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Canoe back in time or discover a wildlife sanctuary with these getaways.
Parkers Creek. Photograph by Flickr user baldeaglebluff.

Canoe Back in Time

To see what a Chesapeake tributary looked like when John Smith explored the region 400 years ago, book a guided canoe trip of Parkers Creek with the American Chestnut Land Trust. The Calvert County preservation group hosts three-hour tours spring through fall along the unspoiled creek, providing an opportunity to spot bald eagles, kingfishers, and great blue herons. Canoes are provided (or you can bring your own kayak), and the varied terrain ranges from shoreline cliffs to fresh- and saltwater marshes to some of the best-preserved forest tracts on the western shore. Tours are free but fill fast; $15 donation to ACLT suggested; 410-414-3400. 49 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / $ ($35 or less per person)


Discover a Wildlife Sanctuary

Just a dozen miles outside the Beltway, Jug Bay Natural Area, a 2,000-acre wetland preserve along the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County, feels worlds away. You can hike, bike, or drive the area, but the best way to see the dive-bombing ospreys, wading blue herons, and regal egrets—and even the rare American bittern—is to rent a canoe or kayak from the visitors center ($16 for county residents, $20 nonresidents; reservations on weekends are a must). Naturalists also offer guided pontoon rides (free; Sundays 2 to 3 pm) and kayak tours ($20 residents, $24 nonresidents). 301-627-6074. 23 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / $ ($35 or less per person)

Posted at 02:17 PM/ET, 08/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Sit back at relax on these river outings.
Photograph by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Corbis.

Float Past Mountains

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River winds blissfully between the scenic mountain range of Virginia’s Skyline Drive and the Massanutten range. Every bend seems to afford fantastic vistas of forested mountains. At Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray, you can pick out your flotation device of choice (canoe, kayak, or inner tube), hop on a shuttle to one of the numerous put-ins, and paddle back to base. Mile markers along the banks indicate how far you’ve traveled. Choices include a three-mile, hourlong float through easy riffles; a daylong outing featuring Class II whitewater at Compton Rapid; and a two- or three-day trip with camping in George Washington National Forest. Daylong canoe rental $56; 800-622-6632. Downriver Canoe Company (540-635-5526) and Front Royal Outdoors (540-635-5440) offer similar trips. 102 miles.

E - M (Easy - Moderate Difficulty) / Great for Groups / Good for Romance / Kid-Friendly / $$ ($35 to $76 per person)


Tube Past History

Against the backdrop of historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, you can challenge the whitewater where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet. The swift water flows through a mile-long course of rapids called the Shenandoah Staircase and continues through Class I and II rapids. Two companies, River Riders and River & Trail Outfitters, offer fun, regular tubing trips. The one-to-four-hour excursions will have you laughing and yelling with joy as the tubes bounce through the water and shoot up and down better than any roller coaster. $30 per adult on weekends through River Riders (800-326-7238), $29 on weekends through River & Trail Outfitters (301-695-5177). Whitewater rafting and flat-water tubing trips also available. 70 miles.

E - M (Easy - Moderate Difficulty) / Great for Groups / Kid-Friendly / $ ($35 or less per person)


Chill Out and Float

When the thermometer hits 95 in Washington, point your car toward Boonsboro, Maryland, where you’ll find air temps in the 80s along shaded, spring-fed Antietam Creek. Cool off further by dipping your backside into a rented inner tube ($25) and floating along for two to four hours past farms, through riffles and small rapids, and under arched stone bridges—including Burnside Bridge, a Civil War-era landmark. There are a few spots to beach the tubes, so bring an ice chest with beverages and snacks (there’s a tube for that, too). Antietam Creek Canoe owner Greg Mallet-Prevost or his wife, P.A. Lynch, will be waiting for you at the end of the trip and shuttle you back to your car. Canoe and kayak rentals also available. Groups of three or more recommended. E-mail paddle@antietamcreek.com for reservations. 68 miles.

E (Easy Difficulty) / Great for Groups / Kid-Friendly / $ ($35 or less per person)

Posted at 03:28 PM/ET, 08/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Go fly-fishing, catch of a rockfish, or cast a line from a kayak. By Sherri Dalphonse
Photograph by Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images/ Flickr RF.

Catch Fish on a Fly

Fly-fishing can be as frustrating as it is rewarding—particularly for novices. Luckily, the folks at Backwater Angler, along the Gunpowder River north of Baltimore, can help demystify the sport. Backwater’s easygoing guides offer everything from fly-casting lessons for newbies ($50 and up) to fully outfitted, daylong guided trips in search of elusive brown trout ($275 half day, $325 full day). Your chances of landing a fish are good: Field & Streamnamed this section of the Gunpowder one of the top five tailwater trout streams in America a few years back. 410-357-9557. 68 miles.

E - M (Easy - Moderate Difficulty) / $$ $$$ ($76 and up per person)


Catch a Sport Fish

Rockfish are the Chesapeake Bay’s premier sport fish, and finding these striped bass can be a thrill for anglers. Charter boats headquartered at the Rod ’N’ Reel Dock at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa specialize in catching this prized species, and their crews can teach you the art of reeling in a “keeper”—rockfish must measure at least 18 inches or be set free. You can choose a private charter for six people ($600 for six hours, $750 for eight); reservations are required. After a half day on the water, you might stretch your legs on a bike ride on Chesapeake Beach’s Railway Trail or, if kids are along, splash around at nearby Chesapeake Beach Water Park. 301-855-8450. 34 miles.

E (Easy Difficulty) / Great for Groups / $$$ ($76 and up per person)


Fish from a ’Yak

The cool thing about fishing from a kayak is that it lets you access shallow waters where anglers can find rockfish, bluefish, and speckled trout. Captain Chris Dollar is one of few outfitters specializing in kayak fishing. A former educator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, he draws on 25 years of angling knowledge to dispense bay ecology lessons. Rest assured these kayaks aren’t those tippy touring kinds but boats with comfy seats and wide, stable hulls designed so anglers can even stand up to land the big one. Trips—out of the Chester River—cost $225 for half day ($75 each additional angler), $350 for full day; 410-991-8468. 49 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / Great for Groups / $$$ ($76 and up per person)

Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 08/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Paddleboat on the Tidal Basin and explore Mount Vernon.
Photograph of Tidal Basin by William S. Kuta/Alamy.

Paddleboat by the Monuments

It's totally touristy—and totally fun: Rent a paddleboat on the Tidal Basin for a fantastic view of the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and Washington Monument. Sure, you’ll pedal a lot and not go very fast in the two- or four-passenger boats. (In each, only two people pedal.) But that’s beside the point. Our advice: On sunny, hot days, pay extra for a four-seater with a canopy. Two-passenger boat $14 an hour, four-passenger boat $22 an hour; 202-479-2426. 0.3 mile.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / Kid-Friendly / $ ($35 and up per person)


Bike and Boat

With marshlands, forests, and plenty of scenic overlooks of the Potomac River; the Mount Vernon Trail is one of the area's prettiest paths, and you can enjoy it on a Mount Vernon by Bike and Boat self-guided tour. The outing starts with a bike rental at Bike and Roll in Alexandria. Ride at your own pace until you reach Mount Vernon, nine miles south. There you secure the bike and helmet with the provided lock and are free to explore George Washington's home and grounds before catching the 4 PM narrated ferry ride back to Old Town. Bike rental, Mount Vernon admission, and ferry ticket included in price (adults $63, ages 6 through 12 $40, call for ages 2 through 5); available only on selected dates; 202-842-2453. 7 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / Good for Romance / $$ ($35 to $76 per person)

Posted at 12:47 PM/ET, 08/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take the plunge and try something new. By Sherri Dalphonse
Photograph by Jeff Mauritzen.

Dive Into An Aquarium

If a Caribbean vacation isn’t in the cards soon but you’d love to scuba-dive somewhere around here that’s more exotic than a quarry, try swimming with fish at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Certified divers can explore the Atlantic Coral Reef Exhibit, home to about 70 species including bonnethead sharks, green moray eels, parrotfish, and queen triggerfish.

Reservations are required. The dives cost $195 including BCs (buoyancy compensators), regulators, tanks, and weights; you bring your own wetsuit, fins, snorkel, and mask.

Photograph by Eric Fortwengler.

Make Different Strokes

For those whose idea of enjoying the water is capturing it on canvas, the Art League in Alexandria has several plein air painting classes this fall. “A Weekend in the Plein Air Landscape” ($90), October 11 and 12, sets up easels along the Potomac River, often on Daingerfield Island. “Landscape Painting” ($155), Saturday mornings from September 20 through October 11, also perches along the Potomac.

Both classes require some painting or drawing experience.

Photograph courtesy of Chesapeake Light Craft.

Build A Paddleboard

Love getting out on the water? Secretly enjoy putting together Ikea furniture? Then this may float your boat: It’s not that hard to build your own paddleboard.

Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis not only offers 60 different build-your-own kayaks but also sells such popular kits as a standup paddleboard that can be assembled in about 50 hours ($899) and a 17-foot-long dory ($2,500). It also has boat-building classes.

Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 08/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Learn to sail your own vessel or take a relaxing trip on a replica of a historic schooner.
Mariner Sailing School. Photograph by Eli Meir Kaplan.

Learn to Sail

The Washington Sailing Marina near Reagan National Airport and the Mariner Sailing School in Alexandria make becoming a skipper convenient and fun. Both feature weekend learn-to-sail programs and weeknight classes for adults. In no time, you’ll know how to rig a boat, navigate, tack, and jibe on a Sunfish or Flying Scot sailboat. One word of advice: Couples should not share a boat when learning to sail. Kids’ camps are offered through August. Adult basic weekend class $320 and up at the Washington Sailing Marina (703-548-9027), $400 at Mariner Sailing School (703-768-0018). 5 to 9 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) /  Kid-Friendly $$$ ($76 and up per person) 


Photograph courtesy of Sultana Education.

Set Sail on a Schooner

On the Sultana, a replica of a pre-Revolutionary War schooner, you’ll feel transported back in time. The ship usually departs from Chestertown, a historic Maryland town considered one of America’s best-preserved Colonial seaports. While aboard, you can enjoy cool breezes, take in views of the bucolic Chester River shoreline, or join the crew as it raises the sails and fires the cannon. Two-hour weekend public sails cost $30 for adults, $15 for ages 5 through 12; reservations recommended; 410-778-5954. 80 miles.

E (Easy Difficulty)  Great for Groups  Kid-Friendly $ ($35 or less per person) 


Sail a Skipjack

A skipjack is like a time machine, transporting passengers back to an era when these sail-powered boats ruled the bay. Now the remaining fleet mainly hauls tourists (oystering only in winter), including two Talbot County boats: Wade H. Murphy Jr.’s 1886 Rebecca T. Ruark (adults $30, under age 12 $15; 410-829-3976) and Ed Farley’s 1955 H.M. Krentz (adults $44, ages 12 and under $22; 800-979-3370). Both colorful captains pepper two-hour tours with bay lore—and even let you hoist the sails and dredge for oysters like in the good old days. 82 to 95 miles.

E (Easy Difficulty) /  Kid-Friendly $-$$ ($35-$76 per person) 

Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 08/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
From DC Ducks to pirate ships, are the themed boat tours cruising the Potomac fun or cheesy? A seasick-prone reporter picked three and cast off. By Michael Gaynor
Photograph by Melissa Golden.

Boomerang Pirate Ship

In what can best be described as “Adams Morgan on the water,” the Boomerang Pirate Ship is in its second season pillaging down the Potomac, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. During a 2½-hour booze cruise ($20 to $30, depending on day), I watched patrons get loaded to the gunwales on rum cocktails, Fireball shots, and an excessive number of pirate puns.

“Two people went overboard one time,” said an employee when asked about the craziest story. Was it the result of an eye-patch-related loss of depth perception? “They were just very drunk.” Oh.

Less of a boat and more of an open barge, the Jolly Roger-strewn deck turned into a drunken dance floor within the first half hour. The crowd was a decidedly young group of landlubbers, with a few who had clearly spent too much time on their pirate costumes. But everyone jelled quickly, as evidenced by the howling echo the crowd made each time we sailed under a bridge. About midway through, the crew anchored for a ship-wide game of limbo. Because how could it not?

Photograph courtesy of DC Ducks.

DC Ducks

On D-Day, 2,000 of the Army’s amphibious DUKW vehicles poured into Normandy and were instrumental in winning World War II’s beachhead battle. Today they shuttle tourists with duckbill-shaped whistles down Pennsylvania Avenue before splashing into the Potomac. You may have seen these boat/car hybrids around town. You may have said to yourself, as I did until getting this assignment, “I thought they were shaped like a boat for fun—they actually go in the water?” They do.

After a life-jacket demonstration, we launched from Union Station. I didn’t envy the driver forced to navigate a 70-year-old vessel through rush hour. The on-land portion of the $39 tour for adults ($35.10 online) featured narration from the “captain,” who can tell a funny Labor Department joke. Halfway through, the Duck eased into the Potomac near Reagan National. We didn’t get close to monuments, but the planes landing proved exciting for the children aboard. The same children who are given those whistles to “quack” throughout the ride. That part wasn’t as funny.

Photograph courtesy of DC Cruises.

DC Cruises

Before DC Cruises’ Happy Hour Cruise even left the dock, the line for the bar stretched the length of the boat. Overheard during the wait: “This reminds me of college.”

The 90-minute $24 outing departs from Georgetown at 6:15 every Saturday and alternating Thursdays and Fridays. Although the drink menu looks like it caters to a very specific crowd—with cocktails such as a $5 punch and something called a Capital Intern—the clientele was diverse. There were young, well-dressed couples enjoying the sunset, corporate retreaters throwing back Bud Lights, tourists who probably got on the wrong boat, and, yes, interns. We got a pretty good view of the Washington Monument, but don’t expect real sightseeing.

Posted at 01:23 PM/ET, 08/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Cruise relaxingly past Annapolis and the National Mall, or brave the rapids of Mather Gorge.
The falls at Mather Gorge. Photograph by Skip Brown/Getty Images/National Geographic Creative.

Get Swamped

As you glide under a canopy of trees on Atlantic Kayak’s Marsh Loop Eco Tour, you may see both great blue and green herons, turtles, beaver lodges, and occasionally a river otter. The three-hour, $60 guided kayak tour begins out of Fort Washington, in half-mile-wide Piscataway Bay, facing the Potomac River and Mount Vernon to the west. Heading east, you paddle through grassy marshes with cattails and water lilies before entering the slender, quiet, swamp-like channels of Piscataway Creek. The shallow waters are tide-dependent, and tours run only on selected dates and by request. 301-292-6455; atlantickayak.com. 19 miles. 

M (Moderate Difficulty)  Great for Groups  Good for Romance Kid-Friendly $$ ($35-$76 per person) 


Reflect on the Monuments

Enjoy the grandeur of Washington’s monuments reflecting off the water at sunset on a Twilight Kayak Adventure at Key Bridge Boathouse. The 90-minute guided tour ($45 a person) leaves the docks in Georgetown and circumnavigates Theodore Roosevelt Island as dusk falls and stars come out. The marina also offers kayak and standup paddleboard (SUP) rentals and instruction as well as SUP yoga classes. 202-337-9642; boatingindc.com. 3 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty)  Great for Groups  Good for Romance Kid-Friendly $$ ($35-$76 per person) 


Paddle Among Bald Eagles

Some of the best kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic—not to mention the largest nesting population of bald eagles north of Florida—can be found at Maryland's Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Three marked water trails allow paddlers to explore this pristine 28,000-acre preserve while looking out for eagles, peregrine falcons, and ospreys. Blackwater Paddle and Pedal Adventures in Cambridge rents kayaks and provides guided tours. Two-hour tours $70 a person, three-hour tours $90; 410-901-9255; blackwaterpaddleandpedal.com. 97 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty)  Great for Groups $$ ($35-$76 per person


Flip for Kayaking

The rapids below Great Falls, in the Potomac River’s Mather Gorge, make for one of the premier whitewater kayaking spots in the world—Olympic kayakers train here. Before tackling whitewater in a kayak, you need to learn how to right one of these nimble boats when it flips upside down. And it’s gonna flip. Fortunately, there are excellent kayaking schools in the region, such as Potomac Paddlesports (intro class $145; 301-881-2628; potomacpaddlesports.com) and Valley Mill Kayak School (intro class $105; 301-840-7388; valleymillkayak.com). 14 to 24 miles.

(Strenuous Difficulty) $$$ ($76 and up per person) 


Admire Annapolis From the Water

Annapolis is a lovely city no matter how you look at it, but Maryland’s capital looks best from the water. Kayak Annapolis offers two-hour, guided history tours along Spa Creek past multimillion-dollar houses (nice place, Barry Levinson!), the State House, the Naval Academy, and the town dock. Guide/owner Pete Vonderheide dispenses lots of humor along with history lessons on this laid-back paddle ($65; kayakannapolis.com; 443-949-0773). 33 miles.

(Moderate Difficulty)  Good for Romance / $$ ($35-$76 per person) 

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 08/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Learn to row or perfect your skills with a great workout.
Learn to row on the Anacostia at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photograph by Flickr user Mr.TinDC.

Learn to Row

The Northeast and Northwest branches of the Anacostia River come together to form an oasis at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. The flat, uncrowded river is a perfect place to learn rowing and sculling at the Washington Rowing School (intro rowing class $50; 202-344-0886). The small marina also offers canoe and kayak rentals ($16 a day for Montgomery and Prince George’s County residents, $20 nonresidents) and free pontoon nature tours—great for kids—to see beavers, turtles, and birds including great blue herons. Avoid the river on days following heavy rain because of possible debris. 301-799-0371. 9 miles.

M (Moderate Difficulty) / Good for Romance / Kid-Friendly / $$ ($1-$76 per person)


Workout on the Water

Rowing is one of the best full-body exercises—it works the legs, back, shoulders, arms, abdominals, and cardiovascular system. If you enjoy getting up early, forget the gym and hit the water instead. Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown offers a 6:15-to-7:45-am beginner sculling class through mid-September in single-person shells. Classes are also given in late afternoon and evening, but in the wee hours, when the water is calm, you can cut through the flat water like a knife. Five-session series $165; 202-333-9543. 1.7 miles.

S (Strenuous Difficulty) / $$$ ($76 and up per person)

Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 08/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Whether you prefer pools, lakes, or bay beaches, here are great nearby spots to dive in. By Sherri Dalphonse
Photograph by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.


Local Pools

Didn’t get a summer pool membership? You’re not sunk. Many area jurisdictions have community pools. Some favorites, open to both non-residents and residents: Olympic-size East Potomac Pool in Southwest DC, a no-frills facility that can be quiet on weekdays—and is free to District residents; Martin Luther King Jr. Outdoor Pool in Silver Spring, with a 50-meter lap pool, a diving area, and a “lazy river”; Bethesda Outdoor Pool, with adult, junior, and kiddie pools; and Ocean Dunes Waterpark in Arlington, which, besides a 500-gallon dumping bucket and slides, has a six-lane lap pool—and a fun mini-golf course.


Up on the Roof

A number of area hotels offer day passes or memberships. The newest in-ground oasis is at the Embassy Row Hotel, which recently renovated its rooftop. The 450-square-foot pool now has cabanas, lounge seating, and a rooftop restaurant (open Wednesday through Sunday only) along with views of the Washington Monument and National Cathedral. A limited number of day passes are available for $25. The pool is free after 5 pm.

For more pool options, public and private, see our Summer Pools Guide.


Nearby Beaches

Want to squish your toes into a sandy beach but don’t want to drive far? In an hour or so, you can be at Gunpowder Falls State Park Hammerman Area, a 1,500-foot-long beach on a wide section of the Gunpowder River. You’ll find changing rooms and showers, a concession stand, and a shady picnic area. (For less of a crowd, head to the north end.) The beach is also home to Ultimate Watersports.

Another close-by option is Hunting Creek Lake, a 44-acre manmade lake in Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park (14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont; 301-271-7574) where you’ll find paddleboat rentals and barbecue grills. Work up a sweat first by taking one of two short hikes—one is challenging, the other easier—to views of 78-foot-high Cunningham Falls spilling down enormous boulders.

Within an hour’s drive is perennial favorite Sandy Point State Park, which offers a beach on the bay, a grassy picnic area, playgrounds, boat rentals, and a view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 08/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()