Family tubing down Gunpowder Falls, August 3, 2006


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Last updated October 1, 2017



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Tubing on the water is the poor and lazy man's kayaking. Hardly any equipment to buy, few skills to learn, and little work to do. Tubing on the snow is like sledding without steering. Not much more to say about that.

Flatwater tubing on the Shenandoah River
On the final day of September (September 30, 2017), Norma and I got together with Joyce and Jimmy and their kids to spend the day together.

After eating lunch together, we headed out to Murphy Farm at Harper's Ferry for a very short but kid-friendly hike. See first and second photos.

Along the way, we saw a place that Major General "Stonewall" Jackson captured during the Civil War that overlooked the Shenandoah River (third photo).
On its sloping fields in 1862, Confederate General A.P. Hill forced the surrender of 12,000 Union troops and concluded General "Stonewall" Jackson's brilliant siege of nearby Harpers Ferry. Later, Murphy Farm was home to a famous brick firehouse that had become known as "John Brown's Fort" for its role in the abolitionist's 1859 raid on the Harpers Ferry that helped spark the Civil War.
- from The Trust for Public Land - Murphy Farm at Harper's Ferry

I found some paw paw trees but no fruit, though I thought I could smell it when I was deep in one of the patches.

It was a cool and cloudy day with a high temperature in the 60s. We hadn't had rain for well over a week. It was not a great day to be on the water but that was the plan.

We drove to River Riders to go tubing. We had been planning this now for quite some time and today was the last day of the year that we could all participate in this activity together.

I brought a lot of cold weather kayaking clothes. I wore my wetsuit. Based on how everyone else was dressed, I should have been the warmest in the group.

A shuttle bus dropped us off at the launch site on the Shenandoah River and the driver took our picture before he left. See fourth photo.

The kids were in blue inner tube-like devices while the adults were in red things that were a cross between an inner tube and a kayak. We also had very long, heavy paddles. These red things were very difficult to make go straight. They reminded me of whitewater kayaks. I was able to get them to go where I wanted but it wasn't easy.

It was a good thing we had the paddles because even though we were floating downstream, the current was very weak since there was so little water, and we faced a strong headwind that kept blowing us upstream. So without the paddles, we would have had to walk to our take out.

We scraped bottom quite a bit and had to portage in several spots. It really wasn't a good day to be tubing but one could argue that it is always a good day to be with friends and family.
  • Fifth photo: Norma and Harlem.
  • Sixth photo: Joyce and Alisha.
  • Seventh photo: Joyce, Harlem, and Jimmy.
  • Eighth photo: All the sea kayak training I've given Norma is finally being put to good use.
  • Ninth photo: Eventually, Alisha tired of being in her own tube and wanted to join Norma. Norma did a great job of keeping Alisha from going overboard.
  • Tenth photo: Jimmy found it easier to walk in the shallow water than to have to paddle over rocks and then get unstuck.

  • I mentioned that I should have been the warmest in the group. But I ended up being the coldest. My hands were numb. I don't do well being wet and cold. It took well over an hour for me to warm up. But everyone else seemed fine. The water really wasn't all that cold. The air was colder. A splash jacket would have probably been a better choice for me than neoprene.

    After tubing, we ate dinner at White Horse Tavern before saying farewell.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Tubing in Savage
    On February 6, 2010, the Savage area got hit with record-breaking snowfall. My office was closed for a full week while the roads and parking lots were being cleared. There was so much snow that a three-story parking garage in our area collapsed after the snowplow pushed too much snow in one side of the lot.

    The blizzard hit us in two waves. The first brought about 28 inches and the second, another 8 or so inches on the 10th. After digging out, Norma and I set out to explore the neighborhood, armed with our snow tubes. Our little town had become a winter wonderland. See first photo.

    We looked for the biggest hill we could find that was clear of obstacles. On the south side of Gorman Road, just a little west of Foundry Street, we found what we wanted in Laurel. See second photo. This is a man-made hill in the Bowling Brooks Apartment Complex.

    There was one kid sledding on a smaller hill but he soon joined us after we packed down some of the fluffy snow. It takes a few passes on fresh snow to get things at the right consistency and a tube does this better than a sled. During this time, it is important to avoid walking in the tubing path.

    We managed to get in several good runs (third photo) before calling it quits. By the time we left, word had gotten around the neighborhood about our sledding/tubing hill. Several kids ended up enjoying the path we created.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Snow tubing at the Wisp Resort
    For a trip report of snow tubing at the Wisp Resort with Norma, see February 18, 2008.

    North Central Rail Trail Biking and Tubing
    For a trip report of a Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) biking and tubing event led by Norma and me on August 25, 2007, see North Central Rail Trail Biking and Tubing.

    Monkton, August 20, 2006
    On August 20, 2006, Allison and Mark, Norma, and I met at Monkton. Allison and Mark rented tubes at Monkton Bike Shop. They got the premium tubes which came with a nice "Tube Pro" nylon cover and a mesh bottom. Norma and I had our own new tubes. My last pair were dry rotted from leaving them inflated outside next to the kayaks for several months; hence, they were thrown out. That morning, I inflated the new pair enough so I could put both knees and hands on one and only sink into it an inch. Hard to tell exactly how much air they need.

    This was my third time tubing in this area. It was a first for everyone else. I went over the route plan, then we began.

    We started walking north on the North Central Railroad Trail (NCRT) at 1015. By 1030, we launched from 0.49 miles north of Monkton, across from the old brick and stone building that lies in ruins. As always, the water was cold. The forecast was a humid 90 degrees. We floated down the river at a rather slow pace. The river seemed quite low and we spent a good deal of time scraping the rocks on the bottom. Some time was spent getting unstuck from rocks that held onto our tubes.

    Norma flipped my tube and sent me over backwards. The water was refreshing and clean.

    As one might expect, there were numerous splash fights. Also a good deal of time soaking in the rays, replenishing our vitamin D supply while working on our tans.

    We saw some small fish and I found a crab claw. Not much else in the way of wildlife. One heron, some ducks, and a couple of squirrels. A friend had warned me that during the recent heat wave, there were numerous angry snakes in the area but we saw none.

    Numerous kayakers were seen. Most had recreational boats and three had whitewater boats. We also saw one canoe loaded with two adults and five small children. They passed us then we passed them later as one of the kids swung from a rope swing into the water.

    My tube sprung a small leak but I didn't lose much air.

    The route was scenic and narrow. The water was shallow. I don't remember any parts of the river where I could not touch bottom. That was good since Norma doesn't swim. Had there been any problems, Mark, a former lifeguard, would have come to her rescue.

    Norma didn't flip and hadn't been flipped. Near the end of our adventure, she was sitting upright with most of her weight on her shins and her hands lightly touching the tube. She was floating backwards, not seeing where she was going. I saw this as a recipe for a flip. Sure enough, she hit a rock and fell backwards. As she let out a scream, her upper body disappeared in the water and her feet flew up in the air, legs spread eagle. I was fortunate to have witnessed the entire event. I got a good belly laugh out of it. I haven't laughed that hard since...well, since I saw Brian flip his surf ski the day prior. See Nanjemoy Creek to Port Tobacco.

    After floating 4.3 miles, we exited a little after the fourth bridge on the left, at the "Warning, Petroleum Pipeline" sign. It was about 1420. During the entire trip, we didn't see any other people tubing. But at our takeout point, we saw about eight people get in to float downstream.

    Norma and I deflated our tubes. We all walked about 1.5 miles back to Monkton which took about another 30 minutes. Allison and Mark found the easiest way to carry their rental tubes without deflating them was to use their heads, literally.

    Back at Monkton, I fetched a meat and cheese sandwich from the car. Everyone else bought lunch at Monkton Village Market. For some reason, they don't serve meat products. I'm not down with that. We ate at the picnic tables just north of the restrooms. Just as we finished eating, it started to rain.

    We tubed 4.3 miles and walked 2 miles. It took about 4 hours and 50 minutes.

    It was an easy, fun day to get outside with friends. Fortunately, the weather was cooperative too.

    General advice
    When preparing for tubing, wear footwear that won't come off if your foot sinks down into mud. Wear plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent for the walk to the put in. There isn't much you can bring tubing but if possible, bring a water bottle and an "Off Deep Woods Towelette" (insect repellent towelette) for the return walk so you don't get bitten by insects. Most importantly, bring your car keys. Secure them to your clothing with at least two safety pins.

    Unless I really want to spend time on land walking, my goal is to maximize the time I spend in the water. Hence, I try to maximize the float time to walk time ratio. Of course, if you have a car or bicycle shuttle, this probably won't matter to you.

    Very little equipment is needed for tubing. Some of the equipment I use are things I purchased relatively cheaply or made myself.

    River/Snow Tube
    Every tube I have owned was assymetrical so don't be surprised when you find that one side of your tube inflates larger than the other. See first photo on left.

    How much air? You should be able to rest your entire body weight on the inflated tube and only sink into it about an inch.

    How should they be stored? Deflated. I've stored inflated tubes outdoors only to have them dry rot in time for the following season.

    For $20 (only $5 more than a low grade rental), you can purchase a brand new tube at Maryland Truck Tire Service located in Baltimore and Jessup. Be sure to have the guys there show you how to take apart the air valve so your tube can be quickly deflated.

    Directions to Baltimore location:
    From where the Baltimore Beltway (highway 695) meets highway 95, take highway 695 counterclockwise.
    Take exit 8A to the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (highway 895) north. Two dollars toll.
    Take exit 13 to Pulaski Highway (route 40) east.
    Maryland Truck Tire Service will be on the right.

    Directions to Jessup location:
    From where the Baltimore Beltway (highway 695) meets highway 95, take highway 95 south.
    Take exit 41B to route 175 southeast.
    Turn right (southwest) on Washington Boulevard (route 1).
    The parking lot is on the right side of route 1. The entrance to the building faces north.

    Canteen and Money Harness
    The three photos on the left show the canteen and money harness I made for the tube. This is just a standard truck inner tube. The air valve is attached to a long hooked stem which I use to secure the harness. A loop made out of parachute cord is attached to the military canteen cover. Knots are tied in the cord to prevent the canteen from moving in the loop. End 'A' of the loop fits around the stem of the tube. End 'B' of the loop has a nylon web strap with plastic clips attached to it. The nylon strap is adjustable. It is used to attach end 'A' to end 'B.' After doing so, the strap is tightened. This prevents the canteen cover from moving.

    Scraps of nylon webbing are sewn onto the canteen cover to fit a waterproof case. A loop is tied to the case which fits on the webbing. A plastic clip keeps the case attached to the canteen cover. The loop serves as a backup in the unlikely event the clip comes undone at an undesirable time.

    I have used this canteen and money harness successfully multiple times.


    The Monkton area is a spectacular place for tubing...a great way to beat the heat in the summer. The water is always cold and fairly clean. No dangerous rapids; easy enough for beginners. Almost all of Gunpowder Falls in this area is shallow enough to touch bottom. What makes the area around Monkton special is the way the river bends back and forth near the NCRT. Basically, you get to spend the most time tubing with the least amount of time walking. No other part of the NCRT offers this luxury. Bring your own inner tube or rent one at Monkton Bike Shop (formerly Hike and Bike) at 1900 Monkton Road in Monkton Village, phone: 410-771-4058. You can also rent bicycles and kayaks.

    Walk north along the trail and look to put in on the left. After about a third of a mile (about 7 minutes from the start) will be a place on the left where you can get to the water just after the small post with the 'W'. This can be quite slippery.

    A little further ahead on the left (about 11 minutes from the start) is another put-in. There are quite a few, especially across from the benches. It seems people made places to access the water and wanted a good landmark.

    Probably the best and easiest to find launch point is about 11 minutes from the start, directly across from an old brick and stone building that lies in ruins. This is about 0.49 miles north of Monkton...yes, I did pace it out to approximate the distance. See Norma at building below.
         Norma at brick and stone building

    About 1.5 miles from Monkton (north of the brick and stone building) is a nice put-in on the left, directly across from fiber optic cable marker 726, which appears on the right of the trail, heading north (upstream). If the trail passes over a stream, you've gone about 0.3 miles too far. One source mentions launching from where two orange poles can be seen from the trail. I think this might be the same place.

    The last place to launch is from the bridge at Blue Mount Road. My goal is to maximize the ratio of time in the water to time on land. Hence, the only way I'd want to launch that far north is if I had a car or bicycle shuttle. This is the last good put-in. After this, the trail and Gunpowder Falls diverge. Other waterways you see will be small streams, hardly worthy of tubing.

    From the put-in across from the old brick and stone building, it takes about an hour to travel about 1.2 miles to get to the first bridge, Monkton Road. This assumes moderate water levels. From here, it is only about 0.15 miles to get back to where you started. Just exit the river on the right just before the bridge, cross over the bridge, then head east.

    If you wish to continue, float another 0.8 miles to the second bridge, the first approach of the NCRT. This will take about 45 additional minutes, given moderate water levels. Get out of the river on the right, just before the bridge. This is a somewhat difficult exit. Cross over the bridge and walk 0.4 miles northeast back to the start.

    If continuing, float another 0.8 miles to the third bridge, Corbett Road. This will take about 45 additional minutes given moderate water levels. Get out of the river on the left, just after the bridge. This is an easy exit. Cross over the bridge, heading west. After about a half mile, turn right (north) onto the NCRT. Walk 1 mile back to the start.

    If venturing onward, float another mile to the fourth bridge, the second approach of the NCRT. This will take about an additional 60 minutes given moderate water levels. Get out on the right, just after the bridge. This is a steep and sometimes thorny exit. As of August 2006, this is a VERY thorny exit. Do not cross over the bridge. Instead head the other direction (northeast) which is to the right if you face downstream on the bridge. Walk 1.6 miles back to the start (45 minutes).

    There is a much easier take out point about another 0.19 miles downstream of the fourth bridge...yes, I paced this one out too. This should take about 25 additional minutes given moderate water levels and will give you an additional 0.4 miles of tubing. Looking ahead, the river will bend to the right. There will be a clearing (grassy area with no trees) near the bend on both the right and left sides. See photo below for view on left side, where you want to land.
         View on left

    See photo below for view on right side.
         View on right

    Also on both sides will be red and yellow round signs about a foot in diameter that read "Warning, Petroleum Pipeline." This sign will probably be most visible on the right. Before coming to the sign, exit the river on the left (east), at the north end of the clearing. As of August 2006, there are some nice flat rocks and a fallen tree to make take out easy. There will be a trail that leads east, back to the NCRT. Face left (northeast) and walk 2 miles back to the start (55 minutes). This take out point is about 5.7 miles from the southermost part of the NCRT.

    A good, easy, fun trip is to park near Monkton and walk the NCRT, heading north for 14 minutes until you come to the old brick and stone building on your right that lies in ruins. Face left, take the beaten path to the river, and begin your tubing adventure. Float to the third bridge (Corbett Road), which will take about 2.5 hours (2.8 miles float distance). Walk back 1.5 miles (about 45 minutes). Total time: 3.5 hours. Eat lunch under the trees on the grass then drive to for about 20 minutes for dessert...gourmet ice cream.
         Cold Stone Creamery
         10015 York Road A-5
         Cockeysville, Maryland 21030
         Phone: 410-628-8001
    Directions from Monkton are as follows:
    Head northwest on Monkton Road (route 138) for 0.8 miles.
    Turn left (south) on York Road (route 45). Follow for about 9 miles. The Creamery will be on the left, in York Marketplace. If you come to Church Lane or Cranbrook Road, you've gone too far.

    Another nice trip is to launch at the same place but get out at the take out point 0.19 miles downstream of the fourth bridge. This is a bit longer provides a high float time to walk time ratio with a float distance of 4.2 miles and a walk distance of 2 miles. I estimate 3.5 hours in the water with 60 total minutes of walking. Including put in and take-out time, probably 4.6 hours total.

    As of July 2005, it costs $13-$18 to rent an inner tube at the Monkton Bike Shop.
         1900 Monkton Road
         Monkton, Maryland 21111
         Phone: 410-771-4058
         Hours: 1000-1800 as of August 2006
    Hours are probably different in the off-season. Note that one can turn in a rented tube after closing hours.

    Non-meat food at Monkton can be purchased at
         Monkton Village Market
         1900 Monkton Road
         Hours: Monday through Friday 0700-1900, Saturday 0830-1900, Sunday 1000-1900 as of August 2006
    Hours are probably different in the off-season.
         Eat at Ernie's in the Cellar
         1901 Monkton Road
         Enter from side of building
         Across from Monkton Village Market
    Hours not known.

    Deer Creek

    2.8 mile tubing trip with 3 mile hike at Rocks State Park
    This is a promising route if done within one week after a good rain.
    Bring a water bottle and walking shoes.
  • Launch at Hills Grove Picnic Area.
  • Float down 1.4 miles on Deer Creek.
  • Remove the tube at Rocks Road mile 18.6. Be sure to land at this site as there are class three rapids just beyond.
  • Cross Rocks Road (route 24).
  • Deflate tubes.
  • Hike the purple trail south to King and Queen Seat.
  • Catch the white trail counterclockwise (start by heading right/north).
  • Turn right (west) on the blue trail. It will split. The right (north) route is a little faster.
  • When the blue trail splits, head northeast (right if taking the shorter route, left if taking the longer one).
  • The trail will end at Saint Clair Bridge Road. Cross the road and return to Hills Grove Picnic Area. This completes the 1.6 mile hike.
  • Do the same thing again but on the return hike, take the white trail in the other direction: clockwise (start by heading left/south). Catch the blue trail at the same spot to return to the start. This completes a 1.5 mile hike.
  • Note that this is a longer version of Tubing Deer Creek with a trail walk added.

    Harpers Ferry

    1.7 mile tubing trip with 2 mile hike at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
    This is a popular route with tubers and white water kayakers. Several companies make their living renting river tubes to people trying to beat the heat. They shuttle them by bus and charge a pretty penny. If you have your own gear, you can do this route and save some money. There are some rapids but nothing life threatening. Just remember that it is mandatory to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) on the Potomac River. For questions regarding river safety, rules, or regulations, call 1-800-628-9944.
    Bring a water bottle and walking shoes.
  • Launch at Harpers Ferry just off route 340.
  • Float down 0.8 miles on the Shenandoah River.
  • The river will join with the Potomac River. Float down another 0.9 miles.
  • The take out is just before the route 340 bridge on the left (north) side.
  • If you have a second vehicle, you can have them park at Sandy Hook Road under route 340 and do a car shuttle but then you'll miss a scenic walk back. To walk back, get on the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath and head west. This is to the right if you face the river.
  • Walk for 1 mile to the footbridge over the Potomac River.
  • Cross the footbridge and head into Harpers Ferry. On Shendandoah Street there is an information center and restrooms. There are various grassy areas just south of Shenandoah Street that make for nice lunch stops. One can also venture north on High Street for less than a quarter mile to buy lunch or find various ice cream shops at places like "The Coffee Mill."
  • Walk 0.8 miles along a trail near the water which will take you through Virginius Island. Continue west until you come to the route 340 bridge where you should find your vehicle.


    Harpers Ferry Adventure Center
    Tubing, rafting, and canoeing in the Loudoun County, Virginia area

    Monkton Bike Shop
    Tubing on Gunpowder Falls

    River Riders
    Tubing, rafting, and canoeing in the Loudoun County, Virginia area

    River Trail Outfitters
    Tubing, rafting, and canoeing in the Loudoun County, Virginia area