Kayaking in and Around Washington D.C: The 10 Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

By James @ Sea Kayak Explorer

When you think of Washington, DC, you might think of The White House, The Capitol, crowded streets, and busy subways. However, there’s a whole different side of the capital city waiting to be explored.

If you crave a change of pace and different perspectives, see the city from a kayak. Paddling in DC offers a welcome change of tempo. You can see the Washington Monument from a new viewpoint or kayak to the National Arboretum. You can even immerse yourself in nature and get away from it all.

It might be far too cold to kayak in winter, but spring, summer, and fall each have their advantages. In spring, watch the famed cherry blossom trees grace the waterfront. In summer, beat the heat with a cool day on the water, or head to the nearby mountains for a true escape. In fall, admire the changing foliage as it reflects in the mighty Potomac.

Most DC hotspots are easy to reach with public transportation, and kayak rental companies abound to help you get out on the water and make the most of your trip.

1. The Wharf, DC

A kayaking adventure from The Wharf is the perfect DC experience. A paddle by East Potomac Park offers a quiet escape from the city.

In springtime, get a unique perspective on the stunning cherry blossom bloom. You’ll even see twice as much as your walking friends as the trees are reflected in the water. Get another view of the city by kayaking past the highrises and bustling restaurants at The Wharf.

You can even take a selfie with the Washington Monument. Selfies with the city are incredibly gorgeous right at sunset as the lights of the city come on. Just be sure you have appropriate lighting onboard since the area is busy with boat traffic. Intrepid paddlers can launch at The Wharf and paddle to the Anacostia River and the popular Navy Yard area.

The Wharf is located in DC’s Southwest Waterfront. We recommend taking public transportation to this busy area.

If you’re looking for somewhere to rent a kayak from, The Wharf Boathouse offers rentals so get in touch with them for prices.

2. Anacostia River, DC

Enjoy kayaking past the historic Washington Navy Yard on the Anacostia River. As you paddle on the Anacostia, appreciate the fun and vibrant neighborhoods. You might overhear fans cheering for the Washington Nationals at Nationals Stadium or a lively concert at Yards Park. You can also see Fort McNair and the US Capitol from the water.

For an immersive nature experience, paddle up the Anacostia River and watch birds on Kingman Island. Go upriver to admire the National Arboretum from the water, or tie off to their kayak dock and explore the 446-acre park on foot.

To experience this trip for yourself, depart from Ballpark Boathouse (where you can also rent kayaks from), or another good put-in is at Anacostia Park boat ramp.

3. Georgetown, DC

Launch at Key Bridge Boathouse and enjoy paddling under Key Bridge’s arches. Key Bridge is DC’s oldest standing bridge and an architectural delight. You can head upriver and enjoy nature and peaceful shorelines or head downriver for the cityscape from the launch. Enjoy historic Georgetown and its row houses.

Paddle past the Kennedy Center, Georgetown University, and Roslyn. Make this fun trip a loop by circumnavigating Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Key Bridge Boathouse is in the heart of Washington, DC, at 3500 Water St NW. It’s a good idea to take public transportation to this busy area with limited parking.

For rentals, if you don’t own your own yak, head over to Key Bridge Boathouse where you’ll be able to get one.

4. National Harbor, MD

National Harbor is a waterfront icon in the region. Paddle the mighty Potomac River and take in the giant Ferris Wheel that dominates National Harbor. Stop after your paddle to enjoy various eateries, grab a refreshing beverage, or check out the view from the top of the Capitol Wheel.

National Harbor is located on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. It’s about 11.5 miles or 45 minutes south of Washington DC via I-295, and it is also accessible by public transportation.

And to rent a kayak or SUP check out National Harbor Boathouse who will sort you out.

5. Alexandria, VA

Explore the Virginia side of the Potomac River by kayaking past the historic and gorgeous Alexandria waterfront. Paddle up to East Potomac Park and enjoy this green space in the heart of the city. You’ll be close enough to Regan National Airport to hear the roar of planes landing and watch as international flights take off.

Paddlers can enjoy a unique view of the capital city’s skyline from across the river. After your paddle, enjoy a refreshing beverage at one of the establishments the Founding Fathers visited.

Launch at Washington Sailing Marina, located at 1 Marina Drive, Alexandria. It’s just south of Ronald Regan Airport. Public transportation is available.

If you’re looking to rent a kayak then we’d recommend making a visit to the Washington Sailing Marina who offer classes and rentals.

6. Rock Creek Park, DC

Rock Creek Park, DC by Kathleen Cole (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rock Creek Park is a green space oasis in the heart of DC. Rock Creek Park was founded in 1890 and offers a lifeline for city dwellers looking to immerse themselves in nature. Kayaking is the perfect way to explore Rock Creek Park. The area closest to the Potomac is wide, peaceful, and perfect for all skill levels.

Kayaking in Rock Creek itself is challenging with fierce rapids and only recommended for experts under the right water conditions.

To get there, head to Thompson Boat Center, 2900 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037 where you’ll also be able to rent a kayak if you don’t own one.

7. Mallows Bay, DC

Mallows Bay is one of the most extraordinary and unexpected places to kayak in the DC area. Mallows Bay is on the Maryland side of the Potomac and is literally filled with history.

Here, intrepid paddlers will be surrounded by hundreds of wrecked and abandoned ships. Some of the earliest wrecks date to the 1770s. Many wrecks sprout vegetation, and ospreys and bald eagles love to nest on the highest points of the wrecks.

You’ll need to take a guided tour to explore this one-of-a-kind location. Your guide will expertly navigate the bay with you and share historical information about the various shipwrecks.

Mallows Bay is about 30 miles south of Washington near the town of Nanjemoy, MD. There is a public boat ramp at the end of Wilson Landing Road should you wish to explore in your own boat.

For kayak rentals and guided tours around the bay head over to Atlantic Kayak‘s website for more information and prices.

8. Patuxent River Park, MD

The Patuxent River is one of Maryland’s scenic rivers. This gorgeous river is an important watershed, and its waters are protected. Enjoy bird watching and a quiet respite from the busy city. The Patuxent Water Trail winds its way through seven Maryland counties and explores historical areas and natural parks.

Patuxent River Park is about an hour east of DC Visit the park at 16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772 and you’ll be able to rent boats and kayaks form there too.

9. Little Seneca Lake, MD

Little Seneca Lake is the perfect place to experience peace and tranquility. Paddle this 505-acre lake and be on the lookout for wildlife and birdlife. Enjoy the beach launch point at the park for your own kayak, or rent one at the boathouse.

Little Seneca Lake is located in Black Hill Regional Park, about 50 minutes north of DC. The address is: 20930 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds, MD 20841

If you don’t have your own kayak, pay a visit to Black Hill Boat Rentals to get one for your trip here.

10. Shenandoah River, WV

If it’s getting too hot and sticky in the city, head to the Shenandoah River. Set amongst the Appalachian Mountains, this high elevation area offers cooler temperatures and a great escape from the summer heat. You will be delighted by scenic mountain views, wildlife settings, and pretty flora. Be transported to a completely different and refreshing vista.

If you rent from the local outfitters (we’d recommend Front Royal Outdoors), you can enjoy floating downstream and not have to backtrack. Just cruise down the river, and the company will pick you up at the end!

Shenandoah River is a little less than an hour and a half away from Washington via Interstate 66.

Summing up the Best Places to Kaya Near Washington, DC

If you’re ready to see the city like the original explorers did, head to the waterfront and get paddling. There’s no better way to experience a getaway in the heart of the city, and you’re guaranteed to see the town in a whole new light.

See you on the water!