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Potomac River in West Virginia

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

We put on the river at the river access (boat ramp with a large parking area where you can leave your car) in Paw Paw, WV. There is a hostel a couple of hundred yards from the access point, the Red Rooster but we did not know about it when we went up there. According to the web site they rent beds in a dorm but also have a private room to rent.

We dawdled at Paw Paw to have breakfast, having driven about 3 hours from Baltimore and arriving at 9AM. We ate at the little Diner in the middle of town, where you can also get munchies, etc. We came to regret that later as we found an outfitter had parked his truck and canoe rack in the mouth of the ramp, and his clients, about 30 of them, had jammed the ramp with their canoes. After they made the ramp unusable the outfitter then began to hand out life jackets and paddles. Why he didn't do this earlier or at least do it in such a way that others could use the ramp, I don't know. Anyway, we had to put the kayak together and get organized, but we finally had to chill while we waited for them to clear the area, which they finally did at about 10:30.

Once they were out of the way we were off in a matter of minutes. The river gauge was at 6 feet (according to the DNR officer who asked us to display our life jackets shortly after we got on the river, Officer Stafford. He also hooked us up with some maps which had camping spots marked, and a list of distances from point to point along the river, which was a great help to us. Thank you Officer Stafford, keep up the good work). At that level the river was moving at a good clip, but most of the rocks were submerged except for here and there, making the trip very sedate. We were in a skin boat, so I was a little hyped about not grounding or hitting any submerged rocks, but it was really pretty easy.

We were looking for Stickpile campsite, where we would have found a privy and a pump, but we spaced right by it and found a nice little campsite just beyond it. There is essentially no "beach" on most of the river, the river here just went up to the banks which were about 2 feet high. We needed to rearrange the boat, having discovered that in our haste to get on the river we had not put the boat together properly, so we carried the boat up onto the shore where there was a flat area we could take the boat apart on and put it back together properly. Someone had put some logs together to make a place to sit, in front of a fire-ring, and below another flat soft place perfect for pitching the tent. We had been on the river only about 4 hours, maybe a little more.

Unfortunately for someone, we were almost directly across the river from a campsite where some fishermen were set up. All along the river you can find fishing camps on property leased from the Railroad. Some are just flat places that have been improved with a table or two, some places had trailers and seemed pretty fancy. Occasionally you will even find a house set back from the river.

After dinner we sat around and enjoyed the peace and quiet. The next morning we lounged about for a while, finally had a liesurely breakfast, cleaned up and hit the water again at about 9:30. We paddled some, mostly floated, just like the day before, and made our way to the Cacapon River, where we had left a car. (As you are driving west on Rt. 9 approaching the town of Great Cacapon there is a turnoff to the left for river access. the road drops and then turns under the bridge along the river, leading to a parking area and a ramp to the river.) Approaching on the river you will see the remains of a dam, on the WV side you can't miss the remains of the dam wall, while opposite, on the Md. side, there is a jettie or groin sticking out into the river, once past that the river comes in from the right, and you can see the rail road bridge and then the highway bridge. There are some rapids we had to pull the boat up, but it is a matter of a hundred yards before you are at the ramp, beside the bridge abuttment.

When you put in at Paw Paw you are in the midst of the Paw Paw Bends. The mountains come out of the river and go virtually straight up. Because of this the C & O Canal leaves the shoreline to drive straight through the mountains in the Paw Paw Tunnel. The scenery was beautiful. The mountains here are covered with deciduous trees, I'd love to see it when the leaves are turning. As it was, we saw what I think was an immature Bald Eagle, some deer, and lots of fish that were jumping clean out of the water, apparently to torture the fishermen we saw occasionally.

All in all, a great trip.


Stickpile Hill campsite and Devil's ???? campsite have a port-a-john and a pump that provides potable water. No trash cans. Unimproved campsites also available, but be careful to stay off of private property scattered along the river


From Baltimore or Washington, Rt. 70/40 to Hancock, Md, then 522 to Berkely Spring, WV, then Rt. 9 to Great Cacapon to leave the take out car, and continue on Rt. 9 to Paw Paw, WV


I was told that there was a map available at Fort Frederick State Park, but the park did not open until 8 and we were there at 7, so we did not wait.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location