Paddling Trails in Maryland
Dip your oar in the rivers, lakes and wetlands around Maryland. Whether you’re planning an adventure-packed day trip or an overnight paddling escape, each region offers many places for human-powered recreation on cool waters. From canoeing to kayaking, paddle away on Maryland’s top water trails.
The Potomac River Water Trail is split into three distinct sections.
North Branch: Spanning more than 300 miles from Western to Eastern Maryland and flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River Water Trail features paddling opportunities that are second to none. The river’s North Branch flows past the rolling hills in Allegany County from Westernport to Cumberland. With numerous access points, paddle through forests and scenic landscapes, and be on the lookout for wildlife on this more remote section of the Potomac River.
Upper and Middle Potomac: The Upper and Middle Potomac River water trail parallels the C&O Canal National Historic Park towpath. Paddle downstream past recreational sites for hiking and camping, or historic landmarks such as the Point of Rocks Train Station. There’s no shortage of exploration available along this wild stretch of the Potomac!
Lower Potomac: In Southern Maryland, the lower Potomac flows from Washington, D.C. into the Chesapeake Bay. This water trail offers a variety of things to see—from Washington’s national monuments to more rural landscapes filled with wildlife. Explore notable attractions such as the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum and remember to paddle close to the shorelines—as the river widens, it can become difficult to navigate by kayak or canoe.
Discover 30 miles of water trails at Janes Island State Park on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, filled with wildlife, pristine beaches and saltmarshes. Choose from six different trails ranging from 1.25 to 12.5 miles, each of which start and end at the Janes Island Park Marina and boat launch. Many of the water trails are protected from winds and currents, making this a scenic destination for paddlers of all skill levels.
Another paddler’s paradise can be found in Somerset County, on Smith Island The island is only accessible by boat, making canoeing and kayaking the ideal mode of transportation here! Ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island are available daily and will carry small water crafts for a fee. Navigate through island villages on seven marked water trails. Experienced paddlers can also explore the unmarked waterways and wild marshes in the area.
Explore the Capital Region from a new perspective. Grab your kayak or canoe and enter the calm waters of the Anacostia River. The water trail spans nine miles from Bladensburg, Maryland past Washington, D.C. to its juncture with the Potomac River. Paddle past recreation areas, parks, local businesses and even Maryland’s wetlands!
Skilled paddlers can explore Maryland’s first wild river, the Youghiogheny Scenic and Wild River, known for its whitewater adventures. The 21-mile-long section of the river from Friendsville, Maryland to just north of Oakland, features a series of whitewater rapids flowing past forested and rugged scenes off the beaten path. No official map is available, but public access points are located at Swallow Falls State Park, in Friendsville and off of Sang Run Road.
The water trails at Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Queen Anne’s County are the ideal paddling destination for those also seeking a glimpse of the area’s spectacular wildlife—keep your eyes open for terrapin turtles, green herons, otters and more! Navigate natural marshes and woodland habitats solo or on a guided kayak tour.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County has three marked water trails totaling more than 20 miles for paddlers to explore. Kayak or canoe among diverse habitats including forest, marsh and shallow waters where you’ll be sure to see numerous waterfowl species and other wildlife.
Explore 64 miles of water trails from Delaware to the Tangier Sound in the Chesapeake Bay on the Nanticoke River Water Trail. Paddlers will find more than 25 public launches, allowing you to customize your trip length. Native American tribes once used this route for trading and fishing. Today, it’s home to wetlands teeming with waterfowl and largemouth bass.
Paddle out to see the famous "Ghost Fleet." Now a designated national marine sanctuary, Mallows Bay protects the remains of more than 100 abandoned steamships and vessels.
Located along an 18-square mile stretch of Potomac River coast in Charles County, the sanctuary boasts historic shipwrecks dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and the largest "Ghost Fleet" of WW1 steamships. Archaeological artifacts date back almost 12,000 years. The culturally rich landscape includes sites that represent the history of Native American communities, the once-booming Potomac River fishing industry, and the Civil War.
There are also wildlife viewing areas, fishing, boating access and a hiking trail.
Charles County Water Trails offer an abundance of additional water opportunities, regardless of your interests.