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Kayaking in Washington DC can be a great way to discover a different side to the nation’s capital. With historic rivers (hello Potomac!), sites, and buildings, there is a lot to see and paddling can let you explore the area away from the bustling crowds.
We have put this guide together with some of our favorite spots in and around DC so you can get to know this famous city and its beautiful surroundings.
11 Best Places For D.C Kayaking (and the surrounding area)
1: Anacostia River
The Anacostia River is a short river that has a lot of history. It flows just eight and a half miles through Maryland and the District of Columbia until it reaches the Potomac River. This can be a great place to paddle through nature without leaving DC.
Although a good spot to launch if you want to make the most of the river’s length is just a couple of miles outside of DC. Bladensburg Waterfront Park has a handy boat launch and you can also rent kayaks and canoes.
There are several other spots to launch or take-out, including at Anacostia Park in Washington DC.
Georgetown can be a fun place to paddle and can be a popular location because of its proximity to the capital and historic surroundings. Launching from Georgetown Waterfront Park can let you paddle along the Potomac River and around Theodore Roosevelt Island.
The island (where Roosevelt would frequently hike) provides a natural habitat for a variety of wildlife and it can be a great place to view wildflowers, particularly in the spring and early summer.
The Key Bridge Boathouse at Georgetown Waterfront Park offers kayak rentals on the Potomac River. From the river, you can see the historic buildings of Georgetown, including the famous Georgetown University.
3: Rock Creek
Rock Creek can be an easy paddle if you stay close to where the creek meets the Potomac and where it’s a little wider. It’s generally calm water at this point.
You can rent kayaks and launch at the Thompson Boat Center on Virginia Avenue, which can also let you explore the Potomac River if you’d prefer.
If you’re into whitewater, you can launch at Rock Creek Park and paddle through some stretches of up to Class III rapids. There are some parts of Rock Creek that are dangerous and you should check water levels and local regulations before attempting this. You should also be a highly skilled paddler.
4: National Harbor
The National Harbor lies on the shores of the Potomac River and can be found just south of Washington DC in Maryland. This is where you’ll find the Capital Wheel ferris wheel and boardwalk shopping and dining.
This can be a good spot with plenty of paddling space and great views over to Alexandria, Virginia. You can also paddle around the Potomac River Waterfront Park, where you’ll find quiet coves and tree-lined shores that can be ideal for viewing birds and other wildlife.
The National Harbor Boathouse can be a good spot to rent kayaks or launch one of your own.
5: Seneca Creek State Park
Seneca Creek State Park is located less than 30 miles from downtown Washington DC so it can be an ideal place to escape the city in search of nature. There are miles of hiking and biking trails through scenic woodlands as well as opportunities for fishing.
You have two options for paddling in the park. If you’d prefer some mild (Class I and II) rapids, launching into Great Seneca Creek at Black Rock Mill can be a good choice. From here you can paddle along the creek to the take-out at Riley’s Lock where the creek meets the Potomac.
The other option is to launch into Clopper Lake. This offers 90 acres of flatwater that can be ideal for a relaxing paddle with your family. Gas motors are not allowed so it can make it a little safer if you have kids who are learning.
You can rent kayaks from the Boat Center on the lake.
6: The Wharf
The Wharf can be a great place if you’re looking to paddle along the Washington Channel. This can let you paddle alongside East Potomac Park and East Potomac Golf Course on one side and the marina and fish market on the other.
If you want to see some spectacular cherry blossoms, spring can be the best time to paddle.
The water in the channel is generally calm and it can be a good spot for beginners and more experienced paddlers looking for a longer trip. You can venture on to the Potomac River or head along to the Navy Yard in the Anacostia River.
Kayaks are available for rent from The Wharf Boathouse.
7: Black Hill Regional Park
Black Hill Regional Park can be found around 30 miles outside of DC. The park is home to Little Seneca Lake, which covers over 500 acres of the over 2,000-acre park.
This can be a great spot for beginners, families, and kayak anglers. You can rent kayaks from the park’s Boathouse and follow the Black Hill Water Trail, where you can view wildlife and explore the various coves and arms of the lake.
There are no gas motors allowed on the lake, so it can be a relaxing place to paddle and great for kids, with plenty of activities in the park once you’ve spent time on the water. There are hiking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas, as well as a dog park and a nature center.
If you have a Maryland fishing license, you can catch largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish in the lake.
8: Potomac Gorge
Potomac Gorge can be the ideal spot for whitewater kayaking. Located around 15 miles northwest of Washington DC, this section of the Potomac River has rapids ranging from Class II up to Class V+, so it can be dangerous, even for skilled whitewater paddlers.
The gorge is within Great Falls Park in Virginia, which consists mostly of forests with lots of opportunities to view wildlife, including birds, mammals, and reptiles. There are also hiking trails around the park to check out after you’ve dried off from paddling. You can even walk around the ghost town of Matildaville.
To access the river with your whitewater kayak, there are several spots, although some are not easy to access. To run the fish ladder section you can put-in near the Observation Platform.
However, if you’d prefer something a little calmer, you can also launch your boat a couple of miles upstream at Riverbend Park, where you can also rent kayaks. The water at Riverbend Park is calm and suitable for beginners – there is no whitewater at this upper section.
9: Washington Sailing Marina
Just across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington Sailing Marina on Daingerfield Island can be a great place to rent kayaks or launch your own boat. The waters around the Washington Sailing Marina can be calm because of the sheltered bay, making it ideal for all skill levels.
You can also paddle into the Four Mile Run or head south to kayak around Daingerfield Island or along the shores of Old Town Alexandria. With Reagan Airport just north of the marina, this can be a great spot to watch planes coming into land over your head.
This can also be a good place to check out the Washington DC skyline.
For other access to the water, there’s a small launch area on the Four Mile Run, with Four Mile Run Park having trails and a parking area.
10: Mason Neck State Park
Less than 25 miles from Washington DC is Mason Neck State Park, with over 1,800 acres of forests and wetlands. The park sits on the shores of Belmont Bay where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac, so there is plenty of paddling miles to cover if you choose.
Mason Neck is also home to Kane’s Creek which can be accessed and explored from the bay.
Mason Neck State Park has excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and is known for its resident bald eagles. The waters around the park are generally sheltered and can be ideal for all skill levels, including beginners. Kayaks can be rented from the park and there’s a handy boat launch if you have your own.
You can also fish in the surrounding waters as long as you have either a Virginia or Maryland fishing license.
11: Patuxent River
The Patuxent River is a scenic river that flows through Maryland and into the Chesapeake Bay. This can be a relaxing trip through nature, with lots of put-ins and take-outs along the river as well as places to camp for extended trips following the Patuxent Water Trail.
A good spot to launch into the river is at the Governor Bridge Natural Area Canoe Launch, around half an hour’s drive east of Washington DC. There are several launch sites along the banks, with some north and south of the Governor Bridge launch.
The river, which is considered one of Maryland’s most beautiful sites, can be a great place to view native wildlife, including rare native bird species. The river flows through lots of natural areas and wildlife sanctuaries, so it can be a peaceful place to paddle. The water tends to be mostly flat, making it ideal for beginners and experts.
A little farther south, Patuxent River Park can also be a great spot to launch, with lots of facilities and campsites. You can also rent kayaks and canoes within the park and make use of the boat ramps.
What Are The Kayak Laws?
- PFDs – Each person on your kayak must have a US Coast Guard-approved PFD in a suitable size and condition. All boaters in waters between the southernmost point of Fletcher’s Cove in the Georgetown Channel of the Potomac, upstream to the DC boundary line at Little Falls must wear a PFD at all times.
- Children under 13 must wear a PFD at all times while on board a kayak.
- Registration is required for all vessels operating in District of Columbia waters. This includes kayaks and canoes. If paddling in Maryland or Virginia you do not need to register your kayak or canoe unless it has a motor.
- Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is illegal in DC and you will be considered intoxicated if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher.
- A white light is required for kayaking at night. This can be an all-around white light or flashlight that can be displayed quickly enough to avoid a collision.
Kayak Rentals And Tours Around D.C.
There are lots of great spots to launch your boat around DC. But if you don’t have one of your own, there are several places where you can rent a kayak close to some of our favorite locations.
- Bladensburg Waterfront Park – Anacostia River (rentals)
- Ballpark Boathouse – Anacostia River (rentals)
- Key Bridge Boathouse – Georgetown (rentals)
- Thompson Boat Center – Rock Creek (rentals and tours)
- National Harbor Boathouse – National Harbor (rentals)
- Clopper Lake Boat Center – Seneca Creek State Park (rentals)
- The Wharf Boathouse – The Wharf (rentals)
- Black Hill Boathouse – Black Hill Regional Park (rentals)
- Riverbend Park Boating – Potomac Gorge/Potomac River (rentals and tours)
- Washington Sailing Marina – Washington Sailing Marina (rentals)
- Patuxent River Park Rentals – Patuxent River (rentals)
- Patuxent Riverkeeper – Patuxent River (rentals)
- Patuxent Adventure Center – Patuxent River (rentals)
Discovering Washington DC by kayak can let you see the city from a different perspective, away from the hustle and bustle of city streets. There are some fantastic views to be had from various spots on the Potomac River, whether you want nature or historic architecture.
And don’t forget about all the great paddling spots just a short drive from the city.
Remember your PFD when you head out and make sure you check the local regulations before you start paddling.