Potomac River Water Trail
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Brief Description: The tidal stretch of the Potomac River passes through a landscape rich with history before flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Historic Alexandria, Mt. Vernon, George Washington's Birthplace, the site where Maryland was founded and the colony's first capital, Robert E. Lee's family home, Point Lookout – these are some of the many sites along the Potomac River Water Trail.

The Potomac River Water Trail helps you explore this almost 100 mile route the original way – by water. Along the way, experience the Potomac's natural areas and wildlife, and parts of the region that seem little changed from earlier times.

Please note that boating, canoeing, kayaking and other activities on rivers can be dangerous. Obtain a water trail map and guide in advance, plan your trip, and follow all safety precautions.

Location / Directions:

The Potomac River Water Trail is accessible from multiple points between Washington DC and the confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. After consulting the water trail map and guide and planning your trip, look for directions to the particular launch sites you will be using.

Mailing Address: Potomac River Water Trail

John Davy
Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation
203 Governor Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-5046

Lisa Gutierrez
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 260-8780

Experience the Potomac River Water Trail by boat, canoe or kayak. The Potomac is suitable for sailing and motoring all the way to Washington DC. The river is quite wide in its lower half - up to 12 miles near the Chesapeake Bay; adverse weather conditions can make it particularly dangerous for canoeists or kayakers.

When on the river, you can fish, look for wildlife, visit riverside communities and historic sites, or just enjoy the surrounding landscape. The Potomac River Water Trail Map & Guide provides information on many sites along the river, including a number of other Chesapeake Bay Gateways: Mason Neck State Park, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Leesylvania State Park, Piscataway Park, Smallwood State Park, Westmoreland State Park, St. Clement's Island - Potomac River Museum, Piney Point Lighthouse, Point Lookout State Park, Historic St. Mary's City, Potomac Gateway Welcome Center, George Washingon Birthplace National Monument, and Reedville Fishermen's Museum). Visit these sites to learn more about the Potomac and the Bay.

Be sure to consult a water trail guide, detailed maps and local conditions prior to any river trip! Follow all safety precautions.

Birding and Wildlife Viewing Boat Access Fishing Canoeing / Kayaking

Operating Hours: Hours and seasons for public launch sites vary. Consult the map and guide for details.
Fees: Many sites along the Potomac have user fees. Check with the site manager in advance.
Visitor Facilities: There are many existing public or commercial launch sites along the water trail route. Launch sites provide parking and access to the river. Communities and sites along the route provide a variety of visitor services. Consult the water trail map and guide for details.
Length: 100 miles / 161 kilometers
Accessibility: State and federal parks have ADA accessible facilities. Other sites will vary.

The following product(s) are available to enhance your experience at this Gateway. Click on the title below for a more detailed description.

Potomac River Water Trail MapPotomac River Water Trail Map - Set of six fold-out strip maps covering river from DC to the Bay. Includes pocket folder.
Price: $5.00 
Trail Map & Guide:

A new boxed set of six maps covers 100 miles of river from the Nation’s Capital to the Chesapeake Bay. This water trail map and guide is available for $5.00 at many Gateway sites along the Potomac (see the "activities" section below for links to these Gateway locations.)

Map order forms for the Potomac River Water Trail can be obtained from Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Or maps can be ordered by calling:

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Reservation Center

Maryland Greenway Commission

Handling and postage will be charged for maps ordered by phone.

Safety Info: Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, the National Park Service and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. [View a list of water safety tips]
River Classification: The Tidal Potomac from Key Bridge to the Bay is rated as a Class I river. (Upstream there are much more challenging runs in IV or V Classes though these sections are not part of the water trail). Although the Potomac is generally rated as an easy river to paddle, boaters need to be aware that as the river widens, it may become dangerous for small boats and kayaks during periods of high winds or strong currents. Large waves may develop which could overturn small boats. Paddlers should keep appraised of threatening weather, especially summer thunderstorms. Read more about the different levels of River Classifications.

Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network - Comments or Questions: Call: 1-800-YOUR-BAY