Little Falls Gauge and River Height

The gauge at Little Falls, upstream of Chain Bridge, is a good indicator of the impact rain and snow melt will have on river conditions. The higher the gauge, the higher the river goes, and the more unsafe it is to be on the river. Higher gauge readings also are a guide to how much current there will be, as well as how much debris will be in the water (of all sizes and varieties). Rising water along the river banks and flooded streams liberate grounded debris transporting it into the river. Likewise, as the river level drops shallow areas, and rocks, will be revealed or positioned below the surface in such a way to be a hazard for shells and launch props. To assure the best picture of the river, please review the automatically updating graphs below:

The general formula for reading the gauge height is:

3-4 Ft. Normal river conditions.
5 Ft. “Action Stage” at Little Falls Guage. The current picks up. Minor “swirlies” just downstream of  Hens & Chickens at 5.5 Ft. Above Hens the current becomes increasingly stronger, and care must be taken, especially with novice crews.
6 Ft. Larger swirlies, forceful current, noticeable debris possible. Small boats unadvised and large boats by experienced crews only.
7 Ft. Rowers are advised not to launch. Strong, swift currents, large debris to be expected.
10+ Ft.  Flood stage.
12 Ft. Moderate Flood Stage
14+ Ft. Major Flood Stage


A major consideration with river conditions is debris, which increases after larger or consistent days or rain. Large “boat eating” logs are not uncommon, as well as smaller items that can do minor damage and remove fins/rudders.

Potomac River near Washington DC (Little Falls)

USGS Water-data graph for site 01646500USGS Water-data graph for site 01646500

Potomac River at Wisconsin Ave