potomac river harpers ferry wv
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry WV

The Potomac River is one of the largest Atlantic Coast rivers and a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac River watershed covers four states and the District of Columbia.

The river originates from two sources. The source of the North Branch begins at the junction of Grant, Tucker, Preston counties in West Virginia while the South Branch rises in Highland County, Virginia.

Major tributaries of the Potomac include the Anacostia River, Antietam Creek, Cacapon River, Catoctin Creek, Conocoheague Creek, Monocacy River, Occoquan River, Savage River, Senaca Creek, and Shenandoah River.

Beginning as small mountain streams, the river gains strength and size as it flows across its path. The Potomac, the river grows to 11 statute miles wide as it flows into the Chesapeake Bay between Point Lookout, Maryland and Smith Point.

Popular Locations

At Harpers Ferry West Virginia, the Potomac is joined by the Shenandoah River. The area is known for its rocky outcrops, rugged terrain, frequent flooding, and other natural features.

The stretch of river near Harpers Ferry is a popular destination for camping, paddlesports, freshwater fishing, hiking, birdwatching, and other activities.

Located along the Potomac River approximately 15 miles from Washington, D.C., Great Falls Park is one of the Mid Atlantic region’s top scenic areas. At Great Falls, the Potomac River falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge on its way to the river’s tide line.

The area from Chain Bridge to Fletcher’s Cove is popular with anglers and river boat enthusiasts. The stretch is especially popular in spring when American shad, hickory shad, and striped bass ascend the river to spawn.

Along the western shore of Charles County, Mallows Bay is home to the largest collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere.

In St. Mary’s County Maryland, fishing piers are located along the Potomac River at Fox Harbor Landing in Ridge, River Springs Landing in Avenue, and St. George’s Island.

Near Stafford, Virginia, Aquia Landing Park includes nearly a quarter-mile of recreational beach on the Potomac River.

On the lower Potomac River, public access areas include Westmoreland State Park, St. Clements Island State Park, Point Lookout State Park, and a variety of privately-owned marinas and other facilities.

Fishing access on the lower river is available at the Point Lookout State Park fishing pier and nearby shoreline areas including the Causeway and the Point.

Potomac River Facts

In 1998, President Bill Clinton designated the Potomac as an American Heritage River.

The Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) regulates the fisheries of the main stem of the tidal Potomac River from the Maryland/Washington D.C. boundary line to the mouth of the river. PRFC coordinates regulations with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), and with other Atlantic coastal states through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).

The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) works to enhance, protect, and conserve the Potomac River and its tributaries through regional and interstate cooperation.

Related Information

Chesapeake Bay Watershed