Gauge Description:

Different lines are available at different water levels; in particular, the Fish Ladder can be run higher.

The gage is located at Little Falls (aka Brookmont) Dam, where the river is very wide.  Consequently, an inch on the gage can translate to a foot at Great Falls.  The gage is also 8-9 miles downstream, so if the river is rising or falling rapidly there could be a discrepancy between the gage reading and the actual level.  Scout the rapids visually if there is any doubt.  (You were going to do that anyway, right?)

It's never too low for the MD Lines.  Below 2.6' is pool drop, but there are runnable channels at least down to 2.3', and most summers the river never gets that low.  So when everyone else is whining about the drought, you still have a class V playground in your backyard.  Count your blessings.  I'd say 2.6' to 2.8' is a good first time level.  Horseshoe is the toughest drop. The MD Lines can certainly be run higher than 3.1', but if you're considering it you don't need this guide.

The Maryland side was run April 2004 at 20,000 cfs (4.7), and again in 2015. There is also the high water "Brine" line  that is gaining popularity

 

The VA Lines were most commonly run between 2.9 and 3.1, but they can be run lower and much higher if you have enough skill and knowledge of the river.  The limiting factor used to be the Spout.  There's a rock behind the curtain called the Big Toe that comes into play as the level drops; one local shattered his elbow on it below 2.8.  Above 3.2 the hole at the base of the Spout gets beefy. In Modern times, kayakers discovered that plastic boats with rocker made the right line easier than the traditional line. U-Hole is the most difficult rapid on this section.

 

The Center Lines are typically run between 3.5 and 3.8.

 

 

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
POTOMAC RIVER NEAR WASH, DC LITTLE FALLS PUMP STA
usgs-01646500 2.40 - 3.90 ft V+ 01h04m 3.19 ft (running)

gauge graph
RangeWater LevelDifficultyComment
2.40 -3.90 ft barely runnable-high runnable V+ gauge is important or has warning

Reports give the public a chance to report on river conditions throughout the country as well as log the history of a river.

When River/Gauge Subject Level Reporter
Potomac [MD] Adam Cramer n/a Mark Singleton
Potomac [MD] Potomac Gorge Map - Fish Ladder (large file) n/a Bill Kirby
[MD] error n/a wreeves
Potomac River [MD] Maryland Side Great Falls 2.7 Mark Anderson
Potomac [MD] The Spout n/a Matt Muir
Potomac [MD] The Mayor at work 2.7' John Alden
> 10 years Potomac River [MD] first squirt 2.5 ft wreeves
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Great Falls 23,100 cfs Thomas O'Keefe
> 10 years /Potomac-3. Through Great Falls (several runs) [MD] Pummel low runnable level Brett Mayer
> 10 years Potomac [MD] John E Sunshine about to drop over Horseshoe 2.65' John Alden
> 10 years /Potomac-3. Through Great Falls (several runs) [MD] Horseshoe First Timer low runnable level Brett Mayer
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Tiny Tim surfing O-Deck 2.65' John Alden
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Styling Great Falls 3.67ft LF Thilo Rusche
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Rocky Island Surfin on Second Wave 3.95 John Alden
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Let's get ready to rumble..... 3' John Alden
> 10 years Potomac River [MD] Great Falls @ 4.3 - Pete Morey 4.3 Pete Morey
> 10 years Potomac River [MD] Great Falls, VA - Pete Morey 4.3 Pete Morey
> 10 years Potomac [MD] The Ravine, Great Falls of the Potomac 4.8' John Alden
> 10 years Potomac River [MD] Great Falls @ 6.7 - Adam Cramer 6.7 Pete Morey
> 10 years Potomac [MD] Great Falls Race Oct '02 n/a Jim and Monica Hubshman