Little Falls

River of the month #47

author: Pat Reilly
date: March 2002

Paddling enthusiasts are constantly on the lookout for new places to paddle. Whether it’s rubbernecking over bridges on the way to Aunt Ida’s house or making sure they get a window seat on the next business flight to Chicago, paddle freaks know that by keeping vigilant watch during all their travels, they’ll eventually strike paddling gold.

I hit ‘pay dirt’ one fall Sunday in 1993 while leading a Sierra Club bicycle ride on the New Freedom Trail. This trail is a converted railroad bed, a ‘rails to trails’, that started (at that time) in New Freedom, Pa and went to Baltimore. As we crossed the Mason Dixon line headed south, it was apparent (at least to a paddler) that we were traveling through a headwaters region. As we started down the watershed a tiny brook formed. As they often do, the railroad line followed the creek as it grew. While discussing bird life, beaver dams and other pleasantries of the trail with the outing participants, I was secretly scoping out the little creek trying to anticipate when it would reach boatable size.

Just past the town of Parkton, Maryland, the creek and trail left the highway-laced farmlands and headed into a deserted narrow little gorge. Now a more reasonable size, Little Falls commenced tumbling over ledges and weaving through boulder gardens sometimes using the tightest of passages. It culminated with a jagged little waterfall at the end of the short gorge. Wow! Guess what little creek immediately leapt into my gotta-paddle ‘hit list’ top-10?

I hit the books as soon as I returned home from the ride, the guidebooks that is. Ah yes, I’d read about Little Falls in Ed Gertler’s ‘Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails’. But I just didn’t picture the creek as being so quaint, so slender, so … delectable! The creek is so constricted as it bounces down through the boulders at a rate of about 50 feet per mile, that at some points along the way, one can conceivably reach out and touch both sides of the stream at the same time! This makes for poor visibility on some drops but, no sweat, you can scout it with a bicycle. In some ways I’d always dreamed of a creek like this – an ultra-narrow ribbon of clear water bopping along downhill through the woods.

However, my dream stream goes on and on. This run is way too short. But options arise, you could:

  1. Run it multiple times. Heck, hardy paddlers can carry back up the trail for subsequent runs; it’s only a mile.

  2. Run it out to its mouth on Gunpowder Falls, about 4 more miles of nice scenic (if not exciting) paddling.

  3. Add it to a Gunpowder Falls trip. The upper (below Prettyboy Dam) section of Gunpowder Falls is becoming a common destination for many CCGH paddlers. I realize that its popularity has to do with the fact that it runs on releases when other creeks aren’t up. But if you do find that you’re on the ‘Upper’ after big rains, don’t fail to check out Little Falls. The first time that I ran Little Falls I combined it with a run down the lower Gunpowder (section below Rt. 1) and the second time with a run down the ‘Upper’. Both times Little Falls was pretty much at minimal level. If ever you could catch it with good high water, it just might get pushy and turn into a bit of a ‘hair’ run because of it being so constricted. But that would no doubt take a real deluge.

This is one creek where you definitely want to bring a bike, the trail is nice and it simplifies the shuttle. In fact, on your next trip down the upper Gunpowder, bring your bike and ride the trail through this section even if Little Falls is not up (which, regrettably, it seldom is). It’s very close to the Gunpowder take out, just an hour out of Harrisburg. Check it out and remember to keep an eye out for paddling opportunities wherever you may be!

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2002 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.