Down by the River

Where kayaks, cruises and wa­ter­side strolls re­veal new views of the cap­i­tal city.

Where Washington - - #WHEREDC - By Jen­nifer Barger

TWO RIVERS RUN THROUGH WASH­ING­TON: the leg­endary Po­tomac and its lesser­known sis­ter, the Ana­cos­tia. In a city per­haps most fa­mous for po­lit­i­cal de­bates and white mar­ble sites, these wa­ter­ways are a vi­brant re­minder that D.C. is also a town blessed by Mother Na­ture. “Peo­ple for­get you’re never more than a few steps away from na­ture here, es­pe­cially if you get out on the wa­ter,” says lo­cal writer Gayle Putrich, who fre­quently ca­noes both wet won­der­lands. Putrich and other boaters ply one of the most his­toric bod­ies of wa­ter in the coun­try. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton sur­veyed the Po­tomac (and trav­eled it to get to his river­side Mount Ver­non es­tate), and Bri­tish traders used it to ship to­bacco back home. The smaller Ana­cos­tia (it’s just 8.5 miles long and emp­ties into the Po­tomac at Buz­zard Point) was once lined with farms and Na­tive Amer­i­can en­camp­ments.

To­day, both rivers make a re­lax­ing back­drop for en­joy­ing the out­doors and of­fer a dif­fer­ent way to take in the beauty of the cap­i­tal city.


Boat­ing in DC op­er­ates seven con­ces­sions in lo­ca­tions like Ge­orge­town in D.C. and National Har­bor in Mary­land. It of­fers one- hour to one- day rentals of kayaks, stand- up pad­dle boards, ca­noes and, at some lo­ca­tions, hy­dro bikes (pon­toon- like wa­ter cy­cles). The com­pany also leads guided kayak ex­cur­sions past the mon­u­ments dur­ing the day and at twi­light. Hot spots to float by range from Old Town Alexandria’s bustling wa­ter­front in Vir­ginia to National Har­bor with its glitzy Cap­i­tal Wheel and Ge­orge­town’s Wash­ing­ton Har­bour.

If you want more wind at your back, DC Sail gives be­gin­ning lessons from the Gang­plank Ma­rina in South­west D.C., where bud­ding sailors learn to cap­tain a 19-foot Fly­ing Scot in four ses­sions, and of­fers weekly “so­cial sails” for $20.


If you’d pre­fer to have some­one else steer, there are mul­ti­ple ways to float on. De­part­ing from the Gang­plank Ma­rina and National Har­bor, Spirit Cruises serves up lunch and din­ner on a multi-level yacht with panoramic win­dows, the bet­ter for drink­ing in city and mon­u­ment views. Also de­part­ing from the Gang­plank Ma­rina, Odyssey is a low-slung, el­e­gant din­ing craft de­signed to slip un­der all of the Po­tomac’s bridges. Both ves­sels of­fer mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment and danc­ing.

DC Wa­ter Taxi runs laid-back routes be­tween Ge­orge­town and the National Mall on an open-air boat; it’s ideal for kids or for a quick in­tro to the city. Po­tomac River­boat Com­pany’s taxi trav­els from Alexandria to National Har­bor, the National Mall and Na­tion­als Park. The com­pany’s tours glide by the mon­u­ments, along the Alexandria Wa­ter­front and to Mount Ver­non, with dogs al­lowed on some out­ings.

For more-ad­ven­tur­ous cruis­ing, Ur­ban Pi­rates sails from National Har­bor aboard the Re­lent­less, fes­tooned with skull-and­cross­bone flags. Cos­tumed, joke-crack­ing wannabe Jack Spar­rows en­ter­tain on fam­ily-friendly sails Wed­nes­days through Sun­days, with week­end night­time “bringy­our-own-grog” booze cruises for adults.


Some­times, the best way to “soak in” the river is by strolling its wa­ter­front. “There’s some­thing about how peo­ple re­lax and feel ca­sual by the river,” says Monty Hoff­man, one of the de­vel­op­ers be­hind The Wharf D.C., a re­tail, restau­rant and res­i­den­tial com­plex com­ing to the South­west Wa­ter­front this fall. For now, attractions near the Ana­cos­tia in­clude Yards Park, which com­bines green space, a geo­met­ric pedes­trian bridge (see cover), an il­lu­mi­nated obelisk and a wad­ing pool.

River­front paths also let you rel­ish the easy­go­ing charms of the wa­ter. The Mount Ver­non Trail, which fol­lows the Po­tomac from Theodore Roo­sevelt Is­land in Ge­orge­town down to Mount Ver­non, me­an­ders past bird-filled wet­lands with views of the mon­u­ments. The Ana­cos­tia Riverwalk Trail skirts the Ana­cos­tia through both de­vel­oped and un­de­vel­oped ar­eas and is a good choice for bik­ers, too.

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