Johncanoe cruises the Potomac River



This was an early Fall paddle for two along a 3-mile stretch of the Potomac River just upstream of Hancock, Maryland. It was our first venture on a non-tidal river. The water was colder, clear, unsalted and ran in the same direction all day. It had a rocky bottom and riffles (baby rapids).

The river itself is about 380 feet above sea level here. The surrounding hills tower from 200 to 1000 feet above it. The scenery is beautiful. The north bank (Maryland) is part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park and is almost totally undeveloped. The south bank (West Virginia) has a railroad and some campgrounds, but both are very well hidden in the trees. If a train isn't going by (and for most of our trip they weren't), it is possible to imagine yourself in pre-colonial times, exploring a river that European eyes hadn't seen before.


Map of the Potomac River showing route


Put-in was at the Hancock boat ramp (top right on map) and we went upriver for almost exactly 3 miles, turning around in the curve at the foot of Roundtop Hill (lower left) for a total of 6 miles.

USGS river height gage data for September 23 - 29 As we went upriver, we met the flood surge from the previous 2 days' rain coming downriver. The water rose almost 2 feet during our trip, which was less than the tides we normally experience on the Patuxent. However, the current through some of the riffles approached 5 mph and made for some really slow going at times (at least upriver).

In case anyone is wondering, we always go upriver the first time on a new part of a river. This gives us a chance to scout what we're getting into and an automatic out if we approach a bad stretch (just stop paddling and the current pushes us away from trouble).


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