Potomac River, Potoma Wayside (VA) to Brunswick, MD
I specifically wrote this post about Canoe Safety in Moving Water because of this trip, so please take a look at it if you are unfamiliar with safety in moving water.
This paddle puts in on the Potomac River below Harper’s Ferry at the Potoma Wayside. This is the usual takeout for paddlers running the Needles (whitewater) section of the Potomac River and the Staircase (whitewater) Section of the Shenandoah River.
For this section, we put in at Potoma Wayside, Virginia. It is just before the bridge where Rt. 340 crosses the Potomac River south of Harper’s Ferry West Virginia. Our takeout was 5 to 6 miles downstream at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick, MD. The takeout at Brunswick, MD, is just before the Rt. 17 bridge over the Potomac River.
We went on the “Family Splash Trip”, coordinated jointly by the Monocacy Canoe Club and the Canoe Cruiser Association of Washington, DC. They have this trip every August on this section of the Potomac River, when the water is low and safe for families to paddle.
The put-in at Potoma Wayside is across the street from the gas station, and the put-in is a bear… long and steep downhill. So our trip coordinator coordinated with Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center and we all paid money per person, per car and per boat to have our boat all its gear and ourselves transported to the put-in (on their property) close to the Potoma Wayside put-in. It ended up being $20-$25 per family, so totally worth it in my view. But you may be able to pay to park at the gas station and carry your own boat down. I’ve carried kayaks and canoes up this take-out, but it is much harder to carry down than up. My sources tell me it is mighty hard to get one of the coveted spaces at the gas station, so you might as well pay Harpers Ferry Adventure Center. And yes, from what I understand, it is a monopoly.
This was done at low water and with a pretty big group. I guess it is a class 1, gently moving water, with maybe one noticeable drop. There were about 6 families and many more who were paddling as couples and singles. So there were lots of people who knew what they were doing, which is what you want in moving water.
The Monocacy Canoe Club has been doing this run for at least 20 years. It is the “Family Splash Trip” in August. This year the CCA (Canoe Cruisers of Washington, DC) joined MCC to coordinate this trip. Last year’s trip was cancelled due to high water.
Running A Shuttle
We met at the take-out, Brunswick Boat Ramp in Brunswick, MD, which is on the river side of some train tracks. Most people were in canoes but there were a fair number of kayaks too.
We needed to leave a couple cars at the take-out, all the rest of the cars went to the put-in. If you have not done a one-way canoe trip, that is the shuttle. Take your keys with you. We put Mark’s boat on our car and Mark and his stuff in our car (his friend got a ride with another paddler). And we all put our dry clothes and after paddle refreshments in Mark’s car, which was staying at the take out. As a rule, I never leave anything of value in my car, I always take my keys, wallet, phone with me and put them in my dry bags.
There are train tracks at the Brunswick takeout. We were caught between the Potomac River and the road for at least an hour while trains moved and stopped keeping us unable to run the shuttle. Finally the trains moved and we were able to start our trip more than an hour late.
Since we paid Harpers Ferry Adventure Center to take our boats, equipment and persons to the put-in, we actually put in a little downstream of Potoma Wayside. The water in this part of the Potomac Rive is moving and fairly flat. There were a couple small ripples here and there. We stopped about half way through at a small rapid. Most everyone ran the rapid at the biggest drop (less than 1 foot), but you could run a smaller drop either left or right of it.
We stopped at that rapid for lunch/ snack and the splash part of the trip. People sat in the water falls, kids swam and crossed the moving water from eddy to eddy. We had over a dozen boats piled on rocks in the middle of the river.
This is a “Splash Trip” and this was the splash part of the trip. I was not coordinating this trip, had I been, I would have suggested people bring their squirt
guns and pool noodles. We had more squirt guns than we needed and lent squirt guns to two other boats so we had someone to fight with. It was an especially hot day, so sometimes I was asking for people to squirt me just to keep cool.
One of the boats went over in the small rapid and paddlers used their throw ropes to rescue both the paddlers who fell out and to retrieve the canoe which went over.
The takeout is on the upstream side of the Rt. 17 bridge, (Brunswick, MD) but you have to go into a little canal on river left (Maryland) to get to the takeout.
Close by there was a little ice cream shop that closed at 6:00 pm on Sunday. We sat outside of the The Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe in Jefferson, MD. I thought we smelled too much as a group to sit inside with the other customers. They serve both hand dipped and soft serve ice cream.
This was our first Splash Trip and we all had lots of fun. My kid loved having the other kids around. It was fun to float in the rapids and walk on the rocks. All the kids just loved moving from eddy to eddy and trying to swim across the rapid. Different parents were catching kids as they “ferried” themselves across the rapid. It was a lovely day.