Paddling the Chesapeake: Potomac River

Capitol and Jefferson Memorial from Kayak

The early spring is the best time to see the cherry blossoms, and this year I had a great way to avoid the crowds. Since this was on the first weekend in April, we decided to put in our kayaks at Gravelly Point Park located at GPS coordinates of (N 38° 51.826' W 077° 2.473'). Click here for a map to the park that will open in new window. This was a crowded park and there were many cars parked on the grass or anywhere else they would fit. I imagine that parking availability becomes a major problem once the weather and water warms up a bit. The only access to Gravelly Point Park is from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Parkway. If you are arriving from the north, turning around at the airport is only a minor detour.

Back of Lincoln Memorial

Once Katie and I got on the water, we paddled out to the Potomac. This inlet actually passes through the airport property, so planes pass overhead really low. We crossed the Potomac after traveling upriver (to the left) a short distance. We did not want to be between the bridges when crossing, and the amount of boat traffic was limited at this moment. Once on the Washington DC shore, we paddled upriver toward the tidal basin. When we reached the inlet to the tidal basin, the water access to the tidal basin was fenced off. There were a few boats on the shore showing where other paddlers had left them for a break. It did not look too hard to get out since there were a few openings in the rock-lined shores of the Potomac.

Unfortunately, we did not make it into the tidal basin. There is a second bridge leading to the tidal basin that can be reached by following the coast downriver and wrapping around the peninsula, but we did not give that a try. I suspect that it will be blocked as well. From the kayak, we could see the Jefferson Memorial, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. Many of the cherry blossoms were visible, but the view was not like actually walking the trails.

Padling Toward

A little further upriver, Katie and I reached the Kennedy Center and Georgetown. Many boats were docked along the boardwalk, so we had to be cautious of the boat traffic. The boats we saw moved slowly in this area, and the no wake zone near the dock provided an additional slow zone. Passing the boardwalk, we spotted Jack's Boathouse just beyond the Key Bridge. We saw several of Jack's boats out on the water, but we did not stop. After passing Jack's, the current was more noticeable. We went up a short way around some of the rocks. The boat traffic will likely be limited here year round since the depth of the water is limited and many rocks are only a foot or two below the water.

This is the point where we made our turn around and headed back to the launch site. There are markers that mark a lane on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. When we paddled over to it, we saw that the crew teams likely use it when they are practicing. Just beyond the Key Bridge, Katie and I landed on Theodore Roosevelt Island. There is a sand beach here and the approach is shallow making landing and launching easy. After lunch, we continued paddling around the Virginia side of the Theodore Roosevelt Island. After passing under the bridge to Arlington National Cemetery, we realized that we were making excellent time back to the launch site. Not only were we paddling a more direct line back, but we also had some help from the current and wind. Just before we reached the group of three bridges, we crossed an inlet to a marina. We chose a distance that was not too close to shore so that we could see boats entering and leaving.

Padling Under Key Bridge

Crossing under the bridges, we reached the inlet with our launch site. Katie and I had a great day on the water paddling a total of 9.7 miles. There were several boats using the ramps, so we quickly pulled our kayaks out of the water and put them on the grass nearby. Padling Past the Kennedy