Boating and Paddling


The park offers a variety of opportunities to get on the water. Visitors can paddle in canoes and kayaks, take a boat ride on the canal with park rangers, or adventure onto the Potomac River using the park’s boat ramps.



With plenty of opportunities to recreate on the Canal and Potomac River it is important to be aware of the inherent dangers. In the last decade, several drownings, multiple boat-related injuries, and loss of equipment have occurred here. Plan accordingly and #RecreateResponsibly. Wear a personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket) at all times, check Current Conditions the day of, know what you are capable of, and don’t underestimate the power of water.

Safety Resources:

  1. NPS Water Vessel Safety
  2. Paddling Safety and Kayaking the Potomac Gorge
  3. Recreate Responsibly
Photo of canoes beached along the canal.
Boating is a great way to experience the canal.

NPS Photo


Paddling refers to kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, and other recreational activities that require a paddle to propel a watercraft forward. Bring your own gear or rent a rig from one of the boathouses along the canal (see Boat and Paddling Rentals section below).

On the Canal

Listed below are several sections of the canal that are watered and offer paddling opportunities. Crafts need to be carried around lift locks and water levels can change unexpectedly. Check the Current Conditions page for current water levels.

  • Mile 0 to 22 Georgetown to Violettes Lock.
  • Mile 99.3 to 99.8 Williamsport to Lock 44.
  • Mile 112 to 113 Big Pool.
  • Mile 120 to 121 Little Pool.
  • Mile 124.1 to 124.7 Hancock.
  • Mile 162 to 167 Oldtown to Town Creek.

On the Potomac

The Potomac River offers white water rapids and flat water paddling. The most difficult rapids, ranked class IV and V, are in the eastern area of the Park, particularly at Great Falls. Some easier rapids exist in the Harpers Ferry area, ranked class II and III. The Park offers plenty of river access. Visit the Park Planner and Recreational Guide on our maps page for locations.

Life jackets are required by the State of Maryland. Please consult this list of restrictions and safety information before you head out on the water and never go into rapid areas over your skill level. Visit Kayaking the Potomac Gorge for more information about the river and safety tips.



On the Canal

Use of electric motorized vessels is allowed only at Big Pool, Little Pool, and canal waters from mile 162.4 (Town Creek Aqueduct) to mile 164.8 (Lock 68). Gasoline and propane motorized vessels are PROHIBITED on the canal, but may be used on the Potomac River.

On the Potomac

There are plenty of boat ramps in the C&O Canal National Historical Park that provide access to the Potomac River; however, boating on the Potomac River is governed by the State of Maryland. Visit their website for rules and regulations. Visit the Park Planner and Recreational Guide on our maps page for ramp locations.

Boat and Paddling Rentals

The National Park Service partners with a concessioner in the downstream end of the canal in Washington, DC.

Warning icon

Warning, Whitewater on the Potomac!

The following sections of the Potomac River have whitewater:

  • Mile 4.2 to 14.5 - Chain Bridge to Great Falls (an area where many have drowned). Visit Kayaking the Potomac Gorge for more information.

  • Mile 22.1 - Dam 2 at Seneca (low dam).

  • Mile 62.3 to 59.5 - Dam 3 above Harpers Ferry (low dam) to the U.S. 340 bridge downstream of Sandy Hook.

  • Mile 84.6 - Dam 4 near Downsville (portage on Maryland side).

  • Mile 99.4 - Power company dam at Williamsport (portage on West Virginia side).

  • Mile 106.6 - Dam 5 above Williamsport (high dam, must portage on either side).

  • Low water dam at North Branch (paddlers should put in at Spring Gap).

Laws in whitewater areas require personal floatation devices. Don't just carry your PFD in the boat. Please wear your life jacket- properly buckled, zipped, tied, or clipped.

Last updated: March 16, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

142 W. Potomac St.
Williamsport, MD 21795



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