Jimmy on the Potomac River just downstream of Shepherdstown, West Virginia


Kayak and bicycle camping along the Potomac River 2013

Last updated September 14, 2013



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Day One | Day Two

Norma wanted to do some (primitive) kayak camping. This is something I've done with outfitters but never on my own. We've done backpacking and bicycle camping. So kayak camping should be easy since we can carry more gear.

We decided to do a two day and one night trip with her relatives: Joyce, Jimmy, and their daughter Harlem.

Things didn't come together until the last minute. Joyce and Jimmy weren't able to rent a canoe and there were concerns over who would be watching Laquan, Harlem's brother. Once we had the green light, Norma and I worked on planning out a route. We studied the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath Map and Ed Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails. Though I didn't find it until later, Potomac River Water Trail and the C&O Canal: (Middle Potomac) would have also been very helpful.

I proposed two routes that I thought would be suitable but in the end, Norma came up with her own which we ended up using instead.

Day One, Saturday, September 7, 2013

We got a late start. Packing and loading of gear didn't take place until the day of. Then there was the drive that involved placing two bicycles at the take-out. Things didn't get rolling until about 1500.

Norma and I met Joyce, Jimmy, and Harlem at Big Slackwater in Washington County. This is along the mighty Potomac River which separates Maryland from West Virginia.

Jimmy and I loaded up most of the camping gear in the kayaks. He would paddle my Cobra Expedition while I would be in my Prijon Catalina.

There were a lot of people using the launch area, though not many kayakers. We waited our turn to launch and then set off, paddling downstream.

Joyce and Norma rode their bikes with Harlem hitching a ride on the back of one. See first photo. They took turns carrying Harlem. Their route was the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath.

After 1.2 miles, Jimmy and I came to Dam 4. We portaged on the left (north) side (second photo), carrying the boats for about an eighth of a mile (third photo), mostly downhill. Then we launched in some class one whitewater. See me in the fourth photo and Jimmy in the fifth with the dam behind. We would not meet up with the girls until reaching the campsite.

Generally, there was enough water so paddling was not a problem. We never had to portage except around the dam. But there were a lot of rocks just below the surface of the water. Jimmy and I tried to select the deepest parts but we weren't always successful. In such cases, we just built up speed and let momentum carry us over any obstacles. This isn't a route you'd want to do with an expensive fiberglass, kevlar, or carbon fiber boat.

Turtles are a common sight on the water in the early and middle part of summer but now that it is September, they are a little harder to find. But we did see some (sixth photo).

We saw a racoon by the water on the West Virginia side. It didn't seem to be as afraid of us as I would have expected. Maybe it was rabid. Except for its tail, it didn't much look like a racoon since it wasn't wearing a mask. See seventh photo.

A little later, we saw a merganser grooming itself. See eighth photo.

A doe and two fawns grazed along the shore on the Maryland side. See ninth photo.

We passed Taylors Landing and then Snyders Landing.

On their bike ride, Joyce, Norma, and Harlem saw
  • some turtles
  • a barred owl (tenth photo)
  • chickens (eleventh photo)
  • and the entrance to Killiansburg Cave (twelfth photo)

  • We all completed about 10 miles that day on or along the river. The 5 of us met at Killiansburg Cave Campground where there was a fire ring, porta-john, and well with a pump so we could get fresh water. There was a small beach to pull the boats ashore. The only thing that served as a marking from the water were two worn paths that led from a rocky beach to a level area where we pitched our tents.

    Harlem was in good spirits. She spent some time throwing rocks into the river. See thirteenth photo.

    After setting up our tents, we got a fire going. The previous occupants left us some kindling. Once we had some hot coals, we heated up some Indian food for dinner.

    There was music playing in the distance...Led Zeppelin and other stuff. Fortunately, that stopped at a reasonable hour.

    I read some of my A Chicken in Every Yard book.

    It was supposed to be clear and sunny all weekend so I left our rain fly off the tent. That caused it to rain. Fortunately, neither Norma nor I are heavy sleepers so it didn't take long for us to put on the fly before things got really wet.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Two, Sunday, September 8, 2013

    We awoke to a calm and peaceful morning. See first photo.

    Jimmy got the fire going again so water could be heated for coffee.

    Norma and I packed up our gear and loaded it in the boats. Jimmy and Joyce decided to leave their tent out to dry with their sleeping bags inside. Their bags and tent are fine for car camping but are quite large and bulky. We figured we'd pick them up on the return.

    Just as the last group left kindling for me, I left plenty for the next group.

    Jimmy and I continued kayaking downstream while the girls resumed riding.

    After 2.4 miles, Jimmy and I pulled over at the Shepherdstown boat ramp in Jefferson County, West Virginia. We walked up the hill and were met by Joyce and Norma who had biked across the James Rumsey Bridge to get across the river.

    The five of us ate brunch at the Blue Moon Cafe which Norma really enjoyed. See Joyce, Jimmy, and Harlem in the second photo.

    I didn't get much chance to see the town but it sounds like a nice place.
    Thomas Shepherd founded the town of Shepherdstown in 1734, long before West Virginia became a state. The town is the oldest community in the mountain state, and it has been carefully restored. Shepherdstown has largely avoided the turmoil of nearby Harpers Ferry and many of the buildings from the early 1800s still stand.
    - from Shepherstown - Potomac River Guide

    The girls continued biking (third photo) while Jimmy and I resumed kayaking.

    That area has some nice bridge ruins that reminded me of the ones Norma and I saw on our Paw Paw to Pearre Potomac River trip on July 28-30, 2007. See fourth and fifth photos. Norma was able to get some photos of Jimmy and me down below (sixth photo). It isn't too often a kayaker gets bird's eye photos of themselves.

    Jimmy and I passed the bridge over the mouth of Antietam Creek. See seventh photo. I kayaked the upper portion on March 20, 2010 but never got down to there.

    We completed our kayaking at Dargan Bend after paddling about 11 miles (eighth photo). Joyce and Norma had been there awhile before we arrived.

    Somewhere around there is the Dargan Bend Cave but we didn't see it.

    Harlem had a chance to do a little kayaking on Jimmy's lap. See ninth photo. In a couple more years, I expect she'll be ready for some solo paddling.

    We pulled the boats ashore and unloaded as much gear from the bikes into them as we could so we would have room for Joyce and Jimmy's tent and sleeping bags on the return. I locked up the boats to a post.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    We all biked back on the towpath, retracing the route that Joyce, Norma, and Harlem did. This time, Jimmy rode with Harlem on the back. See photo. The two of us led the way with Joyce and Norma not far behind.

    Jimmy and Joyce had to get back into town by 1900 so we all kept up a pretty good pace.

    Some deer were in the river, getting an afternoon drink.

    Back at Killiansburg Cave Campground, we retrieved Joyce and Jimmy's tent and sleeping bags. But one sleeping bag was missing. There was no sign of anything else missing or vandalism...just one missing bag.

    Continuing onward, Jimmy and I rode a little further than we needed to (unintentionally) and actually got back to the cars after the girls.

    Joyce and Jimmy loaded up their gear and then headed home.

    Norma and I drove back to Dargan Bend and retrieved the kayaks.

    Back at home, we got things cleaned up and set out to dry.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    This was a successful and pleasant kayak and bicycle camping trip. If it wasn't for the stolen sleeping bag, one might even say it was perfect.

    I hope to do more kayak and bicycle camping, launching from Oldtown, Maryland and taking out at Big Slackwater. That is about 92 miles so I figure it will take about 7 days to paddle down and bike back.

    I recently read a quote:
    Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.
    - Rita Mae Brown, Hiss of Death

    I already have something to love and something to do. Kayak and bicycle camping from Oldtown to Big Slackwater gives me yet another thing to look forward to.