Potomac River

Potomac River below Hilltop House Hotel, Jefferson County, Eastern Panhandle Region
Potomac below Hilltop House

The 405-mile Potomac River courses eastward across the northeastern border of West Virginia, meandering over approximately 100 miles from the junction of its North Branch and South Branch near South Branch, WV, to its junction with the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry, WV. The river and its tributaries drain approximately 14,500 square miles, of which 3,480 square miles are in West Virginia. From west to east, the Potomac in West Virginia courses along the borders of northern Hampshire County, northern Morgan County, northern Berkeley County, and eastern Jefferson County. Its principal tributaries in West Virginia, in addition to the Shenandoah and its north and south branches,

History of the Potomac River

Hunter-gatherers inhabited the watershed of the Potomac River as early as 10,000 B.C., and large villages peppered the lower Potomac watershed when Europeans arrived. The tribes that resided in the valley were considered remarkable traders, and the name “Potomac” may have been employed by Captain John Smith, who pointed out the location of the “Potowmeck” to traders. The name might be translated as “emporium.”

The Potomac River in the early 1800s provided a course along which the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was established, an early Federal works program that intended to build a canal across the Allegheny Mountains from its Watergate, at Washington, D.C., to the Ohio River. The canal project was abandoned at the foot of the Alleghenies at Cumberland, Maryland. Today, the ruins of the canal and its towpath are preserved as the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which includes a bike trail.

Potomac Communities

From source to mouth, the following select towns and villages in West Virginia are located on or near the Potomac River.

South Branch, WV
Okonoko, WV
Little Cacapon, WV
Paw Paw, WV
Orleans Cross Roads, WV
Great Cacapon, WV
Berkeley Springs, WV
Redrock Crossing, WV
Sleepy Creek, WV
Little Georgetown, WV
Falling Waters, WV
Shepherdstown, WV
Bolivar, WV
Harpers Ferry, WV

Parks & Recreation

The Potomac River is a chief source for recreation in eastern West Virginia. Anglers visit the stream year round, and, in spring and summer, rafters and kayakers trek to its whitewater and quiet pools. Parks along the course of the river help protect and enhance its margins. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park follows the north bank of the river from its source to Harpers Ferry. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park protects areas of the river near its junction with the Shenandoah. The Widmeyer Wildlife Management Area provides hunters a public sporting reserve along the river near Berkeley Springs. Parts of the Maryland bank of the river between Paw Paw and Great Cacapon are protected as part of the Green Ridge State Forest. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail crosses the river by way of a bridge at Harpers Ferry.

Variant Names

Cheneoow-quoquey, Co-hon-go-roo-ta River, Co-hon-go-ru-ta River, Cohongaroota River, Cohongoluta River, Cohongoronta River, Cohongoronto River, Cohongoroota River, Cohongorooto River, Pokomoach River, Potamack River, Potamak River, Potawmack River, Potomack River, Potomacke River, Potomak River, Potomeack River, Potomock River, Potomoke River, Potomuck River, Potomucke River, Potowmac River, Potowmack River, Potowmak River, Potowomek River, Pottomock River, Powtowmac River, Powtowmack River, Quattaro, Qui-o-riough River, Quiriough River, River Potowmack, Riviere de Coturki, Saint Gregories River, Saint Gregory River, San Pedro River, Satawomeck, Turkey Bussard River, Wappacomma Riverr, Cohongoruton River, Elisabeth River, Elizabeth River, Kahongoronton River, Maryland River, Pataromerke River, Patawmack River, Patawomeck River, Patawomecke River, Patawomek River, Patawomeke River, Patomack River, Patomacke River, Patomak River, Patomake River, Patomeck River, Patomecke River, Patomeke River, Patoumak River, Patowmack River, Patowmacke River, Patowmec River, Patowmeck Flu, Patowmeck River, Patowomeck River, Patowomek River, Pawtomack River

Regional Information

Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the lower Potomac River, downstream of and including Paw Paw, may be found in our guide to travel in the Eastern Panhandle Region. Information for the upper segment or river may found in the Potomac Branches Region.

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