Places to Paddle tm
Canoeing - Kayaking - Rafting

Potomac River in Washington D.C. from Alexandria Virginia to Georgetown

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Copyright 2001 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Al Vazquez,
  • Date Submitted: 7/2001
  • Location: Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington D.C. to Georgetown
  • Class: Typically flat water river with occasional substantial power boat wake and wind driven waves and clapotis
  • Distance Paddled: about 8 miles round trip
  • Water Level: typically not affected by low water drought conditions elsewhere
  • Water: fresh
  • Wildlife: some flowers and birds on Roosevelt Island
  • Special Regulations:

Entry and Exit

  • Directions: Take 395 to Arlington and Pentagon City on the west side of the Potomac River. Exit from 395 onto George Washington Memorial Highway southbound. Then quickly enter Gravelly Point Park on the east side of the highway immediately north of Ronald Reagan National Airport
  • Fee: none
  • Description: 4 concrete ramps with adjacent floating docks
  • Parking: adjacent paved and unpaved (grass)
  • Facilities: restroom, picnic tables, linear park for walking, jogging, biking, or roller blading running beside the river.
  • Handicap Access: paved ramps

What We Saw

Having seen Washington by foot and by car, kayaking is now my favorite way to tour. This is an urban paddle through our capitol's historic buildings and monuments that will allow you an unhurried, quieter, and even closer perspective.

The launch point itself was unusual as jets flew over head to land on the end of the runway immediately to the south. Paddling the Potomac isn't quiet, but it is impressive. There is a lot of weekend launch traffic at the ramps, so we organized out boats on the adjacent grass to launch quickly. When we returned, we got out onto the floating docks and avoided the ramp traffic altogether, though that may require more effort for some than the ramp launch.

We headed east from the launch, then north (left) onto the Potomac along the west bank. In the morning, the river was fairly calm, though the wind was already building. About 3/4 mile up the river, we passed the first 3 bridges (not particularly scenic yet). Just north of these bridges, we passed the south entrance to the Boundary Channel that parallels the Potomac to Teddy Roosevelt Island. We could see the Pentagon at the far end of that channel that forms Columbia Island along the west bank of the Potomac.

Now we began to see the landmark monuments of the capitol on the east shore, so we began to paddle toward them as we approached the striking Arlington Memorial Bridge to the north. This bridge is striking by itself, with large relief carvings of eagles on the piers and buffalo heads on the tops of the arch spans (photo above). This is a view that only boaters can have. As we passed under the bridge, we got a better view of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Note that the Tidal Basin on the east side of the river is gated shut and usually NOT open to boat traffic of any kind.

We continued about a half mile north of the Memorial Bridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island in the middle of the river. The water became calmer in this no wake area. We took a channel from the southwest side of the island to the west and emerged to see the Kennedy Center and the Watergate Apartments on the east bank of the river (photo at right).

Paddling north along the east bank of Roosevelt Island, we landed on a small beach at the northeast end of the island (photo at left). Leaving our boats there, we walked about a half mile to have lunch at the Roosevelt Memorial in the center of the island south of the beach landing. There is a striking statue of President Roosevelt surrounded by ponds and plaques with his thoughts and quotes.

We continued north under the Francis Scott Key Bridge to get a river view of Georgetown University on the hills above the east bank. Before heading back. You may also choose to return to Gravelly via the Boundary Channel whose entrance is on the west shore of the Potomac across from the cut through the south end of Roosevelt Island.