A Secluded and Scenic Excursion on the Potomac

The Middle Potomac River is one of the most beautiful stretches of navigable waterways in the Mid-Atlantic. This paddle tour begins at McKimmey Boat Launch, on the Virginia side of the river in Loudoun County, and ends downstream at the riverfront cottages in Algonkian Regional Park near Sterling. On the way, paddlers pass numerous islands; campsites along the C&O Canal Towpath; a winery; the mouth of the Monocacy River; Whites Ferry, another launch site and the only operating ferry on the Potomac; Goose Creek, a tributary; and Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park. The entire stretch is approximately 20 miles, and is easily navigated by paddlers with an intermediate level of experience.

McKimmey Boat Launch

Off Route 15/Lovettsville Road opposite Point of Rocks, Maryland, at Route 672, this Commonwealth boat ramp is one of the few access points on the Potomac in Loudoun County. Popular boat trips are from this site downstream to a take-out near the mouth of the Monocacy River; White’s Ferry; and Algonkian Regional Park. (The site is also a takeout point for trips that begin upstream at, for example, Harpers Ferry or Brunswick, MD.)

White’s Ford

This 295-acre park, along the River just upstream from White’s Ferry, was once the home of Civil War Lieutenant Colonel Elijah V. White. The location was used at various points during the war, most notably serving as a crossing point for General Robert E. Lee en route to Antietam with the Confederate Army. The park opening is scheduled for late 2011 and will include, among other passive amenities, a boat launch for canoes and kayaks and a half-mile land segment of the PHT along the shoreline connecting with other trails in the park. Veteran’s Park at Ball’s Bluff This 86-acre parcel is undeveloped, though the City of
Leesburg has developed a master plan to provide for passive uses of the park. Paddlers can takeout, though, and a short walk downstream on a land segment of the PHT will quickly lead you into Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park.

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park

Surrounding the Ball’s Bluff National Cemetery, the park is most notable as the site of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, the earliest Civil War engagement to take place in Loudoun County. Hiking trails and interpretive signs aid in understanding the events associated with site.

Algonkian Regional Park

Located close to many residential areas and community centers, Algonkian Regional Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of fun in the sun, a family vacation and even a wedding or other event.

For a Two-Day, Three-Day or Extended Tour Depending on the water level and time available, paddlers may launch at many points upstream on the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers: Ambitious paddlers with lots of time might begin on the North Branch of the Potomac in Westernport, MD; others might add a half day or so by putting in at Potoma Wayside, along Route 340 (in Virginia), downstream from the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers at Harpers Ferry, or launching at the Brunswick, Md., boat ramp. Downstream from Algonkian, experienced paddlers can navigate through the Seneca Breaks and take out at Riverbend Park near Great Falls in Fairfax County; however, plan to end the trip here to avoid going over Great Falls and check out the American Indian exhibits at the Riverbend Visitor Center.

For maps, consult GMCO Nautical Maps, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin recreational map set, and the map for Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP, and look for a new set of maps for this section being developed by Maryland DNR. For more information on parks along the Virginia side of the River, visit the NVRPA web site and the Piedmont Environmental Council.


Region: Northern Virginia
Activity: Civil War, History, Paddling, Wildlife

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
c/o Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
142 W. Potomac St.

Williamsport, MD 21795


This phone will reach the main line for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

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