Spend the Day on the Potomac River

The Potomac River and its stunning shoreline trails provide countless opportunities for boating and scenic hiking. Get out there before the warm weather ends.

Paddleboarding and Kakaying in the Potomac River

If you’re in the District of Columbia, spend an afternoon paddling. For a thorough list of kayak and paddle boating tours visit Paddle The Potomac. Some outfitters that rent kayaks include the Ballpark Boathouse, Fletchers Cove Boathouse, Capital SUP and Key Bridge Boathouse. These outfitters provide boat rentals, instruction and guided tours on paddle boards, kayaks and canoes.

In Virginia, you can rent paddles and boats at Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria; Columbia Island Marina and Washington Sailing Marina in Arlington; Pohick Bay Rental near Fort Belvoir; and Potomac Boat Rentals in Woodbridge.

If you’re on the Maryland side of the Potomac, boat and board rentals are available at National Harbor, Potomac Paddlesports in Potomac; and Valley Mill Kayaks in Germantown. To find out where to paddle in the MidAtlantic, buy Rachel Cooper’s new book Quiet Water MidAtlantic. She and I wrote the book 60 Hikes 60 Miles of Washington DC. 

Great Falls Riverbend PHT
Hiking on the Riverbend Trail near Great Falls in Virginia

Hiking and Climbing along the Potomac Heritage Trail

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT) runs down both sides of the Potomac River. The Virginia side offers various prospects for water-side hiking along the Potomac, like Riverbend Park, Scott’s Run, Great Falls and Turkey Run Park; all are protected from development by the National Park Service. Other PHT access points include Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling and Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria.

On the Maryland side of the Potomac near Washington DC, take a hike on the C&O Canal where you can enjoy 184 miles of flat towpath hiking. There are lots of trails that cut off from the Towpath, like the famous Billy Goat Trails, Carderock and further north, McKee Beshers park. The trail passes by many significant historical destinations like Antietam Creek, an important battle during the Civil War, and the Monocacy Aqueduct, which brought water into the city in the 1800’s.

Potomac River Boat Tours

Spend a summer day boating on the Potomac by chartering a private vessel or taking a river cruise. DC Duck Tours operate amphibious vehicles that can travel on land and sea. Numerous river tours embark from the Southwest Waterfront, Georgetown Harbour, Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor in Maryland.

Choose from daytime, evening or happy hour sightseeing cruises like Spirit Cruises or the upscale Odyssey, a fine dining cruise. Step back in time on The Cherry Blossom, a member of the Potomac Riverboat Company fleet. This sternwheeler departs from the dock in Old Town Alexandria.

DC Sail, part of the National Maritime Heritage Foundation, offers sailing lessons at the Waterfront Area of Southwest DC. In Poolesville, Maryland, take kayaking lessons from Calleva’s Liquid Adventures experts who teach piloting Potomac’s gentle rapids. Water Taxi’s make the rounds between Georgetown, Nationals Ballpark and National Harbor.

Further north, head to Harpers Ferry or Shepherdstown, West Virginia where outfitters facilitate Potomac River tube rides near the confluence of the Shenandoah River.

East Potomac Park fishermen
Fishing at East Potomac Park with beautiful views of Virginia and the Wharf

Fishing in the Potomac

For family friendly fun, go fishing in East Potomac Park or take the Paddle Boats out at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. Be careful and do not get into the rushing waters of the Potomac. L1080207

Potomac River Health and Safety

Many people have misjudged the strong currents and have drowned in this river. Please do not swim here. There are lots of places that are still polluted and unsafe. The Potomac River snakes through the Mid-Atlantic region from Green Spring, West Virginia past Mount Vernon, flowing into the Chesapeake Bay in Reedville, Virginia. To learn more about the health of the Potomac visit the Potomac River Conservancy’s website. 

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

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