Cumberland to DC

I am planning a solo trip from Cumberland to DC. Has anyone done this recently? Are there any good maps? The SAT pics I have seen are old. I am palnning on completeing this in 6 days or less. Any thoughts/ suggestions/warnings? I have this in mind as a sort of sprint… may even catch a freshet and be done early!



Would like to have your notes afterwards
Been thinking about doing the same thing but want to ‘stop and smell the roses’ along the way. No time schedule for me. The Potomac Falls looks like an interesting area.

Cumberland to DC…

– Last Updated: Jan-18-10 4:56 PM EST –

When I lived near Winchester, Va., I paddled every bit of the Potomac that can be paddled by canoe, from Cumberland to D.C., skipping Great Falls, of course. Did it on day trips, but passed many camping spots on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Park, run by the National Park Service.

The only map I used was one provided by the visitors center of the C&O Canal, it is not detailed but aadequate, showing campsites, road crossings, towns, etc. If you don't have a copy of this map, or can't find one, e-mail me your address and I'll send you a copy.


There are plenty of places to stop, camp, re-supply, etc. There is a little bit of white water, class 2/3 near Harpers Ferry, the "Needles", fun and not too technical. The area around Harpers Ferry can get crowded on pleasant weekends, as outfitters put hundreds of people each day on the water in tubes, sit on top kayaks, rafts and canoes. Other than that, paddling that stretch of the Potomac is pretty pleasant.

Looking at the Canal map, it shows 180 miles from Cumberland to D.C. If you did it during June or July when there are plenty of daylight hours, paddling ten hours a day, probably averaging 4 MPH, you could probably do it in four days, just depends on how many hours a day you want to paddle...

keep a daily watch on the river guages

– Last Updated: Jan-18-10 8:09 PM EST –

....... how about telling us some more about what you expect to encounter along the way .

When are you thinking about taking this run ??

She can rise 16' in 12 hrs. ...

How much of the Potomac have you spent time on or visited and what sections ??

Will you feel comfortable in cls 3 runs and/or some very fast waters ??

How about 10 days ??

I have included books and maps below. You may need to carry your own water. Do not depend on the park pumps to be working. I have paddled from Oldtown to Little Orleans about five years ago. A plastic boat is a must. It was a beautiful trip. It reminded me of the west. Part of the fun was getting out and visiting some of the sites. Enjoy, it sounds like a fantastic adventure. Hope this helps.


  1. Delorme
  2. Potomac River Water Trail and C&O Canal, Shepherdstown, W.Va. to Potomac Park, Md, Five Maps.
  3. Potomac River Water Trail and C&O Canal, Georgetown to Opequon Creek, Five Maps.
  4. Green Ridge State Forest.

  5. Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails by Edward Gertler
  6. Potomac Journey Fairfax Stone to Tidewater by Richard L. Stanton


Potomac can rise fast , stay aware …

– Last Updated: Jan-27-10 10:29 AM EST –

....... this is the kind of thing I had mentioned earlier ,

check the Potomac guages from Cumberland to DC , see Paw Paw , Hancock , (Harpers Ferry - decomissioned) Point of Rocks , Little Falss , etc. ...

check some of the feeders like the Shenandoah (Millville last , is close to Harpers Ferry) , Monocacy (major blow up) ...

the Susquehanna is a good indicator to watch also when venturing onto the Potomac , the 2 rivers usually have similar rise and fall conditions during same time periods ... check Harrisburg , the Conowingo (preparing to open all gates at present - can't have the water going over the dam) ...

Thanks! Re: Freshets
I rode a freshet by accident in the 80s in a Grumman Alum Canoe went about 80 miles in three hours Just a little scary.

I am aware of this… But good advice anyway! Thanks

Cumberland to DC reply to posters
Thanks to all who have replied to this thread.

To old_user: I am planning on taking notes (journal) which I will of course share! I am planning on smelling the roses as I scream through as many miles a day as I am able. I am thinking maybe 40 a day.

To spray1: I am starting to accumulate the maps I need… Google earth has been something of a dissapointment but then some of those SAT pics are old. Nothing like realtime intel. I have the C&O canal brochure… I am a NPS Volunteer…

The C&O might be 186 miles but by river its closer to 210 miles by water…

The Canal campsites are pretty good… considering.

There are many places to get good water… if needed Hancock/Shepherdstown/Whites Ferry. I am taking a good supply to start.

To pilotwingz: I was planning on going last Dec. But bought a new kayak Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 w/rudder (polyethelene/plastic).

Thinking now about going in March (late) … Might take a scout trip or two before I make the whole run.

Class 3s do not bother me at all… My main concern are the portages and shortcuts through and/or around dams.

I am aware of the drastic rise and fall of the river. I have spent 30 years on much of the Potomac/Rappannock/shenandoah/cacapon etc. Was whitewater kayakiing in the 70s raced canoe and kayak back then/ led trips etc. Have done much of the Colorado in both kayaks/rafts and canoes.

I appreciate the warnings!!! I really do. Thats why I am going when few others will be on the river.

I am thinking 5 days… This is gonna be a sprint hopefully not a marathon.

To Jimz: Thanks for your list. I have the maps you listed and read the (Stanton) book when it was released and still read it.

Thanks to all!

I have all the gear I need now I just need a start date and a ride to Cumberland!

Post when you get started
I’m sure some local paddlers will be happy to join you for some legs of the trip, if you want company. Check the pirate forums at - there are at least 2 group near the DC area that I know of that regularly paddle, so if you happen to be near their outing on the evening they are out, you’ll get some good company.

40 miles
Wow, 40 miles a day is quite a task. I run from spring gap to Cumberland and generally plan for 20 miles a day. Of course we stop and take several breaks.

More power to you if you can run the whole stretch in 5 days.

Great Falls
Are you plannking on paddling the canal to get around Great Falls? I have never paddled this section, but used to bike the tow path thorugh here. As I remember, it is a steep and fairly tall bank to exit the river here. You may want to scout this out ahead of time.

Sounds like a great rip.

I’ve seen the river look like a …
… logging operation after one of those feshets as you call them … stacked 10 high , so be careful .

Potomac from Cumberland
Did you ever post on your trip? We’re putting in on the Potomac in May, and are looking for guidance, as we have 5 days to work with. Thanks!