upper potomac river float

-- Last Updated: Jun-22-09 4:57 PM EST --

I'm planning to do a two- or three-day kayak trip on the Potomac sometime this summer of fall, and I've gathered the area between Cumberland and Hancock is a good stretch. I'm trying to figure out the best put-in and take-out points, plus campsites in between.

(I'd also be willing to consider other sections of river if anyone has suggestions.)

I'm comfortable with paddling 20km days on staid water, and I expect the current will increase the distance I can travel. I have heard the river flows about 3km an hour -- does this fit with your experience?

Would Cumberland to Hancock be reasonable in three days at this approximate pace? If I should cut it shorter, what might be better endpoints?

Where might be good places to stop and camp to break up the trip?

Lastly, how has the river been recently? Does anyone know offhand whether water levels are expected to be low or high for the next few weeks?


Nice area to paddle
But you are in the USA, so quit talking in KMs. I think you might have confused yourself with that metric talk. If I remember my conversions, 20 kms is about 13 miles, right? So, if you paddle 3 days and cover 13 miles a day, you will be covering 39 miles. If you start in Cumberland, that is going to leave you a far piece short of Hancock. Like, at least 20* miles.

But lets talk camping. The C&O canal (and a GPS) is your friend. You can use the hiker biker sites along the Canal, but they are easily missed from the water. That’s where the GPS comes in. What kind of camper are you? The site at Paw Paw should be avoided if you like P&Q. At Little Orleans there is a commercial campground. Not my cup of tea, but ymmv. You can also find islands that are campable. The hiker-biker sites are generally quiet and are equipped with well pumps, tables and chemical toilets. I think those are your best bet as far as sure to be there and legal to camp. If it is a weekend, try to make camp by 3 to be sure of getting a spot. Here is some info on Canal sites, I’m sure you can find more and better if you look: http://bikewashington.org/canal/plan-camping.php

The current: It will push you along up to Little Orleans. After that, the river widens out and the current may be less noticeable.

You also asked about water levels, and that is hard to predict, other than to say there will be enough water. I don’t know how high is too high. Also, be aware that some possible camp sites on islands won’t be there at high water.

I don’t know about put-ins around Cumberland. I once paddled Paw Paw to Hancock. There is a ramp on the WV side at Paw Paw. At Hancock, there is a ramp and parking facility.


  • I say at least 20, because I’m looking at the mile posts for the hiker-biker sites, and doing the math it comes out around 60. But the tow path goes through a mountain at Paw Paw so as to cut off a huge loop of river. So the river distance is the tow path distance plus the loop and will be further.

69 river miles
from Cumberland to Hancock… as measured on Google Earth

Camping Spot
From Paw Paw to Little Orleans you are passing along side Green Ridge State Forest on your left (MD side). There is a state forest camping area for river users at a small boat ramp a good days trip from Paw Paw - Bond’s Landing.


River levels
I would be ready to get out and walk in the river is below 2.5’. I float and wade this area and down to Williamsport a lot. Parts are deep and some are very shallow. The best place to check the river levels is noaa.com.

upper potomac trip report

I did this trip last year with my wife. Here is a link to a previous post where I asked a lot of the same questions and I also posted up a trip report.


If you want I can send you a more details trip report (pics included) and some maps we used.

the basics of our trip was we put in at Spring Gap and did about 20 miles a day with no real problems. This was a beautiful trip, very secluded. Other than the rain and my wife complaining about being wet it was a good trip. We did end up cutting it short a day, but the goal was to take out in hancock.

Let me know if you want more details.


upper potomac

The National Park Service operates the whole C&O canal and has great info on their website from campsites (free), milemarkers, locks, dams, depth guages, etc. go here for the map http://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/upload/parkmap.pdf…this map shows all campsites most have a manual water pump and one port-a-pot, frire ring & picnic table.

The outfitter I use says the river is running about 1.5 mph right now. that will move you at about 4 mph on an easy paddle…do the math adding in your stops.

paw-paw to hancock
I’m planning the trip in two days (est. 20 mi/day). I didn’t expect to se clearly marked campsites but from what you say they are easier for the bikers to find since they are right off the trail. I guess the best way to find them from the river is estimate from my GPS. Looks like I should prepare for holing up on an Isle along the way if they are full. Don’t really need the well pump for a one-nighter. Chem-toilet…yeah…oh, well. I got a small shovel.