Potomac River - White Water Paddling

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Summary

The Potomac River near Harpers Ferry has several sections that are great for paddlers looking to to get into some whitewater.

Written by

Jason Devaney

Distance

5.0 miles

Depending on where you go, you may end up paddling for 1 mile or for several miles.

Destination Distance From Downtown

219.3 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

The rapids range from Class I to Class III.

Time To Complete

1 hours

A whitewater paddling trip on the Potomac River can last several hours, depending on distance.

Seasonality

All Seasons

Fees Permits

No

Land Website

American Whitewater

Review

Intro

The good thing about the Washington, D.C. region, which includes the area around Harpers Ferry, WV, is that the options to experience the outdoors are endless, particularly on the water. This is certainly true for the mighty Potomac River. Measuring 405 miles, this river is made up of 2 branches—the north, which starts in West Virginia, and the south, which begins in Virginia—which join together 302 miles from its mouth at the Chesapeake Bay.

The Shenandoah River connects with the Potomac at historic Harpers Ferry, then continues to flow downstream toward the nation's capital and, eventually, Point Lookout in Maryland. Near Harpers Ferry, the Potomac offers ample whitewater rafting.

What Makes It Great

The Potomac has several sections of strong rapids near Harpers Ferry, both before and after it joins with the Shenandoah. The rapids range from Class I to Class III, so you can enjoy the river regardless of your skill level. If you are brand new to the sport, there are a variety of shops where you can hook up with a guide who can help you navigate the waters. The rapids near Harpers Ferry are not as strong as they are downriver at Great Falls, which has Class V+ (extreme) sections, but a visit in this neck of the Potomac will be a fun day of excitement as you negotiate the fast-moving waters.

The views along the river are spectacular on all sides. Not only does Harpers Ferry border the Potomac and its rapids, so do Maryland and Virginia, and there are great views from all sides. Harpers Ferry is the meeting point for the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, and sits on the point overlooking the 2 from its elevated perch in West Virginia. The C&O Canal and its adjacent towpath run along the Maryland side, and offer a wonderfully historic perspective of the water. Loudoun Heights Mountain towers over the river on the Virginia side, painting a rugged but scenic portrait of the Potomac.

Who is Going to Love It

The rapids on the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry are more moderate than other sections of the river, so this is a good place for beginners to gain some experience in the sport. Experienced paddlers will appreciate the diversity of the river, since the strength of the rapids varies greatly. Natural obstacles like rock formations jutting above the surface in certain spots add a bit of a challenge.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are many spots worthy of riding the rapids near Harpers Ferry. To get to them, you can head over to the Maryland side of the Potomac and find one of the small lots that runs along Harpers Ferry Road, next to the C&O Canal. Another option is to park in Harpers Ferry and walk down to the river. Or, you can check with one of the tour companies and ask about group rafting trips.

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Location

Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers

39.321254, -77.726849

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