Winter Kayaking: Potomac River, Washington, D.C.

Potomac River

Photo: Skip Brown

Potomac River, Washington, D.C.

Congress may recess for much of the winter, but boaters in the nation’s capital paddle year-round on the nearby Potomac River’s Class V Great Falls and Class III Mather Gorge. Die-hard regulars run the falls year-round, with the most popular goose-bumped line being Grace Under Pressure in the middle. As if the run itself isn’t challenge enough, a bigger concern is ice.

“Spray freezes and builds up, layer after layer until some entrances and exits are blocked,” says local kayaker and photographer Skip Brown. “The entrance to Grace involves dodging a hole and ducking under an overhanging ledge which can turn into a giant ice stalactite.” Scout the line from shore before jumping in, and pay special attention to the takeout. During extreme cold snaps the stretch below the Falls can freeze over, creating a sloping ice beach along shore with no way to take out. For an easier run, hit the play spots in Mather Gorge, including S-turn and Rocky Island wave, which rarely freeze over. — EB

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