Kayaking in Washington, D.C.

Paddling Along the Potomac River, the C & O Canal and More

Potomac River with Key Bridge above and Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Kayaking is a popular activity in the Washington, D.C. capital region. Local sports outfitters and paddling organizations lead day trips and overnight excursions to a variety of beautiful destinations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Within the city boundaries, the Potomac River, the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C & O Canal) offer a wide range of scenery and paddling conditions. Within an hour or two drive from the nation's capital, you will find numerous lakes, rivers, and streams that offer flatwater and whitewater kayaking opportunities. Following is a guide to resources to help you plan your next adventure. 

Kayak Rentals, Sales, Lessons, and Guided Tours

  • Potomac Paddlesports - The kayak school offers lessons, trips, and skill clinics along the 10 mile stretch of the Potomac River and C&O Canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Access points are at the Angler's lot and Great Falls Park on Macarthur Blvd and Pennyfield Lock and Riley's Lock off of River Rd. They also offer sea kayaking lessons at Truxtun Park in Annapolis, MD. The Potomac Paddlesports retail store is located at 11917 Maple Avenue in Rockville, MD.
  • Active Nature - Active Nature offers kayak and stand up paddleboarding instruction on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Jason Beakes, a former member of the US Kayak Team with over 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and paddle sports instructor, has brought together an all-star team to provide innovative classes at beginner and intermediate levels. Online registration is available.
  • Key Bridge Boathouse - Previously known as Jack's Boathouse, the facility is an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service and rents kayaks and rowboats right in Georgetown where you can paddle along the Potomac River. Basic instruction is available. The boathouse is located under the Key Bridge at 3500 K. St, NW Washington, D.C.
  • Thompson Boat Center - Located in Georgetown at the intersection of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue, this boat center offers canoe and kayak rentals as well as bicycle rentals and rowing lessons. Thompson Boat Center serves as a hub for regattas and racing for Georgetown University and George Washington University crew teams, as well as many local high schools.
  • Fletcher’s Boathouse - This is a bike and boat rental facility located on the Potomac River and the C & O Canal National Historical Park, between Chain and Key Bridges just minutes from downtown Washington, DC. The area is ideal for bicycling, boating, fishing, and picnicking. The concessionaire rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats and bicycles.
  • Belle Haven Marina - The marina is located just south of Old Town Alexandria and rents single and double kayaks as well as standup kayaks. Paddle along the surrounding Dyke Marsh, a freshwater tidal wetland that is located on the west bank of the Potomac River.
  • Atlantic Kayak - Atlantic Kayak offers kayak rentals and guided tours of Piscataway Creek, Mallows Bay, and Mattawoman Creek in Maryland.  Short tours, all day tours, and overnight trips are offered to a variety of kayaking destinations around the region. 
  • Calleva Outdoors - The kayak school offers customized private and group lessons for every skill level and for all ages. The company offers day and weekend trips around the DC area and week-long adventures beyond the Potomac. Summer programs are available for ages 12 and up.
  • Potomac Kayaking Company - The Maryland-based company offers beginner sea and whitewater kayaking classes taught by American Canoe Association-certified instructors. Classes and day trips are available all over the Washington, D.C. area, including the C & O Canal, Potomac and Patuxent Rivers, Seneca Creek State Park, and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • River and Trail Outfitters - This sports outfitter rents and sells kayaks and offers guided trips and clinics along the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers as well as Antietam Creek. Whitewater trips are available near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. River and Trail Outfitter also runs rafting, tubing, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing tours and operates a retail sports store in Knoxville, Maryland.
  • Potomac River Outfitters - The local kayak school offers small group and custom kayak lessons in the Washington, DC metropolitan area that focus on fun, safety, and knowledge. Private lessons are also available in canoe, sea kayak, and whitewater kayak. Lessons and trips are available year-round.
  • Terrapin Adventures - The adventure company offers guided kayak tours on one of the gentlest rivers in the Baltimore-Washington area, the Patuxent River, making it a great destination for beginners and kids ages 10 and up (One adult must accompany every 2 minors). A variety of excursions are available including Nature Kayak, Picnic and Kayak, and Kayak Fishing Tours. Some tours are planned monthly and anyone with four or more people can request their own date.

Kayak Clubs and Associations

  • The Blue Ridge Voyageurs - A group for experienced whitewater paddlers offers trips around the Washington, DC region at various skill levels. Most trips are geared to intermediate to advanced levels. The organization does not offer rentals or lessons.
  • Chesapeake Paddlers Association - CPA offers kayaking classes, trips, and special events within the Chesapeake Bay region. During the winter months, the group practices and learns new skills at Fairland Aquatics Center in Laurel, Maryland.

Rachel Cooper is the author the book Quiet Water: Mid Atlantic, AMC's Canoe and Kayak Guide to the Best Ponds, Lakes and Easy Rivers.  The book profiles 60 paddling destinations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia and includes detailed descriptions with paddling routes, local flora and fauna, driving, parking, and put-in instructions and other advice.