Washington DC paddling ?

Last time I was in DC for a couple days, I saw several kayakers cruising down the Potomac river, right past the Capital (“Mall”) area!

It looked like an interesting paddle, with unique viewpoint of the capital.

Does anyone know the detail of paddling the Potomac near the downtown area, such as where to launch? Parking? Any current in the river, etc?


– Last Updated: Aug-13-14 10:16 AM EST –

Assuming you have your own boat. On the VA aide of the river, launch from Columbia Island Marina. Free parking (plenty of it). No fee to use the ramp for kayaks (fee for motorboats). Paddle across to get a closer look at the DC side or up towards Georgetown, or down towards the National Airport (near where there is also a park with free parking and free boat ramps to launch or land), or paddle around towards Anacostia...

You can, with some gymnastics, launch from the parking at Roosevelt Island (free). The carry is short but there are a a few feet of steep banks to negotiate.

You can also launch from Gravely Point.

Upriver, on the MD side is Fletcher's Cove area. Park and launch for free. About 30-40 minute paddle to Georgetown. They also rent kayaks, canoes, and row boats. From there you can usually also paddle on the C&O Canal for calm water even if the river is swollen.

Unless the river is over 5 feet on the Little Falls gauge, current is negligible - flat water. Even at higher levels, like 8 feet, near Georegtown and below the current is not bad and you can easily paddle upriver near shore (may be just enough to stop a rec kayak in the middle).

Several places rent kayaks, canoes, SUP: just under Key Bridge is one (parking is tight on weekends and not free).

You can post on CPAkayaker.com or on some of the local meetups to find others who maybe going out, if you need company.

Best loop?
Thanks very much for the information.

So if current isn’t much of a concern, what would you recommend as an interesting loop for seeing the capital from the water?

Any other hazard one need to watch out for? Ferry or big ships? I don’t seem to recall much motor boat traffic when I was cycling along the river. But don’t want to get blindsided by some fast moving water taxi or what not!

Jack’s Boathouse. We probably paid to launch. Fun! Lots of interesting boats and boaters on the Potomac on the weekend.

Jack’s is now Key Bridge
Jack’s lease canceled, given to another vendor.

Here are 2 sites from internet. Second site describes new company’s offerings. Not sure I would want to step into the Anacostia to paddle from ball park area.



Michael Northern Virginia

On week days there is very little boat traffic. On weekends - plenty, mainly around and below Key bridge. And speed for motorboats is limited around Georgetown down to the next bridge.

The river is tidal, so if you want to make a loop via the Boundary Channel, up from Columbia Island, make sure the tide is high or you’ll run aground on the channel.

And, if it has rained hard in the previous day or two, there met be a bit of raw sewage mixed in for a good measure :wink:

Check with Atlantic Cane and Kayak or contact REI in Alexandria, Va. REI had a fantastic intro kayak course and they may be able to assist you. Atlantic kayak used to rent and guide you if wanted. One good place to put-in is along the George Washington Parkway at the boat ramp at the north end of the Washington National airport runway (Virginia side). Remember, keep your stuff out of sight when parked and don’t leave anything in the car you are not willing to have stolen, including the car. Out of state vehicle plates are especially prime targets… meaning anything but DC, VA or MD. The Potomac River is very shallow in some areas. Go see Great Falls, but don’t Sea Kayak the Falls…

Potomac Paddlesports
does the very trip you’re talking about for around $65. No need to bring a boat or anything.

MD paddling

– Last Updated: Aug-26-14 4:07 PM EST –

I grew up paddling around DC. Our favorite trip was to rent boats on the VA side above Great Falls and paddle up the C&O canal to Violet's Lock. Then we would paddle the Potomac R back to the canoe livery.

We used to rent canoes near Key Bridge and listen to the US Marine Band. It is easy paddling except for the power boats. Work on crossing wakes and learning to brace.

Columbia Island Marina

– Last Updated: Aug-18-14 7:42 AM EST –

I've done two launches out of CIM recently. At around high tide you can go up Boundary Channel and enter the Potomac just south of Roosevelt Island or head right out into the Potomac from the Marina. Lots of traffic on the weekends and can get choppy from all the wakes. I've gone as far up stream as Chain Bridge where the current gets to be a problem. Little or no current until you get to Chain Bridge. Lots of bridges to get out of the sun for a break. Fletcher's looks like a good place to rent a boat from. C&O Canal access too.


I've posted videos of both trips on my youtube channel if you want a preview of the paddling there. The earlier video was cut short due to the camera being full. Forgot to erase the previous trip's videos.



Also have videos of paddling places (parks) within 30-45 minutes of DC. The northern VA parks have the cheapest rental rates from what I've found so far


Thanks all for the info
I’ll look a little closer on the map of what’s being talked about.

Given there’s no real hazard to speak of, I’ll bring my boat the next time my travel takes me that way.

Fletchers cove
If you are renting from Fletchers or putting in your own boat a little further in the parking lot, not from Fletchers own dock, be aware of the tricky and potentially unsafe entry ramp. On weekends, entry from the Canal Rd ramp has no time restrictions, but on weekdays, the Canal Rd traffic is one-way during rush hours, unfortunately the opposite of what a driver needs to get into Fletchers. If you are interested in going to Fletchers, and look at a DC roadmap, you will find Reservoir Rd. which is where you will need to turn around and then stop at stop sign at Canal Rd. to make a safe entry to Fletchers unless you are headed north from Georgetown during non-rush hours. Just don’t get caught wanting to leave Fletchers during rush hours. You can’t.

Confusing? You bet.


DC area
Unless we’ve had a lot of rain the current isn’t bad. You can rent here:


(Jack’s is now KeyBridge)

For something different, you can also go outside the beltway and paddle the C&O canal. Or put in a Violet’s Lock on the Maryladn side, work the Potomac downstream around the rocks and islands for a mile or two (do this in plastic boats, not nice hand-laid fiberglass), then paddle back on the C&O.