The Potomac River measures 405 miles from its northern reaches down to its mouth in Chesapeake Bay. Along those many miles paddlers will find everything from calm waters to class V rapids, and everything in between. One great spot for paddling is Riley’s Lock, where the river is wide and calm, with a gentle current, and the views are spectacular.
What Makes It Great
The lock is actually located on Seneca Creek and there is a short (about a quarter mile) trip down the creek to the Potomac that crosses under an aqueduct once part of the C&O Canal. Your best bet, once you get to the Potomac, is to turn right and head upstream. The river is wider this way and the water is flat.
Bring a lunch and check out some of the small islands that dot the middle of the river—there's nothing on them but wildlife and you may get to see a variety of birds, including herons, ospreys, ducks, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a bald eagle. Any one of them is a great place to take a break and have some lunch.
The river does narrow about five or six miles upstream, so if you want to stay in the gentle stuff then turn around at that point and head back. Then you can let the soft current assist you as you make your way back to Seneca Creek.
Paddling downriver, away from Seneca Creek, is a bit more treacherous. The waterway narrows and breaks into several small segments as it winds through small chunks of land. After that section, the river bends to the right and becomes even more treacherous at Great Falls.
If you want to cross from one side of the river to the other, it's perfectly safe to do so. Local guides typically instruct their paddlers to watch for certain landmarks, such as a flag at a golf course on the Virginia side of the river, and cross at those.
Who is Going to Love It
Though not required or essential by any means, it's a good idea to have some paddling experience before heading out into the Potomac. Alternatively, go out with one of the guides from Calleva Outdoors, located right next to Riley's Lock.
Experienced paddlers can head upstream for five or six miles and explore the area, and then paddle back to Seneca Creek. Those more daring can take on the downstream end from the creek, but it does get more treacherous the further you go.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Address: 13015 Rileys Lock Road, Poolesville, MD
If you're in Washington, D.C., take Massachusetts Avenue toward Montgomery County, Md., and then merge onto River Road. Take that to Riley’s Lock Road.