Much to the surprise of many visitors, Washington, DC is a city full of waterways and green spaces to explore. One of the most unconventional ways to explore the city is from one of its two rivers – the Potomac and the Anacostia. Canoeing and kayaking in DC is a fun and easy way to get moving and hit the water.

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

Best Places to Go Canoeing & Kayaking in DC

If you’re looking for a short, convenient kayaking adventure, there are tons of options for places to go kayaking within 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’s waterfront is a gem of the city. If you choose to try kayaking in Georgetown, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Georgetown University, the Kennedy Center, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and nearby Roslyn, VA.

Where to Rent a Kayak in Georgetown: Georgetown’s kayak rental location is at the Key Bridge Boathouse, on the waterfront under the Key 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 read our guide to kayaking gear essentials

The kayaks are located in a prime location on the Wharf – right on the main pier!

2. 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.

3. Navy Yard/Anacostia River

Navy Yard is one of DC’s coolest waterfront 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)

4. Bladensburg Waterfront Park

Located in the Maryland suburbs of DC, Bladensburg Waterfront Park is a small community park connected to DC by the Anacostia River and its bordering bike trail system. Here, aside from a playground and a few regulars who come to fish, there’s a boat launch and a place to rent kayaks and canoes during the warmer months of the year. This area connects to the route for the water taxi, and from here you can explore the northern sections of the Anacostia River.

Where to Rent a Kayak in Bladensburg Waterfront Park: Kayak and canoe rentals range from $25-39, and can be organized online at Parks Direct (reservations strongly recommended).

  • Address: 2900 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037

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. Here, you can catch great views of the banks of 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

7. Columbia Island

Located near Reagan National Airport off the George Washington Parkway, Columbia Island is a small island in the Potomac’s Pentagon Lagoon area where many locals go to enjoy a weekend hike, a bike ride, or a paddling session.

You’ll often see lots of other boaters out on the water on weekends, ranging from fellow people kayaking in DC to motor boats and yachts. When you’re done paddling, head to the Island Time Bar & Grill for snacks and drinks to cool off and enjoy sprawling views of the river.

Where to Rent a Kayak in Columbia Island: Columbia Island Marina is the go-to rental spot for boats in the area. You can rent a kayak starting at $18/hour for a single and $25/hour for a double.

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:

8. Burke Lake

Burke Lake Park is a hidden gem of a park located in Fairfax County, VA, about 30 minutes away from DC by car. Here, you can find a campground, some sport facilities, and a huge lake where you can go canoeing! Canoe rentals are available at the main boathouse, and once you are in your boat, you can paddle around the entire lake and stop off at various sections to explore some of the many trails in the park.

Where to Rent a Kayak/Canoe: At the main Burke Lake Marina, you can rent fishing kayaks, rowboats, and canoes starting at $18.

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

9. 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

10. 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)

11. 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 Ship 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.

12. 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.

FAQs on Canoeing & Kayaking near DC

Do I need experience to canoe or kayak near DC?

For many places, no! The rivers in the DC area are generally mellow and easy to learn on. We’d recommend calling the rental shop ahead of time if you have specific questions about a spot!

What should I bring kayaking in DC?

We’d recommend wearing a swimsuit, lots of bug spray and sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat, as well as clothes that dry quickly!

Additional Resources

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