Kayak Camping Trip

Good Morning, I wanted to ask a couple questions to learn from everyone’s experience. I am fairly new to kayaking, this is my second season, and I haven’t had a chance to get out much this spring because of all the rain we have been getting. The water levels in the upper potomac have been quite high.

My wife and I are planning a 3 day yaking trip. We have a tandem kayak (Pamlico 145 by Wilderness Systems)and are learning how to pack all of our gear into the boat comfortably. Where is the best place to put most of the weight. I will try to keep most of it evenly dispersed, but the front hull is more accessible than the back for larger items. Also, if we utilize the space on top of the yak (front and back) will that affect keeping the yak straight in winds?

We will be going down stream, starting at Spring Gap and want to make it to Hancock which is a little over 60 miles. Does this seem reasonable with slow current, downstream paddling? I would think that we could comfortably travel 20 miles per day, but not sure, as the longest trip we have ever done was 14 miles.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Some thoughts
1. Make sure everything is in dry bags

2. When loading just make sure the boat is trim or slightly bow light. If you are bow heavy, you will be tacking back and forth, especially on a down river paddle.

3. Affix your water which should be in plastic jugs on the rear deck or behind the seats on the rear deck.

4. You didn’t say what the current of the river is, but if it is less than 2 MPH, twenty miles should be ok, but if you want to enjoy the trip and enjoy the camping experience, I would shoot for fifteen per day and add an extra day - If it is just the challenge than go for it!

My wife and I have done many multiday trips and they are fun.



Did that mean you had to talk to each

yea, well I preferred the trip to be me and the dog, but the wifey wanted to come along!

Thanks for the advice!

A couple of things.
I’d keep the heaviest items close to the bulkheads. Keep the weight as evenly distributed as possible (with bow a little lighter as jackl mentioned) and also keep it as even as possible inside the hatch so that you don’t list to one side. Picture me going down the Green River in Utah at a 45 degree angle because I had too much water on one side in my rear hatch. :slight_smile:

I keep index cards (in a ziplock) with a list of what goes in which hatch so that I don’t have to figure out the distribution each day except for perishables (which are planned to ‘perish’ evenly).

Have fun! We love kayak camping because we can take so much more stuff than when we backpack!

Packing Article
Here’s my personal packing list and some advice for getting it all in the boat:


Your technique will vary, as you have a different boat and gear, but it should be a good place to start.

One thing I’ll mention about the previous advice is to instead carry your water someplace inside the boat, low and near the seats. At 8 lbs. per gallon, carrying it high on the deck will have a tendency to make the boat more tippy.

Always consider both the weight and the bulk of your gear as you pack it; a sleeping bag is certainly big and bulky, but probably weighs less than a 12-inch cast-iron frying pan. Pack smart.

Good Luck!



Some info
Are you planning to camp at Hiker-Biker sites? They had pumps for water when I was there years ago. They are also hard to find from the water (pre-GPS days). The river veers away from the C&O after Paw Paw, but there are islands and you could traverse that whole section in a day. You should be able to replenish water at various spots along the way, so I would not bring more than a two-day supply.

Does a Pamlico 145 have bulkheads? Do you have reliably dry storage compartments? If the answer is no, consider normal on-board, slosh-water when packing. My dry bags seldom keep the contents totally dry if they sit in water all day. So consider packing things that can get wet on the bottom of the boat. Tent poles, hatchet, canned goods, fuel bottle, whatever can get wet, put on the bottom. Then load your dry bags on top of those.

For under deck storage, smaller dry bags work better. Sometimes I put things into large plastic jars, too. But if the dry bags are not tightly packed, they can more easily nestle together in the load, so there is less wasted space between items.

Between Paw Paw and Little Orleans, there is pretty good current. From Little Orleans to Hancock the river is wide and slow, but you can still make that in a day. I have not paddled the main stem Potomac above Paw Paw, so I don’t know what you will find there. Looking at it from the towpath, it looks like there is current.

On my recent James River trip, we covered 15 & 17 miles in about six hours at a leisurely pace. My guess is you will move a little faster. Your daily mileage will, of course, be dependent on speed and the amount of time you want to spend in the boat.

Hope that helps and I am looking forward to your trip report.


Keep the heavy things low and centered. Anything on deck raises your center of gravity annd catches wind.

hiker biker campsites
Yea, we plan on using the hiker/biker campsites along the canal. This will enable us not to have to bring as much water. Do you know if these are usually crowded?

Thanks for the advice, and we look forward to the trip.

another article

i did a 3 day trip in a Pungo 100
and I put stuff wherever it would fit. Seriously though, it worked out great. I had sufficient gear and it went smoothly.

I’m new to kayaking too! Sounds like a fun trip!

Can’t say
On weekends, maybe, on weeknights probably not, but it just depends. Every other site might be empty and it won’t matter if the one you want is full.

The rules are that campers can’t stay at one site for multiple days, so the trick is to get into a site early enough. I’d try to have a site by 3pm. Most bikers and hikers will still be moving at that hour.

I know a couple who just rode it a few weeks ago. I will check with them and see what they think. It’s been ten years since I was out there. Me and my info are dated!

Do you plan to use GPS to find the sites?


Yea, we plan on using a gps to find the campsites, in fact that is why I went out and bought a gps earlier this year. We will be going during the week, so hopefully it won’t be that busy.

Talked to my friends…
Scott and Sherry, that recently returned from riding the tow path. They started Memorial Day weekend and finished later that week. They said the sites were empty and confirmed that there is water at the sites. They said that supposedly there are limits on how many are allowed to camp at a site, but as near as they could figure, nobody was counting.

Just hope you don’t arrive at a site and find a scout troop has moved in for the night. But the scouts are not too active in the summer, are they?

FYI, Scott told me the Park Service monitors the wells and if the water is below standard, they remove the pump handle. He said all the sites had handles this go-round, but he has, on past trips, encountered a no-handle site down on the DC end. You might want to have a back-up plan in case there is no water. Filter, boil, or purifier tablets could fill that bill, or, an extra jug of water in the boat.


water levels
Ok, great. It sounds like everything is good to go. I hadn’t thought about the park service shutting down the wells. I will definitely plan on an alternative.

We loaded up our kayak this weekend in our pool with all of our gear and everything fit in nicely. In fact I have extra room that I had not expected. We have been getting a lot of rain so I hope that we have nice weather next week.

Trip Report
Trip Report : Date: June 30th, 2008 – July 1st, 2008

Potomac River - Spring Gap, MD to Hancock, MD Trip 60 miles

Monday: Christie and I left our house at 7 am and got on the road. We drove up to Little Orleans Lodge to pick up our Livery Steve. He was very easy to find, just off of Rt. 68 a few miles. We then drove through Green Ridge state park on some back roads (old Orleans Road) for quite some time. Steve was very nice and informative. He made for a very good tour guide and directed us off of the main path to show us an overlook of the Potamac River. This was a beautiful site, and Steve told us that this was voted one of the 10 best scenic spots from National Geographic.

We got back on the road and drove for about 45 more minutes to Spring Gap, MD. This was a nice spot to put in, nice paved boat ramp, bathroom facilities, and right of off the C&O canal trail. Steve helped us unload our boat, and then took off with our vehicle. We were finally on the water at 10:30 am.

We paddled on still water till about 12:30 till we came to the toll bridge (Old Town) that crosses over the water. Up until this point the river was quite narrow, and had a good current (probably about 3 mph). The water level was about at 3 feet most of the way there.

We stopped at the bridge at Old Town and had lunch.

There was an actual toll booth at the one side and it cost 50 cents for vehicles to cross.

Miles Traveled 6.6

We got back on the water around 1 pm and headed down the river. Along the way we say lots for wildlife, birds and deer. We were also surprised at the amount of tires that we saw along the river. Christie started counting.

Other than the tires, the scenery was beautiful. Around 2:30 we made our way down to the confluence of the South Branch and the North Branch of the Potomac. This was our first encounter with others on the water. There was a couple that was fishing off of the railroad bridge. At this point the river widened up significantly.

We kept paddling until about 3:30 when it began to storm. We stopped along the river, put on our ponchos, and waited out the storm. It stormed with heavy downpours for about an hour. Everything was soaked. At this point we were about 4 miles from Paw Paw Tunnel campsite so we pressed on to get there before dark.

Once we passed the town boat ramp for Paw Paw, we knew we were close to the campsite. However, it was difficult to located the campsite from the river. The C &O Canal Trail was probably 100 yards from the river at this point so we were not quite sure of where to stop. We stopped several times and climbed through the weeds looking for the campsite. This was not a waypoint on my GPS so we were trying to guess the final location. After several tries and the wife being very frustrated, we came to a concrete boat ramp, and we noticed a house beyond the bank. This ended up being one of the old lock houses, and this was the campsite. If we had known that this was the campsite all along, it would have been less stressful. We joked about their needing to be road signs along the river for easier navigation for boaters.

Miles traveled 18.7

We unloaded our gear and set up camp. The Paw Paw campsite was very nice, large grassy area with about 8 different fire ring/table camping areas. I set up the tent while Christie searched for fire wood.

We were the only ones at the campsite for the night, which was fine by us. We attempted to start a fire, but because everything had been soaked from the earlier storm, we had no luck. Christie was not to excited about eating PB&J again for dinner. Since we had no fire and was wet, we decided to call it a night. What we didn’t expect was that the campsite became very active after dark. This site has vehicle access, and was right by a road (Rt. 51). Several times during the night, cars would drive into the parking lot, and just sit there. Other cars would join up, then they would take off. This made us quite nervous, and I kept getting up and watching them. We kept envisioning someone coming over to our tent to mess with us.

We did end up having an unexpected visitor that night. A raccoon kept climbing on our picnic table to route through our dry bags. I had brought our food in the tent, but decided to bring the rest of the stuff in to keep the coons from messing with it. We both agreed that if we wouldn’t have been right next to the road, we would of enjoyed this campsite a lot more.

Tuesday: Morning came and we were right by the Paw Paw Tunnel, so after a breakfast of snickers and beef jerky (still no fire) we decided to hike up to the tunnel to check it out. This was a short ½ mile walk up the trail. The tunnel was built to bypass the Paw Paw bends in the river, eliminating a 6 mile trip to just under a mile through the tunnel. But since we were Kayakers, we wanted the 6 mile river bends!

Christie was ready to go home at this point. Luckily for me, we had no cell phone service (sprint). We had to press on. I bargained with her that we would paddle down to Little Orleans, which was 21 miles and our second camp site. Here, was just a short half mile hike to the Little Orleans Lodge, where our car was. We would go home from there.

We traveled through the Paw Paw bends, which was absolutely gorgeous. Here we saw a family of bald eagles. One of the eagles ended up leading us most of the way to Little Orleans. We would come around the bend, and it would fly on down the river. This happened most of the day. It was like it was guiding us down the river.

It rained on us in the morning, just some quick 15 minute showers. We stopped at Bonds Landing around 1:30 for lunch. This was a private park campground area which had a very nice paved boat ramp, and campsites, which required reservations to camp. We ate lunch and attempted to take back off in the water when a storm blew in. We once again put on our ponchos and waited out the storm, which was about an hour. At this point I think Christie went alittle crazy, as she starting badly singing show tunes and patriotic songs. Finally the rain passed, and we got back on the water at about 2:30.

Around 3:30 we got another rain storm, which was a quick 15 minuter. Back on the water and the weather cleared up. We finally got close to Fifteenmile Creek campsite, and we almost had one bar of phone service. Christie tried to call Steve our ride, but the call would not go through. Once we arrived at Fifteenmile Creek campsite, the sun was out and it was perfect weather. There was other boaters and campers at this site, and Christie asked one of them to borrow their cell phone to call for our car.

We unloaded our boat and waited for Steve to pick us up.

Miles traveled 39.1

Total Tire count 238

Steve arrived at the put in at around 6pm and we started to load up the car. He then showed back up with some left over pizza and 2 diet cokes. We were very appreciative of this as we had been eating PB&J for the last two days. We got on the road and was home by 8pm.

Christie says she would go again, but I think next time just might be me and the dog!

Take a stove
Even a little one burner cartridge kind of thing will make your life infinitely better–I can’t imagine starting a day on the river without some hot coffee to get me going.

Unless, of course, this was a strategy so in the future you could take your dog rather than your wife!

had more than one trip like the one

– Last Updated: Jul-05-08 4:51 PM EST –

just described: backpacking, climbing and X-country skiing.

It's all about the learning experinece and about having as good a time as possible. My goal has always been to try not to make the same mistake twice.

I wouldn't be discouraged; and I would get some serious information on backpacking equipment and backpacking/paddling amongst the critters - a stove and hot food is a good thing.

And the trips that go totally according to plan, don't make for much of a story later.

See you on the water.