The Canoe Cruisers Association has offered a practiced novice paddling trip on the GW Canal of the Potomac River every Sunday in August and into September. I contacted a couple of families to see if they wanted to do it and we settled on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
This is a fairly easy class 1 -2 whitewater trip, but I didn’t want to take two other families with not so much experience down this section of the river by myself. I wanted more experienced backup and that is what is great about the CCA trips.
There were several experienced paddlers who helped our group down this section. Barb Brown gave paddling instruction to Phil and his older son, Dustin, who were going on their first whitewater canoe trip together. We took Phil’s younger son, Thomas, in our canoe along with our kid, so that it would be easier for Phil and his older son to paddle without having a passenger. Alf Cooley and Tim Tilson helped rescue our other family when their boat went over in one of the rapids. Just this extra experience with new paddlers is what is really great about these CCA trips.
This is not a trip I feel comfortable leading since it is not a straight-forward trip. You have to intimately know the route. This is a trip you can run without shuttles, as you can paddle down the GW Canal (Potomac River – Virginia side) and then paddle up the C&O Canal (Maryland side). I have always run this as a loop with no shuttles. But luckily our trusted leaders realized with all the Hydrilla in the C&O Canal, this would be a better run if we ran shuttles.
This trip begins at Violette’s Lock. Alf set up a shuttle with cars left downstream at Pennyfield Lock, before we even got there. So for some people the trip began at Pennyfield Lock.
The paddle starts on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. You put in above Seneca Breaks and paddle all the way across the Potomac River to the Virginia Side. Aim for the American Flag at the Trump Golf Course. Once you get over to the Virginia side, you find the George Washington Canal, which was dug out in 1785. You can read about the Patomack Canal in this wiki article. The place where we paddled is referred to as Seneca Falls.
What I know as the GW Canal is sectioned off of the main Potomac River and provides for a nice small river experience on a very wide river. American Whitewater writes about this route.
If you don’t know the route, find someone who knows it and can take you. Or go on a club trip. It is not hard to find the beginning of the channel, but what is hard is knowing where to exit the channel and where to take out. The exit of the channel is around some islands and if you miss it, you miss it. You still have to paddle all the way across the Potomac River to get to the take out on the Maryland shore. If you are running it without a shuttle then the paddle down the river to the takeout point to transfer to the C&O canal is not far. If you ran a shuttle to Pennyfield lock, then the takeout is further and you go in an inlet on the Maryland shore and then under the C&O canal through a tunnel into the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock.
Our group was pretty big, lots of kayaks who played in one of the rapids while we fed the kids who seemed to be hungry all the time. We had several experienced paddlers with us which is nice for safety reasons.
One of our canoes went over in one of the rapids. We helped retrieve the canoe and help the paddlers back in the boat, but the children in the boat got wet and ended up being a bit cold. This paddle started at 9:30 am, and we were all finished by 1:00 pm, but the warmth of the day was not until later in the day.
Even in the summer, it is good to remember to bring extra and warm clothes for the children to change into if they get wet and it is too cold for them. Our child was in a wetsuit, but even that wasn’t enough to keep him warm after taking a little swim (on purpose) in Jacuzzi Rapids.
CCA organized this trip for anyone, but I think if they were ever to organize a paddle with families in mind, I would do it later in the day so that it would be at peak warmth while we are paddling. Kids just get colder than most of the adults.
You will notice that all the kayakers (required) and some of the canoeists have helmets on. Paddlers wear helmets in the rapids to prevent head injury in case of falling on to a rock. In a kayak, rolling without a helmet could cause head injury. We had paddling helmets and our child and friend wore bike helmets.
But it was mild enough that you could get by without a helmet if you were in a canoe.