Where to Go Paddleboarding, Canoeing, or Kayaking Near DC

Paddle along on peaceful Mattawoman Creek via Atlantic Kayak Company.
Paddle along on peaceful Mattawoman Creek via Atlantic Kayak Company.

During the hot days of a DC summer, chances are you are looking for a way to cool off—ideally in the water. Pools and splash pads are great, but if you want to try something a little different, why not take the kids kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding? These activities are very beginner-friendly, and there are plenty of places to go paddleboarding, canoeing, or kayaking near DC.  

We've compiled a list of nine great places to go canoeing, paddleboarding, or kayaking near DC, whether for an hour or a whole day. Most places offer paddleboard, kayak, or canoe rentals as well as personal flotation devices (PFDs), so all you have to do is bring a sense of adventure and fun, and be ready to try a new way to stay cool this summer! 

Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding Venues in Northern Virginia

1. Belle Haven Marina — Alexandria

You can bring your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to Belle Haven Marina and use its launch ramp for a nominal charge, or you can purchase a yearly pass. If you don't have your own equipment, it's best to call ahead to make a reservation, although walk-ups are permitted. While you can rent a paddleboard by the hour, make sure to set aside at least two hours if you choose to kayak or canoe. The boating/paddleboarding area extends from the Wilson Bridge to Fort Washington (about 12 miles), which allows boaters and paddlers to spread out while viewing the wildlife in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. 

2. Mason Neck State Park — Lorton

Located a mere 20 miles from downtown DC, Mason Neck is still far enough away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life.  After paying your $10 fee to enter the state park, you will find Mason Neck has inexpensive prices to rent boating equipment. Mason Neck is one of only a few places that we found will rent equipment for up to four hours. As you are paddling along, keep an eye out for a bald eagle flying overhead or a beaver swimming alongside you. Mason Neck State Park is home to more than 200 types of birds and waterfowl, white-tailed deer, foxes, and other mammals. Reservations are required for equipment rentals.

3. Penguin Paddling  Occoquan

Located in the historic town of Occoquan, this is one of the few places we found that offers all-day rentals of kayaks and paddleboards and does not accept reservations. The calm waters of the Occoquan River are the perfect place for beginners to learn. There is also a public kayak launch that's free to use if you have your own equipment.

RELATED: Great Lakes and Swimming Holes for DC Families

Bring your own kayak or rent at Lake Needwood Boats in Rockville.

Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding Venues in Maryland

4. Atlantic Kayak Company — Indian Head

Located about 32 miles from DC, this company offers only what its name states: kayaks. As you paddle along on the Mattawoman Creek, you can take in the beautiful surroundings, check for colorful songbirds, and keep an eye out for some 20 species of waterfowl that use the marshes as their feeding and nesting grounds before heading south for the colder months. Atlantic Kayak Company also offers guided tours to the Mallows Bay Ship Graveyard, where you can paddle by historic shipwrecks dating as far back as the Revolutionary War. Reservations are required.

5. Little Seneca Lake/Black Hill Boat Rentals — Boyds

If you are a beginner to kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding, this place about 28 miles from DC might be the perfect place to learn. The lake is a reservoir that covers about one-third of the acreage of Black Hill Regional Park, which means you'll have plenty of room to learn and have fun. Black Hill Boat Rentals offers full-day rentals, but make sure you're back by 6pm so you don't incur a late fee.

6. Lake Needwood/Lake Needwood Boats — Rockville

This facility, open Memorial Day through Labor Day, is part of Rock Creek Regional Park. You can bring your own kayak or canoe to launch (after purchasing a daily permit), or rent from Lake Needwood Boats for an hour or all day. There is plenty of wildlife to look for from the 75-acre Lake Needwood: 150 species of birds, at least 15 mammal species, and several species of reptiles and amphibians. 

Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding Venues in DC

7. Ballpark Boathouse

What do baseball and kayaking have in common? Nothing much, to be honest. But if you visit the Ballpark Boathouse in southeast DC, you'll be paddling directly by Nationals Park, where you might hear the game as you travel along. You can even pretend the cheer of the crowd is for your paddling skills! Ballpark Boathouse is open Fridays and weekends during the summer. Reservations are required; send an email beforehand to dcboatinginfo@guestservices.com.

8. Key Bridge Boathouse 

Many people have seen DC's monuments by foot, but boating offers a slower pace from which to take in the sights.  Key Bridge Boathouse is one of many opportunities in DC to paddle the "Nation's River," the Potomac. You'll float past the Georgetown waterfront, Roosevelt Island, and under the Key Bridge, where the only traffic you will encounter might be another boater or a family of ducks. The boathouse offers kayaks, paddleboard, and canoe rentals for one-, two-, or four-hour intervals. Reservations are required; send an email beforehand to dcboatinginfo@guestservices.com.

9. Thompson Boat Center

If you are an early riser and like to ease into your summer days, head over to the Thompson Boat Center. It opens at 7am, so you can get out on the water before everyone else and before it gets too hot. If getting up early is not in your plans, that works too: The boat center is open until 6pm, with the last boat due in by 7. Reservations are required; send an email beforehand to dcboatinginfo@guestservices.com.

Photos courtesy of the boathouses

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