Uncover something new around every corner when you paddle the many rivers and tributaries of Charles County, MD. Bordered by the Potomac River to the west and Patuxent River to the east, there are more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline to explore by the water’s edge. Whether you’re looking to spend an hour on the water or planning an overnight camping trip, head out on one of the designated Charles County Water Trails, part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Network, or forge your own path to discover the joy in this paddling destination.
Paddlers of all abilities, especially the bird enthusiast in your group, will love the sheltered waterway of Mattawoman Creek Trail. Get your morning started with a caffeine boost and scone from Clarity Coffee House before launching from Mattingly Park, where you can pick up a rental from Atlantic Kayak. Paddle through the scenic Mattawoman Natural Environment Area or head downstream for 4.5 miles to Smallwood State Park—where you’ll find a boat ramp, fishing pier, nature center, and walking trails—and out to the Potomac River. When you’re done on the water, refuel with a specialty wood-fired pie from OBO Pizza, fresh crab from Grinder’s Seafood, or a sweet treat from Michelle’s Cakes.
A great option for more experienced paddlers is Mallows Bay to Purse Area Trail, part of the Lower Potomac River Water Trail. Put in at Mallows Bay Park to explore the Mallows Bay Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. Home to the “Ghost Fleet,” the only sunken ship graveyard in the Western Hemisphere, there are more than 100 abandoned vessels dotting an 18-square mile stretch of the coast with plenty of excellent fishing opportunities along the way. Continue your journey past Nanjemoy Wildlife Management Area to Purse Area, known for fossil treasure hunting and birding. Back in town, get a taste of the Charles County craft beverage scene with a visit to Bridgett’s Vines, Blue Dyer Distillery, or Patuxent Brewing Company for refreshing drinks, friendly faces, and a relaxing atmosphere.
Keep the tour of the area going on the Friendship Farm Park Trails, two loop trails that begin and end at Friendship Farm Park. The loop out to Church Creek and Hilltop Fork offers a four-mile leisurely paddling experience while Nanjemoy Creek meanders past low marshes and forested areas with great spots for wildlife viewing. Swing by Nanjemoy Country Store, Scotts Bar II, or Blue Dog Restaurant and Saloon for a to-go meal best enjoyed amidst the beautiful natural surroundings.
If you prefer a more remote and secluded experience, the Port Tobacco River Trail is a scenic option with the ability to customize how long you’re out on the water. Starting at Port Tobacco Marina, located at the quiet headwaters of the Port Tobacco River, paddle toward Fourth Point, a prominent outcropping marking the boundary of Chapel Point State Park. Stop at the park for a picnic by the water or a night at one of the paddle-in campsites before continuing your journey to Goose Creek and the take out at Goose Bay Marina and Campground. Reward yourself with a waterfront meal at Port Tobacco Restaurant or a cone of homemade ice cream at Landon’s Ices and Creams in La Plata.
Located within a few hours’ drive from major cities like Washington, D.C., Richmond, Baltimore, and Raleigh, this Maryland peninsula is perfectly located for your next day trip or a week-long excursion. Paddle for days along miles of scenic waterways and past unique historic sites when you visit Charles County, MD.
All photos courtesy of Charles County Tourism