This list is just to get you started on your paddling adventures throughout Maryland. At some point you might be good enough to kayak, canoe, or raft down the exciting Savage or Youghiogheny rivers in western Maryland. They can be very challenging so they are not included here. This list also does not include many of the interesting but calmer flat water trips that you might want to take. There are plenty of them around the Chesapeake Bay and on lakes throughout the state. This list is more for the casual paddler who wants a little excitement when paddling down a river. Some of these rivers do have challenging stretches, but most are fun trips through beautiful countryside. They are moderate trips, not as challenging as the Colorado as in this depiction of John Wesley Powell’s trip in the 1860s. Canoe rentals are available for most of the areas discussed below. You might also want to join a Paddling Club: www.cpakayaker.com, www.baltimorecanoeclub.org, www.monocacycanoe.org,
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Potomac_River_Paddlers/. Have fun!!!!
Antietam Creek – This is one of the most bucolic settings that you will ever have the opportunity to paddle through. There are long reaches where you paddle beneath soaring sycamore trees that form a dappled, tent-like canopy over the river. The river also passes beneath beautiful limestone bridges and right through the Antietam Civil War battleground. There are just enough ripples to keep the paddling interesting for all ages.
Potomac River – Violet’s Lock (on the C&O Canal) parallels one of my favorite stretches of the Potomac for paddling but there are many sections of this great river worth tubing or paddling. There is also a striking run right by Harpers Ferry – one of the most picturesque towns in the East – which lies at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. I would recommend that you go with a guide who has done this stretch before so you learn the ropes. Stay well away from paddling through Mather Gorge and Great Falls.
Patapsco River – This is one of my favorite small rivers – when there is enough water flowing. The dams are coming out, reducing the number of portages that were once required. There are plenty of challenges and typically you will have to portage short distances as there are plenty of shallows. I like it best from Daniels to Avalon, but the slower waters from Elkridge to the Baltimore Harbor are interesting especially when you contemplate how Captain John Smith and ocean going vessels used to sail all the way to Elkridge to pick up hogsheads of tobacco.
Gunpowder Falls – The Big and Little Gunpowder Falls have exciting stretches that pass through beautiful wooded valleys, but the Big Gunpowder offers longer rides throughout most of the year. Like the Patapsco, these rivers once emptied into the Bay at a major port – Joppa Towne – but this part of the bay was all silted in as the result of too much deforestation and tobacco farming in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Tuckahoe Creek – This sleepy Eastern Shore creek has both a quiet, forested creek stretch and open tidal waters. Great place to cool off on a hot summer day since the canopy is thick. Great way to get back into the woods and see the variety of wildlife in and around an Eastern Shore wetland. Don’t expect to get anywhere too fast.
Pocomoke River – Once considered a bottomless river, this tidal estuary on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is lined by bald cypress trees with numerous knees and a wide variety of wildlife. The fishing can be great and one often spots eagles, ospreys, and kingfishers. I have seen deer swim across this wide river at dawn and have lost lots of lures in the lily pad laced edges to the river.
Susquehanna River – The rivers and creeks that flow into the Susquehanna above the Conowingo Dam are fun to explore and the stretch of the Susquehanna below the dam can be challenging and fun. My father lost a canoe and all of his tackle fishing below the dam once when they opened the locks. Be sure to check the schedules and then go for the fun, the fish, the bald eagles, and the scenery.
Conococheaque River – The Conococheaque or “many turns river” is a wide shallow river that is full of ripples. Even if you catch it at higher water, you will enjoy a leisurely trip through a beautiful part of the state. I was surprised one day while paddling this river by a turkey that exploded out of the woods and flew only a few feet over my head.
Monocacy River – This river meanders very slowly through the Frederick Valley on its way to the Potomac. You will end up paddling more on this slow river but this will give you time to watch for wildlife as you past through some of the richest farmland in the state.
Patuxent River – The Little and Middle Patuxent rivers in the Piedmont are challenging in that they tend to have numerous downed tree strainers and many rocky or shallow stretches. There are times of the year when you can make some headway but it is best to scout out the sections you are considering ahead of time. Where the river crosses into the coastal plain and opens up into a tidal river there are many flat water stretches that can be paddled.
Take-a-way: Pick a river, do your homework, and go explore. You might just fall in love with this type of adventure and with the flora, fauna, and history of Maryland. Their beauty is a testament to the hard work required to clean these rivers up in the past and the ongoing maintenance that helps keep them healthy. Thanks to all the volunteers who do this.