Day trips on flat water
Paddling a kayak or canoe on flat water is an outdoor activity that takes in all the senses, and the Chesapeake Bay with its tributaries has hundreds of miles of flat-water trails that are easily navigated. Whether you’re a beginning paddler or avid kayaker, you can benefit from the exercise and feed your mind and spirit as you take in the natural landscape rarely visible from the roadway. As an avid paddler and a lifelong Marylander, I’ve paddled over 60 water trails — all within a day’s drive of Baltimore. Here are my top-10 water-trail choices for day-trip paddles in the Chesapeake region.
10. Dividing Creek
Maryland — Worcester and Somerset Counties
Access to Dividing Creek is a short paddle up the Pocomoke River from the launch at Winter Quarter Landing in Pocomoke City. Dividing Creek — so named because it divides Worcester and Somerset Counties — is rare trip because of its seclusion. This water trail goes through a cypress swamp. The bald cypress trees and other hardwoods create a thick forest that is so shaded in the summer that the water appears black. The natural setting alone is worth the paddle up this beautiful waterway. The deep shade is a shelter from both sun and wind.
9. Point Lookout Water Trail
Maryland — St. Mary’s County
Point Lookout is the southern tip of the Western Shore’s bay coastline, where the Potomac River runs into the Chesapeake Bay. Historically famous for its lighthouse and its Civil War prison camp, Point Lookout has three trails that offer access through tidal marshes, pine forests and open water around the lighthouse. Special on these trails: bald eagles seen on the Greens Point trail, the Civil War Museum, sunsets over the Potomac are all spectacular. Camp overnight and extend the stay, and realize that this entire state park is totally haunted by the souls who died in the prison camp.
8. The Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers
Maryland — Caroline and Talbot Counties
The Upper Choptank is part of the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and with the Tuckahoe River it encompass 80 miles that are all set in a pristine wilderness, free from development. The Choptank is the longest river in Maryland, and both rivers were likely part of the Underground Railroad system that allowed enslaved African Americans to escape to freedom. The landscape has changed little in the last 150 years. Launch in Denton, at the Joppa Steamboat Wharf, which replicates an 1883 terminal building, with a passenger waiting room and agent’s office. The trail meanders through towns, forest, marshes and historic areas. Special on this trail: the Steamboat Wharf at Denton, Adkins Arboretum, Caroline Living Heritage Museum (town of Denton), overnight camping at Tuckahoe State Park.
7. Tilghman Island Water Trails
Maryland — Talbot County
Tilghman Island is bordered by the Choptank River and the Chesapeake Bay. Ten different water trails along these two waterways are identified on the island. They feature beginner, intermediate and expert trails, which cover placid coves, tidal marshes, harbors, and the wide waters of the Chesapeake Bay that run between Tilghman and Poplar Islands. Download a trail map on the Talbot County Tourism website. Best is the Knapps Narrow Trail because it reveals the culture of the island. Launch at the public launch at Dogwood Harbor, then follow the trail along the shoreline and through Knapp’s Narrows, under the busiest drawbridge in the U.S. (over 10,000 openings a year). This area shows a working waterfront with workboats, a seafood-processing operation and places to disembark for lunch.
6. Kingfisher Canoe Trail
Maryland & Washington DC — Prince Georges County
The Kingfisher trail is an urban trail offering both views
of nature and the city. Starting at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, the
eight-mile trail goes through the hidden gem, Kenilworth Marsh, where beavers,
otter and waterfowl may be observed. Toward the end, the trail weaves past the
Aquatic Gardens and National Arboretum. Tides can run low, so it’s best to
travel on the incoming tide. For the best experience, do the entire trail,
starting in Bladensburg and ending in Anacostia Park. Make arrangements for
kayak rental and pick up from the trail’s end at the Bladensburg Waterfront
The downloadable trail map is on their website.
5. The Upper Nanticoke River
Delaware — Sussex County
This trail runs from the headwaters of the Nanticoke River to Seaford. The Nanticoke is Delaware’s largest watershed, and only half of the river is in Delaware. It’s listed on the Nationwide Rivers Inventory under the classification of Wild and Scenic River Systems. This is because of the Nanticoke’s undeveloped nature. It has extensive unbroken forests lining the river, and the highest concentration of bald eagles in the northeastern U.S. The upper portion of the river is unspoiled and has changed little since the indigenous American people lived here on its banks. Launch at the public ramp in Seaford.
4. Blackwater Wildlife Refuge
The Upper Transquaking River
Maryland — Dorchester County
Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is a region unlike any other on Delmarva. The vast marshlands, tidal pools, pine forests, big sky and amazing light makes Blackwater a destination for artists, painters, photographers and outdoor enthusiasts. It was originally created as a haven for migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway. Today, this region supports over 35% of all wintering waterfowl that use the Atlantic Flyway. Estimates are that over 25,000 geese, 15,000 ducks and 5,000 snow geese winter in Blackwater. Bring your camera.
The Upper Transquaking River runs straight up the middle of Dorchester County, mostly through the farms and wetlands of the part of Dorchester that natives refer to as “Down Below.” This trail starts near the headwaters of the river, on Drawbridge Road (public launch), and is an easy paddle, leisurely and enjoyable – perfect for the beginner, as well as the expert. The trail is sheltered and passes by wooded banks, open wetlands and farm area, and is incredibly quiet. It ends at Decoursey Bridge, where disembarking is possible next to the bridge. This is also a very haunted bridge. So, if you’re into ghost stories, imagine Big Lizz coming out of the swamp at Decoursey Bridge (with her severed head in hand, eyes glowing red). See her beckoning you into the swamp, leading you to her master’s long-lost fortune.
3. Porters Crossing
Maryland — Worcester County
The Pocomoke River in Worcester County is Maryland’s deepest river for its width — and second deepest for its width in the world (the Nile is no. 1). The Pocomoke got its name from the Algonquin word meaning “black water,” and about six feet below the surface, there is no ambient light, so wearing life jackets on this river is a must. It is by far one of the region’s most scenic rivers. This trail has varied landscapes: forest, swamp, open water and a place to disembark if you want to rest. Launch at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company ($10 launch fee) in Snow Hill. The guides there are competent, friendly and enthusiastic about the Pocomoke River. It’s a five-mile paddle each way.
The water trail between Porters Crossing and Snow Hill runs through a densely forested cypress swamp. The forest canopy provides cool shade in the summer. The river is narrow, and the water is still. Wildlife is abundant, especially in the summer. There is life all around but not a sound from the human-inhabited world. This trail is secluded. Cypress knees push up through the water and onto the banks, and it’s not uncommon to see otter, turtles and water snakes. When the water is still, and there’s enough light coming through the trees, beware of an optical illusion that reflects the trees at the water’s surface. It becomes impossible to see where the waterline separates reflection from the actual trees.
2. Chincoteague Bay
Virginia — Accomack County
The Assateague wild ponies still run free along the uninhabited barrier island opposite the island of Chincoteague in Virginia. Chincoteague Bay is wide-open water but easy enough to paddle. Head toward the lighthouse and find the narrow trail that meanders right up to it. Down the coast are places where you can disembark. Conch shells are abundant here. Best launch on the island is at Snug Harbor. They also rent kayaks.
1. Janes Island
Maryland — Somerset County
Janes Island State Park has over 30 miles of marked water trails weaving in an out of the salt marsh that surrounds a series of small islands. Maps are available at the camp store or online. The pristine beauty of the marsh, set against a border of pine forest and the Tangier Sound, offers some of the most stunning visuals to be found among Maryland’s waterways. The best part of the trail is finding the private beach on Old Island. Ask the ranger or get a map. The beach is only accessible by boat. It’s great fun for beachcombers looking for sea glass, seashells and arrowheads. Insect repellant is necessary. There is no fee to launch your own kayak at the State Park dock, as long as you use the kayak launch and not the boat ramp. Extra benefit: Sunsets over the Tangier Sound are some of the most dramatic in the entire Chesapeake region. Make a weekend of it; camp in the state park.
Any one of these 10 trails will offer a memorable experience. Be sure to dress for the weather, and bring insect repellent, as these trails all wind through remote locations, deep in a natural setting. Happy paddling!
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