III(IV) (varies with level)
Length 2.3 Miles
Avg. Gradient 8 fpm

2004: The Year Of Rocky

2004: The Year Of Rocky
Photo of Peter Bross by Lauren Rarick @ 4 ft.

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01646500 2.20 - 7.00 ft II-III(IV) 00h39m 3.49 ft (running)

River Description

The Potomac River below Great Falls is literally in the back yard of Washington, D.C. This fact contributes to the strong boating community in the metropolitan region. Mather Gorge, where this section begins, is a stunning cliff-lined gorge. Further down, the river maintains it's wild and remote feeling, except for at choice spots where Virginia has allowed sloppy development to mar the shore.

The river offers play and practice for beginners to experts and numerous sections can be run. This description will deal with the rapids and access points and doesn't provide details on the numerous play spots.

It should be noted that the stretch of river from O-Deck just below Great Falls thru Wet Bottom offers some of the best big water paddling in Maryland. 10,000 cfs thru a 100 foot wide gorge makes for some large waves, surging eddies and boiling eddylines. Below Mather gorge the rapids get considerably easier. Here is one playspot guide: Potomac Playspot Project. And another: Potomac Paddlers. Another popular playspot guide developed by David Mackintosh is currently offline. It will be linked here if it is revived.

Access Points:
Great Falls is located to the west of Washington DC. Best access is off of I-495 to Clara Barton parkway/Carderock exit on the Maryland side. Take the parkway west about two miles to McArthur Blvd. Continue west on McArthur about another mile to the Anglers Inn parking area. To access the Virginia side, exit I-495 to Old Georgetown Pike/Hwy 193. Go west about 4 miles to Old Dominion Drive and take a right into the park.

- Sandy Beach. Park at Great Falls National Park (fee area), reached via MacAuthur Blvd. in Montgomery County, MD. Carry 1/4 mile south along the C & O Canal towpath; take trail on the right that leads to Sandy Beach putin.

- Angler's Inn. Reach via MacAuthur Blvd. Park in one of three gravel or dirt lots across from the Angler's Inn, a fine restaurant. Carry across the canal, then 100 feet south on the towpath, then right down to the shore. From the river, the beach is easily seen on river left.

- Fisherman's Eddy. Park at Great Falls National Park (Virginia - fee area). From lower lot, carry across picnic area to steep trail that leads to Fisherman's Eddy.

- Rocky Island. From Great Falls, Virginia, walk south on trail from picnic area to a small footbridge and walk left down the rocky gully access Rocky Island surfing waves.

Rapids (in order from the base of Great Falls to Anglers Inn).
-- O-Deck (Class III). Primarily a playspot with large surfing waves. Adjacent to Fisherman's Eddy. Using this for a downriver trip is inconvenient because shuttle must be set on Virginia side of river.

-- Fishladder (Class II+-III). Formed by current from fishladder around Great Falls. Fast current, big waves and a messy pourover at some levels.

-- S-Turn (Class II-IV). Converging currents and constricted river form dynamic waves, current and whirlpools. Rocks form pourover holes at lower levels.

-- Rocky Island (Class II-III). At 4-5 feet on LF gauge a fine series of surfing waves exist. Lower levels present Class II waves.

-- Wet Bottom Chute (Class II). At normal levels is a 3 foot sloping ledge drop that can be run most anywhere.

-- Difficult Run Rapids, Maryland, Center and Virginia Chutes (Class II). Washington's practice spot and home to the Maryland chute playspot. Each chute offers a different type of practice. All lines are straightforward.

Playspot List & Levels:
2.5' - 4.2' Wet Bottom (Class 3)
2.6' - 2.8' Horseshoe (Snodgrass) Wave (Class 3+)
2.7' - 2.9' Fishladder Wave
2.7' - 2.9' Portage Waves (Class 2)
2.7' - 3.0' Annie's
2.7' - 3.0' O-Deck 3 (Class 3)
2.7' - 4.0' Maryland Chute (Class 2+)
2.7' - 4.2' Virginia Chute Wave (Class 2)
2.8' - 3.3' Bloody Good
3.3' - 3.6' O-Deck 2 (Class 3)
3.6' - 3.8' O-Deck 1 (Class 3)
3.6' - 3.7' S-Turn (Class 3)
3.7' - 3.9' S-Turn
3.7' - 4.1' Showcase (Class 3)
3.9' - 4.1' Simon Says
3.9' - 4.8' Rocky Island Waves (Class 3)
4.1' - 5.4' Center Chute Ledge (Main Hole) (Class 3+)
4.2' - 4.7' Upper Center Chute Ledge (Class 3)
4.2' - 4.4' Fish Counter
4.5' - 6.0' Tight Quarters
4.8' - 5.2' Gil's Hole (Lower) (Class 3)
4.9' - 5.4' Gil's Hole (Upper) (Class 4)
5.3' - 6.4' Rodeo Zone
5.4' - 6.5' Center Chute Wave (Class 3)
6.0' - 6.7' Rocha Motel
6.0' - 7.6' Skull Island Wave (Class 2+)
6.2' - 6.6' Dave's Wave (Class 3+)
6.4' - 8.0' Showcase
6.7' - 6.9' Super Dave
6.7' - 7.0' Shoulder Snapper (Sweetie-pie) Wave
6.8' - 7.5' Corner Hole (Fudgepacker) (Class 4)
7.0' - ?.?' Sweetie-pie Wave
7.2' - 8.2' Last Supper
7.3' - 8.0' Elbow Wave
7.3' - 8.8' Dead Cow Hole (Class 3+)
7.9' - 8.8' Bud (also called Butt) Hole
8.0' - 9.5' Pencil Sharpener
8.0' - ?.?' Zambezi Wave
8.5' - 9.5' Eraser
9.0' - 9.5' Round the Corner

From Potomac Paddlers website, added May 2004

National Park Service Great Falls Page

NPS Great Falls Map

These guide books provide good references for this section: Sehlinger, Bob, et. al.; Appalachian Whitewater, the Southern States. Gertler, Ed; Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-11-10 12:35:22


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0O-DeckIIIPlayspot Photo
0.3Sandy BeachPutin
0.4Rocky IslandIII
0.6Wet BottomII+
1.9Difficult Run RapidsII+Playspot
2.3Anglers Inn AccessAccess

Rapid Descriptions

O-Deck (Class III)

Lone Surfer at O-Deck In Mather Gorge

Lone Surfer at O-Deck In Mather Gorge
Photo of Unknown Boater by Emmy Truckenmiller @ 4 ft.

Easiest access is from the VA side as a park & surf. Enter Great Falls park and take an immediate right into the first parking area. Just above the lower observation deck is the trail down to Fishermans eddy. Carefully work down the steep trail to the waters edge. Ferry across and slightly upstream to access the O-deck wave.

From the MD side you will have to work upstream past the mouth of the fishladder and attain up about another 300 yards to access O-deck.

Fishladder (Class III, Mile 0.3)
Wierd currents where the fishladder dumps into the main stem of the Potomac.

Sandy Beach
Access point river left just below the fishladder. The trail is just off the towpath down from Lock 17, upstream of the overlook. Can also be accessed from Anglers by paddling up the canal a mile, then carrying another 0.4 mile to the put-in.

Rocky Island (Class III, Mile 0.4)
Large bigwater waves and eddy lines at higher flows. Good long boat surfing between 4 and 5 feet on the gauge.

Difficult Run Rapids (Class II+, Mile 1.9)
Maryland, Center, & Virginia Chutes.

Anglers Inn Access
Access point river left

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