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Potomac Put-ins & Takeouts in the Washington, DC Metro Area

If you are not familiar with the Potomac, it would be best if you started out on some of our trips so that we can introduce you to our favorite places. Our regularly scheduled Sunday trips are normally held at Violettes Lock. It’s a class I-II loop paddle with a return up the C&O Canal. We have email lists that you can join to receive notices for Sunday, Thursday, Family and Pickup trips. The schedule for the coming week is emailed to all members, but many of our trips are last minute, so it helps to sign up for the lists. Send a message to and tell us which lists you would like to sign up for.


I’m starting upstream, in the metro area, and working my way down the Potomac. Some of these takeouts are hard to spot from the river, so it’s best to go on a CCA trip before you try to set out on your own. There are plenty of great trips farther from the city, which I won’t cover now. For the metro area, a map of the C&O Canal will show you most of our put-ins and takeouts.


Algonkian Regional Park on the Potomac in Loudoun County, VA has a boat ramp. It’s flatwater, but scenic. It’s also the starting point for a day long trip I do from Algonkian to Riverbend via the GW canal, stopping for a cookout along the way. 47001 Fairway Drive, Sterling, VA 20165 Follow the boat ramp signs.


Riley’s Lock (C&O Canal Lock 24) in Montgomery County, Maryland is one of my favorite put-ins. I like to paddle from Riley’s Lock to Pennyfield Lock via the GW Canal. You can also paddle up Seneca Creek from the boat ramp. 13015 Rileys Lock Rd, Poolesville, MD 20837


The GW Canal, part of George Washington’s old Patowmack Canal ( is across the river from Riley’s and Violette’s Locks. It can be reached by paddling slightly downstream and across the Potomac from Riley’s Lock, or across the river just above the old rubble dam at Violette’s Lock. The canal washed out many years ago, maybe a couple of hundred years ago, and has the feel of a small stream with some nice class I-II rapids. There are a few pieces of canal wall left for you to see. Cross back into the river at the bottom of the last rapid, it may be marked with paint. Do not continue beyond the last rapid or you will find yourself behind a three mile long island. Which is fine, if you intend to take out several miles downriver.


Violette’s Lock (Lock 23) is the start of the popular GW Canal loop paddle. You park at Violette’s, paddle across the Potomac to the GW Canal, then cross back at the bottom of the last rapid, carry your boat up to the C&O Canal, and paddle back up to Violette’s. If you are ambitious, you can paddle back up the Seneca Breaks on the Potomac to Violette’s Lock. Off River Road at the end of Violette’s Lock Road, Potomac, Maryland


Pennyfield Lock, (Lock 22) on the Maryland side, has a boat ramp on Muddy Branch. It’s usually a take out for me, but you can put in and paddle up the river to some small islands that are good for picnicking. Off River Road, end of Pennyfield Lock Road, Potomac, Maryland


Riverbend Park on the Potomac in Fairfax County has a boat ramp. There are easy rapids upstream, depending on water level. You can put in and paddle upstream to play around. It’s a good spot to introduce beginners to eddy turns, ferries, etc. It's also the takeout for my Algonkian to Riverbend trip. 8700 Potomac Hills St, Great Falls, VA 22066 The boat ramp is at the end of Potomac Hills Street.


Great Falls Park on the Virginia side has overlooks where you can view the largest waterfall on the Potomac. It’s an expert class run, so do some hiking while you are there. 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102 The park can be very busy on the weekend. Go early or late.


Great Falls Park (Lock 20) on the Maryland side has an overlook that you hike to across islands which gives you a different perspective on the Great Falls. It also has a visitor center that will show you the history of the C&O Canal, and during the summer, you can take a ride on a reproduction of a canal boat pulled by mules. They also have some great hiking trails, but be careful on the Billy Goat trail. People have been known to fall off the cliff and break legs. 11710 Macarthur Blvd, Potomac, MD 20854


Angler’s Inn on the Maryland side is a favorite put-in. The C&O Canal parking lot is across the street from the Angler’s Inn restaurant. It can be extremely busy on the weekend, so plan to arrive before 9:00 AM or after 4:00 PM. You can paddle up river to some nice rapids and play around, or paddle downriver and take out at either Carderock Park or Lock 10, with some nice rapids along the way. Across the street from 10801 Macarthur Blvd, Potomac, MD 20854


Carderock Recreation Area, on the Maryland side, has large picnic areas and riverside trails. The lower, downstream, parking lot, (take a left when you enter the park) has access to the river. The farthest upstream lot has access to the climbing cliffs. We normally use Carderock as a takeout. The takeouts are hard to spot and require a climb up to the picnic grounds. 9500 Macarthur Blvd, Bethesda, MD 20817


C&O Canal Lock 10 is the takeout for the Angler’s to Lock 10 trip. I have also been known to takeout at Lock 8 when the Lock 10 parking lot was full. Both of these takeouts are obscure, so go with someone familiar with the river or you are likely to miss them. CCA often schedules Angler's to Lock 10 trips. Off the Clara Barton Parkway.


Little Falls, at Lock 6, is an intermediate to advanced run, depending on water level and the tides, which our club schedules regularly. You should definitely go with someone who knows this rapid well. Below Little Falls the Potomac is tidal all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. Off the Clara Barton Parkway.


Mallow’s Bay on the Maryland side. This trip is totally flatwater with the added interest of the Ghost Fleet of sunken ships, which are best seen at low tide. It’s across the river, more or less, from Quantico, so I use their tide chart. 1440 Wilson Landing Rd, Nanjemoy, MD 20662 The GPS was a little off the last time I was there.


I hope this helps get you started Paddling our beautiful Potomac River.

For more information see our 
Trip Guidelines  and Trip Information pages.


Susan Sherrod