Potomac, Maryland, US
7. Little Falls
||II-III(IV) (varies with level)
Z Channel!Photo by Chris B taken 07/26/04 @ 3.3 LF
This is a popular intermediate run in the D.C. area due to the amazing fact the final rapid, Little
Falls itself, can offer Class IV punch right where the tidal Potomac begins at the Maryland and
D.C. line. Like some other stretches of the Potomac, the C & O Canal, when watered, can be used to
complete a loop without setting shuttle. This description focuses on the runs characteristics when
Little Falls is between 2.7 to 3.5 feet. Little Falls can be run by advanced and expert paddlers at
The Little Falls run begins in a canal feeder channel reachable from either Lock 6 or Lock 5 of the
C&O Canal. See directions below. Enter the main flow of the river by: a) Using the Z-Channel - an
connector between the feeder channel and Potomac River between the two locks. This channel is class
II with a Class III finale that has pinning potential (The final drop also catches a lot of
strainers, so scout from an upstream eddy first). b) Paddling upstream on the feeder channel and
into the main river. Run the channel in the left-center break in a rubble dam. Rocky with pinning
potential - call is Class III.
Once on the main river, work to the far river right to begin the run through the constricted
channel of Class II-III water. At lower levels, some good surfing hydraulics form in the upper
part. These turn to fast, standing waves at medium levels. At most all levels the top wave is best
caught on the way down, though second waves are sometimes smooth as well. Halfway down the main
channel, you can portage at a small beach on the left ot run the Beaver Slide - a Class III creeky
drop (zig-zag move). The last drop before the Little Falls rapid can be run straight but entering a
diagonal chute from a large river right eddy is more interesting.
Little Falls is next and can be scouted by pulling up on river left (or right, but this side
involves more work) at the rocks above the drop. The rapid is split by a rocky island, with the
left side called the Maryland side and the right side called the Virginia side. Below the rapid
good surfing and stern squirt spots form at various levels. Here are descriptions of three common
. The is a III-IV rapid. It is harder when the tide is low and/or the river is
above 3 ft. The line involves an S-Turn through two drops and very fast current. Setup from a river
right eddy to hit the drop straight on with a little right angle. Setup from a river left eddy to
execute a more difficult ferry move across the main current to the right side channel. Hazards
include the rocky island; a Meatcleaver rock just above the rocky island that must be avoided,
whether right side up or upside down; and a large hole just right of the rocky island. Strong
current can also push you against the rocky Virginia shore and the swirling Eddy of Doom after
successfully running the first drop. Successful lines often involve catching the ride side eddy
below the first drop, then ferrying against the current across the channel to the right side of the
rocky island. At levels of around 2.8 and lower you can make elevator attainment moves up most of
the rapid and practice hairy ferries above the meat cleaver. Watch yourself, however, as boaters
pin on meatcleaver and get hung up on rocks below the second drop even at low levels.
. This is Class II-III. Run the channel river left with left angle, avoiding
some small holes and taking care not to get pushed right toward the rocky island and Virginia
route. Left side eddies can be used to ease the way. At low levels, this rapid almost disappears
when the tide is high.
Far Right Sneak Slot
. At some levels a sneak slot offers a nice Class III four foot chute.
Can be scouted from river right rocks.
Access Little Falls by parking at the Lock 6 or Lock 5 parking lots for the C & O Canal. Turnoffs
for both are reached from the southbound lane on the Clara Barton Parkway in Montgomery County, MD
near the Washington, D.C. line. From either Lock, carry across the canal and take paths to a canal
feeder channel that parallels the Potomac. Takeout river left on rocks surrounding a concrete water
works structure. Walk up the water works access pathway to the C & O Canal and paddle upstream to
your car, carrying around the canal locks on river right or left.
If all of this sounds confusing, well, it is. It is best to make your virgin visit to Little Falls
with a local boater who knows logistics AND more importantly the hazards of this run.
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Last Updated: 2017-11-07 17:11:28