Take a guided nature walk not along but in a shallow river, with Shenandoah Mountain Guides (301-695-1814; teamlinkinc.com). On “headwater hikes,” you can explore hidden waterfalls not accessible by trail, tread among native brook trout, and learn about other wildlife in the Blue Ridge. Guides recommend wearing old sneakers, not water shoes. The all-day hike is $75 including lunch.
Check out one of the area’s free swimming holes; a list with directions can be found at swimmingholes.org. Two favorites: a nice wading area in Poolesville, Maryland, next to Poole’s Store (16315 Old River Rd.) and, in Front Royal, Virginia, the Ponds, a series of three wading and swimming areas on Overall Run, reached by a mile-long hike.
At Antietam Creek in Boonsboro, Maryland, chilly spring-fed water and an abundance of shade keep the water and air as much as 20 degrees cooler than elsewhere in the area. The creek passes under historic Civil War bridges and has a few tiny rapids and a rope swing for making a splash. Canoe, kayak, and tubing rentals as well as guides are available at Antietam Creek Canoe (240-447-0444; antietamcreek.com).
No need to cross the Bay Bridge to hit the beach—several stretches of sand on this side beckon.
At North Beach (ci.north-beach.md.us), a charming town with a touch of Key West, you can stroll on the long pier or play in the sand and the Chesapeake Bay.
Hunting Creek Lake (301-271-7574; www.dnr.state.md.us/outdoors; click on “swimming”), a clear mountain lake in Cunningham Falls State Park, has three beaches—the northern beach is far less crowded than those on the south side. Pre- or post-beach, you can scramble up and sit under the Cunningham Waterfall for an invigorating natural massage.
The wide beach on the Gunpowder River in Gunpowder Falls State Park is 1,500 feet long and home to Ultimate Watersports (410-335-5352; ultimatewatersports.com), which offers rentals and lessons for windsurfing, Hobie Cat sailing, and kayaking. For information about the park, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/outdoors; click on “swimming.”
Washington Rowing School (202-344-0886; washingtonrowingschool.com) at Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Prince George’s County offers classes in the tipsy sports of sculling and sweeping for both single- and multiple-person boats. This section of the Anacostia River is smooth and has almost no current—and almost no wake from large powerboats, as on the Potomac.
In little more than an hour from DC, you can learn whitewater rafting in Harpers Ferry—where the rapids go up to only class III. The scenery is spectacular at this confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, and guides can help you tackle Shenandoah Staircase, a mile-long series of rapids. Contact River Riders (800-326-7238; riverriders.com) or River and Trail Outfitters (301-695-5177; rivertrail.com).
If Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Splash Down Waterpark are too big and busy for your taste, try a smaller regional water park.
Pirate’s Cove Waterpark (703-339-6104; nvrpa.org) in Pohick Bay Regional Park has slides, waterfalls, and a sand beach.
Gaithersburg’s Water Park at Bohrer Park (301-258-6445; gaithersburgmd.gov/waterpark) includes a twisting 250-foot-long double water slide.
The Water Mine (703-471-5415; fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/watermine) at Lake Fairfax Park features flumes, slides, and a continuous-current river-tubing ride, Rattlesnake River.
The two-mast, 74-foot schooner Woodwind (410-263-7837; schoonerwoodwind.com) is a replica of classic wooden schooners built in the early 1900s. Relax while cruising across Annapolis Harbor and looking back at the city as the sun sets over the capitol dome. Or take the helm and feel a fine spray as the wind cuts across the water. Sunset sails feature a choice of a historic tour (Monday), beer tasting (Tuesday), yacht racing (Wednesday), or live music (Thursday); $37 for adults.