Index to Kayaking In and Around Washington, DC
Kayaking Boat Ramps and Access Points

Swain's Lock Number 21
10700 Swains Lock Rd.
Potomac, MD 20854
GPS 39.031634, -77.243531
Launch off a tiny area by the canal--Make shift but works.
Small Parking Area for cars that fills up early on weekends
C&O Canal Association/Access Points (via automobile)
Some parking along the road down to Swain's Lock
Picnic areas with grills
Free Camping
Bikes allowed on the C&O Canal
No launch fee--no "real" launch area, however, you can put in!

Bill, Lindsey and I often rode the horses down to Swain's Lock. At that time there was a concession there run by the Swain Family for many years. It is not any longer operational as you will note from the quoted article below. Swain's Lock was as far as equestrians could ride their horses, legally, on the C&O Canal toward Washington, DC. Beyond that lock was forbidden! We boarded up River Road, at that time. We also rode the horses in the other direction, further into Maryland, to the Riley's Lock/Seneca Creek and beyond to McKee-Beshers. At McKee-Beshers we had to watch the hunting schedule for safety. We also put bells on the horses so that the hunters knew we were coming and did not mistake us for deer. I might add that the hunters did not like the bells which made noise and scared away the deer. Anyway, many of these kayaking places along the C&O Canal we used to ride. Seeing this area from the canal and the river is really quite different than from atop a horse.

Image: Kayaking in Swain's Lock  Image: first time in a kayak.

Image:'s Lock #21 The first time I ever got in a kayak was at Swain's Lock on the C&O Canal. Bill took me to see if I wanted to get a kayak, too. I had just purchased him a kayak for his birthday as he enjoyed several paddles on the Potomac River. Our daughter, Lindsey, gave him a pass for the summer to rent kayaks at Fletcher's Boat House. He loved it. This was a new adventure for us as we had the horses for so many years. Horse-back-riding had been our sport of choice along with skiing. After stopping riding and placing our boys with our equine vet, we were both looking for a transition sport to take up. Well--kayaking it is!

Image:'s Lock Swain's Lock is an easy paddle and a great place to learn how to paddle, balance, etc. It is important to watch the water levels in the canal as sometimes different areas of the canal get really low. Also, there is often lots of vegetation in the canal which makes paddling really difficult. We noticed this in the late summer and early fall. Trees on the bank often come down right into the canal. We have noticed that there are fish in the canal such as cat fish, bass, blue gill and turtles. I have also seen a water snake or two--non poisonous. "Gravel parking lot has space for up to 20 vehicles. Access to the river is across the canal. This is a popular take-out point for kayaks and canoes coming down the Potomac. It is also a starting point for a round-trip across the river above the dam, down the old Patowmack Canal on the Virginia side, then back across the river and return via the canal."

Swains Lock Concession Closes on C&O Canal/ Date April 27, 2006

"The family-owned seasonal refreshment stand and boat rental at Swain's Lock, located on the C&O Canal National Historical Park, will no longer be open for business. After almost a century, the Swain family has ceased operations. At this time, there will be no concessions available at Swain's Lock. Family member Bert Swain said, 'The Swain family has lived at Lockhouse 21 since the early 1900s, and it was an emotional decision to give up the concession. However, it had run its course and we're looking to the future and working with the National Park Service and other interest groups in finding new ways of utilizing the lockhouse. The family is very eager to stay involved in maintaining connections with the National Park Service and the canal.'

C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt said, 'It is sad to see a season begin on the C&O Canal without the Swains. The family has long been associated with the canal, and they will be sorely missed.' Swain family members began working on the original construction of the canal and also worked as boatmen and lock tenders, operating Swain's Lock at mile 16.6. The Swains lived at the lockhouse during the floods of 1889; 1936, when bridges were destroyed at Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown; as well as in 1942 and 1972. Jesse Swain was the lock tender when the canal closed down in 1924.

Lock Names

"...Some of the locks were also informally named, usually after a prominent lockkeeper, a nearby town or important geographical feature. Some locks are known by more than one name and some are only known by their number. The names of the lockkeepers changed over the years, and the nicknames also changed. For instance Lock 21 had many lockkeepers: Mr. Fuller (1830), Mrs Susan Cross (1836), Robert C Fields (1839, Fired on 1 May 1846), Samuel Fisher (1846, 1851), and Jesse Swain (1924), hence today the lock is known as 'Swain's Lock'. The Swain family had been involved with the canal ever since its construction: John Swain helped build the canal; his sons John, Hen, and Bill Swain were boatmen as well as Jesse Swain (boatman and later locksman), and his son, Otho Swain. Darbey's lock or Darkey's lock was named after Hughey Darkey, who had four or five red-headed girls.

Twigg's lock (69) was named after the Twigg family, one of the first settlers in the upper Potomac. John and Rebecca Twigg who settled there in the mid 1700s had two sons, Robert and Fleetwood John Twigg because of whom a Romeo and Juliet like story (without the tragedy at the end) ensued. Fleetwood John got himself an Indian maiden, and was rejected, so he built his house on the 'other side of the pond'. The 'Blue Eyed Twiggs' (Robert's children) were not allowed to play with 'Black Eyed Twiggs' (descended from F. John), and the feud continued for a few generations until a 'Blue Eyed Twigg' fell in love with a 'Black Eyed Twigg'.

Many of the locktenders who were of good reputation, were later promoted to district superintendent. These included Elgin and John Y. Young in the 1830s and 1840s, John Lambie in the 1840s. A. K. Stake began at locks 41-41 from 1847-1848, Lewis G. Stanhop at locks 41-42 also in 1848, and Overton G. Lowe at Lock 56 when the canal opened to Cumberland - these three individuals were later promoted and continued working for the Canal company well into the 1870s...." Locks on the C&O Canal

First posted: , 2014
Last update: Jan 21, 2020