Monday, February 8, 2010

Northern Virginia Kayaking Resources

Updated 7/5/2014.  As I am trying to use this page to plan my own paddling excursions, I am finding several of the links aren't working.  I am going through and fixing the links to the maps and temperature and river conditions pages.

Updated 6/30/2013.  I'm planning another tubing trip for my church, so today I went through and updated the ratings for the outfitters based on the Yelp, Google, and BBB websites.

Wait! Don't skip this post just because you don't own a kayak or canoe! If you're in the DC area and have any interest in just giving it a try, then I highly recommend scrolling down to the "Outfitters" section of this post. There are several places you can go to get out on the water for a couple of hours and see if you like it - either alone or with a guide. You could go on the Sunday evening guided paddle with Jack's Boathouse, or you could go on a brunch-and-paddle or paddle-and-dinner trip on the Antietam Creek, or you could do the paddle-and-wine-tasting or boats-and-brewery. Try it! You might like it!

I wrote this post and then realized in hindsight that some people might skip over it because they don't own a kayak or a canoe, so I added that disclaimer up front. Now, back to my original post...

Yes, yes, as I write this, it's still Arctic-polar-bear-butt-cold outside, temperature in the teens and 33 inches of snow on the ground (and another 10-20" expected today and tomorrow). Even so, I keep gazing at my kayak up on the rack in the garage and longing to get back out on the water.

To make up for it, I research places to go kayaking. I keep googling and going back to the same sites over and over again for resources, so I am creating this post as an easy reference point to for future paddle planning.

To start off in searching for nearby places to paddle, I have found a couple of useful websites:

Ben's Kayak Site has been a wonderful starting point for my kayaking research. He has a Northern Virginia Paddler's Access page that links to interactive maps of the Potomac River, Shenandoah River, Antietam Creek and Goose Creek with annotations describing the locations along each waterway where you can put-in or take-out. He includes pictures if he has them, and he details how many cars you can park in each location. The two limitations of Ben's site are they are limited in scope to those places nearest his (and my) hometown (not that that's a bad thing), and he doesn't provide any description of the water conditions or obstacles between entry points (and that's okay, because he provides very useful logistical information about getting there and back). under the "Go Paddling" pull-down menu, select "Places to Paddle" and then "Virginia." My one complaint about this list is that it's just an alphabetical list of place names. If you don't know where it is, then you have to click on it, read the description, then go look for it on a road map.  Update 7/3/2011:  While they still have the alphabetical listing, has added a GIS feature (map) that shows you launching locations.

However, while I prefer Ben's interactive map for the places near home, the website lists several places to paddle that are easy day-trips from our house, but outside the range of Ben's map. See, for example, Bull Run or Occoquan River and Occoquan Reservoir. I didn't even know Bull Run was a place you could paddle until I read about it on The write-ups describe entry and exit points, parking availability, and provide insights into what to expect along the water. Plus, this website is where I discovered a link to the second source of water levels I use (see the link below to the Virginia Tech site). also has reviews on gear and some cool kayaking t-shirts for sale.

Loudoun Outdoors Guide has a map showing locations of Loudoun Parks where you can get in and out of the water, and links to pages for each park.

Maps: Aside from Ben's interactive web-based map above, some of the local outfitters that offer day-trips have river maps showing not only where the access points are but also the gouge of what to expect on the water (rapids and obstacles). Here are some quick links (I'll update this list if and when I find more maps):
Water levels and flow rates:

Water Temperatures:

Local Outfitters:

Jack's Boathouse. Right under the Key Bridge in DC, you can rent a kayak or canoe by the hour here and paddle on your own. We did their Sunday evening guided paddle past the monuments and around Roosevelt Island, and it was AWESOME.

Yelp: 4.5 stars (49 reviews) - that's pretty even more amazing
Google: 4.5 stars (11 reviews) (More reviews, still very highly rated)
BBB: No search results (no news is good news)

River Riders. I coordinated a flat-water tubing trip on the Shenandoah River for my church with River Riders, and we all had a lot of fun. They also offer kayaking and canoeing trips. I have to admit, when I planned our trip with River Riders, I didn't realize how many different outfitters there were to choose from, and I didn't do any research into the business. While I admit they weren't the best-run operation and I sent an email to their management with recommendations for improvement, our group still had a lot of fun that day.

Yelp: 3.5 stars (42 reviews)  (Upward trend since my last update in 2010.)
Google: 17 (16 reviews) - Google's rating system calls this "good to very good" (3rd in a list of 5 possible grade-groups)
BBB: A-Big Improvement since my last update in 2010.

River and Trail Outfitters. I have not done any trips with them, but their trips sound really cool and I want to try a couple of them. The thing that most interests me most about their site is the cool combo-trips like paddle-and-wine (tasting), boats-and-brewery, Antietam Creek kayak-and-brunch or kayak-and-dinner.

Yelp: 3 stars (16 reviews) - Downward trend with a lot more reviews this year.
Google: No rating (8 reviews) - No reviews in the past year, mixed good and bad reviews.
BBB: A+ (Zero complaints and good record with BBB)

Downriver Canoe Company. Back in September 2009, I made some plans with Downriver to do a birthday paddling trip, but other factors prevented me from being able to take the trip. I was pleased with their responsiveness and willingness to accommodate my requests.

Yelp: 4.5 stars (16 reviews) - More reviews this year, still highly rated.
Google: No rating (5 reviews) - ALL reviews are positive, but no reviews in the last year. 
BBB: (Still) No search results

Shenandoah River Outfitters. I haven't been out with them yet, but they have a good record on Yelp.

Yelp: 4 stars (10 reviews) - More reviews this year, still highly rated.
Google: No rating (3 reviews) - Mixed reviews, but too few data points to draw any conclusions.
BBB: (Still) No search results

Antietam Creek Canoe.  I haven't been out with them yet, but I'm very interested in trying one of their trips on Antietam Creek.  They offer livery services on Antietam Creek and do tubing trips similar to the outfitters on the Shenandoah River around Harpers Ferry.

Yelp:  5 stars (2 reviews)
Google:  No rating  (1 review) - the only have one review, but it's "EXCELLENT"
BBB:   No search results

Clubs: If you already have a kayak or canoe, then chances are you're like me and looking for ways to get out on the water. I'm still new to it and not totally familiar with the local waterways, and I don't feel 100% comfortable with exploring new waterways on my own. It's better to go with people who know the area at least your first time out. These local clubs offer group paddles to get out on the water with other people who know the area and can lend a hand if you run into trouble.

Chesapeak Paddlers Association (CPA) offers group events and has several local sub-groups such as the Pirates of Algonkian that meet up on Wednesdays for a 6 p.m. short paddle.

Paddlers Access Network (PAN)
looks like an awesome resource, but I question if there is anyone keeping the site up to date. PAN seeks to contact property owners and advocate for paddlers to be able to access waterways from private property. Their website lists points where paddlers are and are NOT allowed access to the water. See, for example, this entry on Goose Creek - the owner said that paddlers MAY go past the "No Trespassing" sign to get into the creek there. That's awesome!

The problem is, it looks like most of the data is 2004-ish. I don't see any new data, and I received no response when I tried emailing the point of contact. Even so, the data that is there could be very useful in planning an outing on the local waterways.

Monocacy Canoe Club (MCC). After doing some clicking around from the PAN website above, I ended up on the MCC website. The MCC website is most definitely up to date and actively managed, and it looks like they have a pretty active calendar of activities set up for 2010. They also appear to have some good links to water levels, ratings of local waterways, etc.

Canoe Cruisers Association
(CCA). I found this group as a link off of the River Trail Outfitters website. It looks like they have an actively managed site and schedule of events. Their schedule for 2010 looks pretty light as it stands now, but I realize it's the dead of winter as I write this and it might be unrealistic to expect them to have their schedule planned out for the spring and summer yet.

I've picked up two books so far on kayaking around the DC area.

Sea Kayaking Virginia: A Paddler's Guide to Day Trips from Georgetown to Chincoteague.

I highly recommend this book by Andrea Nolan. She starts off with a very good overview of paddling in Virginia - seasonal variations and cautions, recommended gear, etc. Next she provides a nice regional map showing where each of the chapters of her book will take you. Then, within each chapter, she provides excellent maps showing the routes she took on each of the waterways she reviewed, good descriptions of what to expect along the way, and side-bars with information about the local wildlife you are likely to see. This is an excellent resource for learning about the sites she has reviewed and planning a day trip there. The only downside on Andrea's book is that she only includes one site in the DC area (out of Jack's Boathouse, down the Potomac River past the monuments and back), but it's a fairly thick book that covers a lot of sites along the Chesapeake.

Sea Kayaking the Baltimore / Washington, D.C Area.

Kevin's Short Summary: a mile wide and an inch deep. This book by Michaela Gaaseurd is nice because like Ben's website / unlike the website, she offers regional maps showing the general location of the paddling sites she has reviewed in her book. She gives a pretty good written description of a handful of certain spots across the region. However, there are no detailed maps of the waterways, and the small black-and-white photos don't give you much of a feel for what the area is like. I'm glad to have it as a reference, but it's not a stand-alone.

I do owe a special note of thanks to Michaela for answering a question I couldn't answer anywhere else. I had searched high-and-low and all over the internet trying to determine if you could paddle onto the Tidal Basin. On page 7, she specifically states, "you will not be able to paddle into the Tidal Basin by the Jefferson Memorial." Thank you for putting that question to rest.

To Do List:

After all my clicking around and reading here and there, these are the places currently on my "to do" list for future paddling trips (in no particular order of priority or importance):
  • Antietam Creek
  • Monocacy River (Done 24 April 2010)
  • Bull Run
  • Occoquan River

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

nice. i used to live in MD and we would go kayaking quite often...especially below the dam after they release each year. cant think of the river off hand but...