While DC is best known for its museums, monuments, and memorials, it’s also a city full of waterways and green spaces to explore. One of the best ways to explore the city is from the river, and kayaking in DC is the perfect way to do it. Luckily, there are tons of places to go paddling around the city that give you a unique perspective of the Capital City’s famed buildings and monuments.

In this guide, we’ll share the best places to go kayaking in and around Washington, DC, as well as some of our top recommended kayak rental companies in DC. We’ve also included a few of our favorite kayaking tours in DC, in case you’d like to opt for a guided experience.

Best Places to Go Kayaking in DC

If you’re looking for a short, convenient kayaking adventure, there are tons of options for places to go kayaking in DC’s city limits. Read on for some of the best places to paddle in the capital city!

Georgetown is one of DC’s most popular kayaking spots for a reason: tree-lined riverbanks and historic views.

1. Georgetown

There’s no better place to go kayaking in DC than in one of its most historic and iconic neighborhoods: Georgetown. Filled with charming row houses, old industrial buildings, and tree-lined streets, Georgetown is a wonderful area to spend a day.

However, the best part of Georgetown is its bustling waterfront, which offers several opportunities to get out on the water. While there are boat tours and dinner cruises aplenty, we strongly recommend exploring the Potomac by kayak. If you choose to go kayaking in Georgetown, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Georgetown University, the Kennedy Center, and nearby Roslyn (in Virginia).

Where to Rent a Kayak in Georgetown: Georgetown’s kayak rental location is at the Key Bridge Boathouse, on the waterfront under the bridge. Their rates start at $18/hour for a single kayak and $25/hour for a double kayak.

  • Address: 3500 Water Str. NW, Washington, DC 20007

Click here to see our complete list of kayaking gear essentials to bring with you 

2. Potomac to Rock Creek

For a bit of a quieter, greener location to go kayaking in DC, paddling up Rock Creek Park from the Potomac is a fantastic choice. Situated in the West End neighborhood, this is one of the largest parks in the city, spanning over 1,700 acres of green forests and walkways to escape the city streets for a while.

While there are plenty of running and biking trails all over the park, you can also paddle through the waters of Rock Creek nearest to the Potomac. However, be sure to stay where the creek is wide and easy to maneuver, and don’t venture into the creek itself – the waters there are extremely technical and should only be tackled by experts.

Where to Rent a Kayak near Rock Creek Park: The nearest kayak rental to Rock Creek is Thompson Boat Center. It’s located on the far end of the Georgetown Waterfront where the Potomac meets Rock Creek. Their rates start at $18/hour for a single kayak and $25/hour for a double kayak.

  • Address: 2900 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037
The kayaks are located in a prime location on the Wharf – right on the main pier!

3. The Wharf

Home to a marina and DC’s historic Fish Market, The Wharf is now a bustling waterfront area full of upscale restaurants, high-end apartments, and a popular concert venue, The Anthem.

The Wharf also a prime location for kayaking, as it’s located near Navy Yard and the eastern side of DC. Here, you can paddle through the marina area along the banks of East Potomac Park, an especially beautiful area during cherry blossom season in the spring. From the waterways surrounding The Wharf, you can catch glimpses of the new International Spy Museum, or kayak all the way down to Navy Yard.

Where to Rent a Kayak in the Wharf: The Wharf Boathouse is located on the pier in front of the Hyatt House Hotel. You can rent a kayak starting at $18/hour for a single and $25/hour for a double.

4. Navy Yard/Anacostia River

Navy Yard is one of DC’s coolest up-and-coming neighborhoods located on the banks of the Anacostia River. Situated near Nationals Park, this riverfront area is the perfect place to grab a kayak and explore the eastern side of the city.

From the Anacostia River, you can see the historic Navy Yard and the Nationals ballpark to the north and the greenery of Anacostia Park to the south. Or, alternatively, you can paddle to Hains Point, the southernmost point of East Potomac Park.

Where to Rent a Kayak in Navy Yard: Ballpark Boathouse is your one-stop shop for all things kayaking/paddling in Navy Yard. You can rent a kayak starting at $18/hour for a single and $25/hour for a double.

  • Address: Potomac Ave SE and First Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
Washington Sailing Marina -- Daingerfield Island Alexandria (VA) June 2016
The Washington Sailing Marina is a lovely place to begin a kayaking adventure in DC!
Credit: Ron Cogswell (Flickr Creative Commons)

5. Washington Sailing Marina

Located south of the Pentagon, the Washington Sailing Marina is a wonderful, less crowded area to begin your kayaking adventure. The Washington Sailing Marina is technically located in Alexandria, VA, but we’ll count it since it’s within eyeshot of Washington, DC… With access to the Potomac River as well as the mouth of the Four Mile Run, it’s a great area to spend a few hours paddling around between DC and Virginia.

From the Washington Sailing Marina, you can kayak all the way up to the south end of East Potomac Park, which is a beautiful urban green space in DC. Alternatively, stick around the nearby areas of the Potomac and watch as planes land and take off above you from Reagan National Airport.

Where to Rent a Kayak in the Washington Sailing Marina: The Washington Sailing Marina has its own boathouse where you can rent kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and more. You can also take sailing lessons here, or enjoy a riverside meal at Island Time Bar & Grill.

  • Address: 1 Marina Dr, Alexandria, VA 22314

6. National Harbor

Think about your classic, Ferris wheel-laden boardwalk with tons of tourists, shops, and restaurants, and you’ve got DC’s National Harbor. Yup, you heard that right – the National Harbor is an entertainment hub, with tons of places to eat and drink, a large Ferris wheel, and an enormous MGM casino/resort.

Like the Washington Sailing Marina, the National Harbor isn’t technically in DC, but we’ve included it here because it’s close enough and can be reached by public transportation from downtown. It’s also a unique area to go kayaking in DC, since it’s a bit farther out from the city center. Kayaking here will give you a unique perspective of the National Harbor and the surrounding areas.

Located across the Potomac River from Alexandria, you can catch great views of the banks of Old Town Alexandria, or paddle along the banks of the Potomac River Waterfront Park.

Where to Rent a Kayak in the National Harbor: The National Harbor Boathouse has kayaks available for rent for reasonable prices. Since it’s run by the same company as the others listed in this post, the prices are the same: $18/hour for a single and $25/hour for a double kayak.

  • Address: 165 Waterfront Street, Oxon Hill, MD 20745

Map of DC’s Best Kayaking Spots

For you visual folks out there, here’s a handy map that shows all 6 of the places to go kayaking in DC that we’ve listed above (click on the point to see more information):

Best Places to Go Kayaking Near DC

While there are lots of places within DC to go kayaking, there are also plenty of awesome nature kayaking opportunities withing a few hours of the city. Based on locals’ recommendations, here are some of the most beautiful and popular places to go kayaking near DC:

There are some serious rapids at Great Falls – not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart!

7. Great Falls Park

People don’t usually think of whitewater rapids when they think of Washington DC. However, you can find both at Great Falls! Located just outside of Washington DC, Great Falls Park is a federally protected area that straddles the Potomac River into Virginia and Maryland. Marked by tons of hiking trails and lookout points, the main attraction is the Great Falls cascade, which is a series of waterfalls spanning the width of the river.

Not for the faint of heart, Great Falls has rapids up to class 6, so this definitely isn’t an area for beginner kayakers. However, if you’ve got the experience and you’re up for the challenge, advanced kayakers will find a unique and thrilling experience in the rapids of Great Falls.

*Note: There’s no place to rent a kayak at Great Falls, but you can take a guided tour/lesson with Potomac Paddle Sports that provides equipment. For more detailed information about this route, check out this guide.

The calm waters of the C&O canal are a beginner-friendly contrast to Great Falls.

8. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

For those wanting to kayak in a more natural setting without the adrenaline rush of Great Falls, the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal is an excellent choice. This historic canal was once used as a shipping route, as it extends all the way to Ohio! Today, it’s a gorgeous recreation area with miles of trails and calm waterways, perfect for exploring by foot or boat. As far as kayaking near DC goes, it doesn’t get much better than the C&O canal.

The canal runs parallel to the Potomac River for several miles and has much more controlled rapids, meaning calmer waters for kayakers of all levels. Renting a kayak to explore the C&O Canal is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in quiet nature, without having to stray too far from DC’s city limits.

Where to Rent a Kayak Near the C&O Canal: Fletcher’s Boathouse is located right next to the C&O Canal and is the perfect place to rent a kayak, with access to both the canal and the Potomac River. You can rent a kayak starting at $18/hour for a single and $25/hour for a double.

  • Address: 4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington, D.C. 20007

9. Dyke Marsh

Located less than 30 minutes outside of DC’s city limits, Dyke Marsh is a fabulous place to go kayaking near DC. Dyke Marsh is actually a wildlife preserve and is home to dozens of species of birds, plants, and other wildlife. Much of the area where Washington, DC now stands used to be made of these freshwater tidal wetlands, but today, Dyke Marsh is one of the few remaining conservation areas.

Luckily, there are several ways to explore Dyke Marsh, with kayaking as one of the best. You can paddle through the wetlands and keep an eye out for bird species like loons, egrets, and herons.

Where to Rent a Kayak Near Dyke Marsh: Belle Haven Marina is a boating marina that offers kayak rentals. From there, you can paddle to Dyke Marsh and its surrounding areas.

  • Address: 6401 George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22307
Photo Credit: F Delventhal (Flickr CC)

10. Mallows Bay

Possibly one of the most unique areas to go kayaking near DC is at Mallows Bay, MD. Here, you can find hundreds of abandoned or wrecked ships that dot the shoreline, some dating back to as early as the 1770s. For the urban explorers out there, this DC kayaking spot is one of the coolest and most unique spectacles of history, abandonment, and decay.

To kayak at Mallows Bay Skip Graveyard, you have to book a guided tour. This will not only take you to the best spots, but will also provide you with a local expert who can share historical information about the ships.

How to Kayak in Mallows Bay: Atlantic Kayak offers guided tours to Mallows Bay and they have excellent reviews from locals and travelers alike.

Photo Credit: Jeff Kubina (Flickr)

11. Patuxent River

For peace and tranquility just a few minutes outside of DC, the Patuxent River Park area in Price George’s County spans 7,500 acres of conservation land. Here, you’ll trade museums and monuments for leisurely riverbanks and greenery.

Wildlife lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and bird watchers will love everything the Patuxent River has to offer. Moreover, there are several picturesque places to go kayaking near DC in the Patuxent River area, and it’s suitable for kayakers of all levels. Pair a day of kayaking with an evening of camping or an afternoon of hiking and you’ll be sure to have a memorable adventure!

Where to Rent a Kayak at the Patuxent River: The Patuxent River Park authority offers its own canoe and kayak rentals at very reasonable rates (just $20/day!).

  • Address: 6600 Kenilworth Avenue, Riverdale, MD 20737

Where to Rent a Kayak in DC

Wondering where you can get your feet wet with kayaking? Here are a few of the most highly-recommended places where you can find DC kayak rentals:

  • Boating in DC is the biggest (and most prevalent) boat rental company in the DC area. They offer the largest selection of kayak rentals in DC, including all of the places listed previously in this article. Their rates are affordable ($18/hour for a single kayak and $25/hour for a double kayak, with a maximum of $100/day). Most days, you can simply walk up to a boathouse to rent a kayak without a reservation. Life jackets are included in the price of any kayak rental.
  • Outside of the city, there are several other kayak rental companies near DC, depending on where you want to go. We’ve included several options throughout this post, but if there’s somewhere specific that you want to go, Google Maps is a great resource for finding a nearby kayak rental company.
Even if you’ve never been kayaking before, there are plenty of safe places to learn in Washington, DC!

Best Lessons & Kayaking Tours in Washington, DC

Interested in learning more about kayaking in DC? Look no further than these guided tours and kayaking outfitters, which offer a wide range of services tailored to paddlers of all levels:

  • Potomac Paddlesports is a kayaking lesson provider in the DC metropolitan area. They offer longer excursions in the area as well as across Maryland.
  • Active Nature offers beginner-friendly kayak and stand up paddleboard (SUP) lessons in Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources

*The featured image in this post was taken by Potomac Conservancy and used by Urban Outdoors under a Creative Commons license.