C&O Canal at Violettes Lock

First paddle of 2013 – May 25, 2013

Location: This paddle is on the C&O Canal at Violettes Lock, in Darnestown, MD.  From the Beltway, take River Road (toward Potomac) and miles out, take a left on Violettes Lock Road and take it to the parking lot at the end.

One never knows if there is going to be water in the C&O canal on any particular day.  Leaks spring in the canal and the water drains out, usually associated with a storm.  Normally there is water in this part of the canal, but I wanted to check before driving with boats out there. We had only paddled a couple of times since we adopted our child, and I didn’t know the water situation with the C&O canal.  I posted on the Monocacy Canoe Club message board to ask about water in the canal.  I got an answer that there was water from Violettes Lock to Pennyfield Lock.  It had been many years since I did that whitewater and flat water loop.  We were only interested in the flat water part of this loop this time.

We have two tandem canoes.  We bought our first tandem canoe in 2002. We are both whitewater kayakers and thought it would be nice to own a tandem canoe.  I actually started paddling in a tandem canoe and then switched to a whitewater kayak after the first season.  But tandem canoes are perfect for family paddling.  We bought our second tandem canoe off of craigslist a couple years ago with the idea of inviting other families to go paddling with us.

Our first paddle was on an unseasonably cool Saturday before Memorial Day.  We invited another family whose son goes to the same school that my son does.  I was still trying to figure out exactly where we were going to paddle.  I couldn’t remember if there was water in the canal at Seneca (Riley’s Lock Road) or it stopped at Violettes Lock, which is one lock south of Seneca.  I know I have been to Seneca to paddle, but you park at Seneca and then paddle across the Potomac River to paddle the GW Canal, on the Virginia side of the river.

But our guests were OK with checking to see if there was water at Seneca.  The answer.. there is NO water in the canal at Seneca and it looks like it has been many years with no water.  I will remember that now. We postponed our leaving to let the day warm up and we arrived at Seneca in time for lunch.  So we lunched at a picnic table overlooking the Potomac River.  There were several whitewater kayak classes going on.  It looked like they started in Seneca Creek for the morning and at lunch they were heading across to the GW Canal, which is part of the Potomac River on the Virginia side.   We could have paddled Seneca Creek from the mouth of the Potomac upstream, but I wanted something even easier to begin the season with.  There are port-a-potties at Seneca. We got back in our cars and headed a few minutes south to Violettes Lock Road.

Parking at Violettes Lock is very close to the put in. The put in is a nice gradual decline to put your canoe in.  In fact that was the main reason I wanted to come here is that after we were done canoeing, then the kids could wade right there at the put in.

The canal was about 3 feet lower than normal at the beginning of the paddle.  That must be due to a leak somewhere.  It was definitely deep enough to paddle.  But, we actually had to maneuver around logs and sticks because the canal was only a foot deep in some places.

In one boat was myself (I paddle in the stern) and my husband, Ron,  in the bow, and our son, Danny and his friend Remy (both 5) sat on our new Old Town Snap-in Center seat.  I know people may think it is strange to have the woman in the stern and the man in the bow, but you know I have paddled twice as many years as my husband, and have quite a bit more experience than him, so I think I belong in the stern.   In the other boat was Rachel and Ramil and their 3 year old, Raina who was sitting in the middle on the floatation cushions.

Fun is an important part of canoeing, so besides the life vests, paddles, dry bags, and water bottles, I brought one pool noodle for each person and a small ball.  So we had 7 pool noodles to play pirate in the boats.  I think Remy was Captain of our boat, and Danny was First Mate, I was Second Mate.  We battled with the other boat.  We tossed our booty (the ball) back and forth and we stole the booty from whomever had the booty.   We raced with them (we always won).   We stopped at a landing which was covered with small stones.  Once we got there and got out of our boats, I could see this was the landing where the paddlers who are paddling the GW Canal part of the Potomac River, come back across to the canal to complete the loop.  This is a description of the whitewater loop. I don’t recommend families do this loop unless you are comfortable in class I-II whitewater and crossing the entire width of the Potomac River twice.

We walked down to the Potomac River and found stones to skip.  We got back in our boats and this time Raina  joined us in our boat.  So now there were 2 adults and 3 kids in our canoe and no kids in Rachel and Ramil’s canoe.  I think the kids liked it that way the best.  Remy really got the hang of paddling, we have one kids paddle that has to be shared between any kids with us. Remy had it most of the time and everyone was happy with that.  Pool noodles were floated on top of the water as an “engine” or something.  We battled those same pirates on the way back, but of course our boat won.   We liked racing the other boat and we even did a little ramming them. It is so nice to have ABS/Royalex ®  canoes, so you can ram another boat without causing damage.

As for the nature we saw, there were lots of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs.  Our party was pretty loud, but we did quiet down to try to get up close to the turtles. Some were scared of us and slipped back into the water. Others just ignored us.

The actual in the boats paddling was probably an hour. When we got back the three kids played in the canal at the put in and got all wet.  Everyone had brought an extra change of clothes along with a towel. It was my plan that they would get to play in the water at the end.  If it had been warmer, (air and water) then we may have gone some place else so water play could be more of paddling fun. But his was early in the season on a cool day.

We loaded two canoes onto our car and headed home.  We had a great time paddling together with another family.

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One Response to C&O Canal at Violettes Lock

  1. We at the C&O Canal Trust, the official nonprofit partner of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, are working to improve the guest experience at this national treasure. To learn how you can help, visit http://www.canaltrust.org

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