This photo needs editing.
Difficulty I-III
Length 6.8 Miles
Flow Range 185 - 1200 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 55 minutes ago 74.4 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 12/20/2018 11:53 am

River Description

Paddling is allowed in District of Columbia in Rock Creek Park (except during rush hour), but not in Montgomery Co. (although the ban is not strictly enforced). There are many access points from Rock Creek Parkway (Beach Drive).
The creek is class I in Mont. Co. and down to Military Road, and then class III for a half mile until the footbridge, with a half dozen good rapids. Below the footbridge, it is class II for a mile. The one dangerous spot, a mile below that bridge, is the 8-foot man-made falls at Pierce Mill, which has a strong hydraulic, which gets worse at higher water. If run, stick to the right side and always have throw ropes ready. Most paddlers put in just above or below Military Road and take out at Pierce Mill, for a quick 2-mile trip. Below Pierce Mill, the creek is class I with a few class II rapids, and very interesting urban scenery (bridges, the zoo, an old lime kiln, homeless people).
This is a popular run for Washington area paddlers with limited time (e.g. for after work). It needs a good rain to come up, drops about an inch per hour at moderate levels, and seldom stays up more than a day. The poor water quality discourages playing.


In 1999 several boaters were escorted off the creek in DC

by Park Service Police. American Whitewater successfully resolved the conflict over access, and it is now legal to boat on Rock Creek. However, it is not legal to swim, wade, or fish in the creek. The swimming restriction is based on the fact that the water quality is low and storm sewers dump directly into this beautiful urban waterway. Stay upright, don't drink the water, and watch out for the dam at Pierce Mill.



Rock Creek Park (DC): Access Secured!

January 17, 2000
By Jason Robertson

Great news! Rock Creek Park Police stated today that they will not prevent kayakers or canoeists from boating on the creek in the future. These statements come in response to American Whitewater's discussions with the Park's administrators after two pairs of boaters were prevented from boating on the creek when it was moderately swollen by Hurricane Dennis in September 1999.

In a discussion this morning, Park Police Lieutenant Kass reported that his research confirmed that there is a CFR rule banning recreation in the creek. However, the Lieutenant's research also confirmed that former Superintendent Shields waived this regulation for kayakers and canoeists more than 20 years ago and that former Superintendent Ellerd later dropped all registration requirements in the mid-80's. The Lieutenant added that Assistant Superintendent Cox, representing Superintendent Coleman, respects her predecessor's decisions. The practical result for experienced whitewater canoeists and kayakers is that we will be permitted to continue floating the Class III (IV) creek, regardless of water level and that no special permits or permissions will be required.


NOTE: MR. Kass forwarded a copy of a file to AW dated 4/27/1993, which states "Kayaking is permittted [sic] on Rock Creek- no permit needed. USPP requested that a warning sign be placed along the creek to warn of Pierce Mill Falls ahead. Park stated that they would look at it." This memo also includes a handwritten note by Lt. Kass affirming that the superintendent had upheld this decision.

The Lieutenant cautioned that his staff are not trained in swift water rescue and are not lifeguards. He also explained that the DC Fire Department is responsible for all emergency calls on the creek but that the department's river rescue kit only consists of a single foam life ring. In other words, boaters must continue taking personal responsibility for their actions and personal rescues. Additionally, boaters must wear lifejackets and helmets, and be aware of the unique hazards associated with running this urban creek, including strainers, coliform and urban runoff, low bridges, and the 8-foot dam at Pierce Mill.

American Whitewater wishes to thank: Ron Knipling and Martin Radigan for reporting the access problems on Rock Creek; Lieutenant Kass and Assistant Superintendent Cox for their cooperation in resolving the problem and working with us to address the issue; and Mac Thornton and Ed Gertler for sharing documents detailing the history of the 1980's access agreements with the Park's superintendents.

Contact American Whitewater, if you encounter any future access difficulties on Rock Creek or other streams in the region.




In May 2001, District Health Commissioner, Dr. Ivan Walks, issued the warning, "We are not recommending that people use Rock Creek and enter Rock Creek because of standing high bacteria levels..."

Dr. Walks added that the bacteria levels in Rock Creek are too high for human contact, and have been for the last year.

Beware: below Pierce Mill, this stream is plagued with Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). After recent heavy rains (early June, 2001), a woman plunged her car into the creek. She subsequently died from bacterial infection.

For further info on Rock Creek, check with the good folks at the Monocacy Canoe Club or the Canoe Cruisers.

Rapid Descriptions


default user thumbnail
7 years ago

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default user thumbnail
16 years ago

Also check out the description for this run on the DC rivers page.

default user thumbnail
16 years ago

Hey steve, we need to change the data on this run, break it into the flatwater & whitewater reaches

default user thumbnail
Seth Cooper
18 years ago

A good run is from Military Rd in DC
down to the Potomac. Portage around
a couple of dams. Look for at least an
inch of rain in the DC area.

Gage Descriptions

This gauge on Rock Creek at Sherrill Drive just came on-line in early 2008.  One can also check visually the staff gauge on river right at Joyce Road, just above the start of the rapids; it needs to be at least 2.7 (~185 cfs).  The painted RC gauge on the bridge at the end of the half mile of class III is getting faint. 

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports




article main photo

Rock Creek: The Premier River in Our Nation's Capitol Is Overlooked... Again

Jason Robertson

How can the namesake river of Rock Creek National Park in our Nation's capitol be overlooked in the Park's new management plan? The Park is collecting comments on its new General Management Plan. The focus of the Plan is clearly on transportation issues affecting commuters. As a result, the Plan neglects the health and water quality of the Creek as well as the recreation opportunities that the creek provides. Please write.
article main photo

Health Warning on Rock Creek (DC)

Jason Robertson

In May 2001, District Health Commissioner, Dr. Ivan Walks, issued the warning, “We are not recommending that people use Rock Creek and enter Rock Creek because of standing high bacteria levels...”

Dr. Walks added that the bacteria levels in Rock Creek are too high for human contact, and have been for the last year.


Tony Allred Jr


Stephen J. Ettinger


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1210697 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - added DC with MD listing
1210737 12/20/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - cleanup
1210712 12/14/18 Tony Allred Jr 12-15-2018 - cleanup
1190540 03/22/08 Stephen J. Ettinger n/a