Summer Water Escapes: Close to Home

Stress-reducing, affordable ways to beat the heat.

Potomac River // © avmedved,


The Potomac River snakes through the Mid-Atlantic region from Green Spring, West Virginia, past Mount Vernon, flowing into the Chesapeake Bay in Reedville, Virginia. This iconic river provides countless opportunities for water play.

There are several resources to help you recreate close to home. In the District, Ballpark Boathouse, Fletchers Cove Boathouse, The Wharf Boathouse, Capital SUP and Key Bridge Boathouse are outfitters that offer rentals, instruction and guided tours on paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. On the Maryland side, boat and board rentals are available at National Harbor, Potomac Paddlesports in Potomac, and Valley Mill Kayaks in Germantown. In Virginia, you can rent paddles and boats from Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria; Columbia Island Marina and Washington Sailing Marina in Arlington; Pohick Bay Rental near Fort Belvoir; and Potomac Boat Rentals in Woodbridge.

The Potomac Heritage Trail runs down the Virginia side of the river and offers various prospects for hiking along the scenic shoreline. Check trails along the Potomac such as Riverbend Park and Turkey Run Park, both operated by the National Park Service. Also, Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling and the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria.

Spend a summer day boating on the Potomac by chartering a private vessel or taking a river cruise. DC Duck Tours operate amphibious vehicles that can travel on land and sea. Numerous river tours embark from the Southwest Waterfront, Georgetown’s Washington Harbour, Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor in Maryland. Choose from a daytime, evening or happy hour sightseeing cruise on Spirit Cruises or the upscale Odyssey, a fine dining cruise. Step back in time on a The Cherry Blossom, a member of the Potomac Riverboat Company fleet. This sternwheeler departs from the dock in Old Town Alexandria.

DC Sail, part of the National Maritime Heritage Foundation, offers sailing lessons at the waterfront area of Southwest D.C. In Poolesville, Maryland, take kayaking lessons from Calleva’s Liquid Adventures experts who teach piloting Potomac’s gentle rapids. Water Taxi’s make the rounds between Georgetown, Nationals Ballpark and National Harbor.
For family friendly fun, go fishing in East Potomac Park or take the paddle boats out at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. One final option, head to Harpers Ferry or Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where outfitters facilitate Potomac River tube rides near the confluence of the Shenandoah River.

Rappahannock River runs east to west, paralleling the path of its northern neighbor, the Potomac River. Many water adventures begin near Fredericksburg, where the Virginia Outdoor Center provides kayak and canoe rentals, as well as paddleboarding and tubing. Their Mountain Adventure School teaches rock climbing and river navigation too. Landings along the Rappahannock include Crow’s Nest Nature Natural Area Preserve, Aquia Landing and Hopyard Landing. Take scuba diving lessons at the Rappahannock Quarry, where divers can investigate artifacts like sunken boats and even a bus. The Rappahannock River Water Trail has a detailed list of recreational sites in the Northern Neck region as well.

Lake Anne // © NickMDN,


Burke Lake Park in Burke consists of 888 acres of recreation area where people can go for fishing, boating, camping, biking and hiking. The American Hiking Society named the park one of the 10 best fitness trails in the nation. The park also has a marina and offers boat rentals. The Information Center located at the entrance has maps of the lake and surrounding activities. The park has a miniature train, amphitheater, ice cream parlor, carousel, mini golf, picnic areas, campgrounds and volleyball courts.

• Fishing
• Canoeing/kayaking
• Pontoon rides/seasonal boat tours

Lake Barcroft is a privately-owned, 115-acre lake used exclusively by the surrounding homeowners. Created by installing a dam in the early 1900s, the lakefront property belongs to residents of Lake Barcroft and they have access to the white sand beaches, canoeing, kayaking and events. The neighborhood hosts fireworks, parades, musical performances and boat races there. Residents have identification to show they are allowed access to the lake and its surrounding garden areas.

• Canoeing/kayaking
• Swimming (depending on water quality readings and lifeguard hours)
• Catch-and-release fishing

Lake Fairfax is located on 476 acres of bucolic parkland. Located near Reston and operated by Fairfax County, visitors are welcome to spend the day enjoying the lake by taking the park’s tour boat, renting one of the pedal boats or going fishing. The centerpiece of Lake Fairfax Park is the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, a water park with fun activities like the 725-foot Rattlesnake Lazy River, Tot Pool, slides, tunnels and other playground features. There’s also a skate park, campgrounds and an antique carousel. People can launch their own canoe or kayak, but no motor boats, sailboats or paddleboards are allowed on the lake.

• Canoeing/kayaking
• Fishing on the shoreline only (no boats)
• Pedal boats
• Tour boat

Lake Accotink Park is 493 acres of natural landscapes featuring the scenic and peaceful Lake Accotink. The park, located in the Springfield area, offers pedal boats, canoes and bikes for rent, and has a miniature golf course, snack bar and picnic areas. Locals call this park a hidden gem, and hikers have found a variety of wildlife on the trails here. On summer weekends, the park hosts boat races, concerts and other events, as well as pontoon boat tours.

• Fishing
• Canoeing/kayaking
• Pedal boats
• Pontoon tour boat
• Small private boats (sailboats under 15 feet, boats with electric motors)

Lake Audubon is one of the four man-made lakes in Reston that were built as storm water management facilities. Lake Audubon is a private lake that is not safe for swimming, but permitted residents are allowed to fish and boat on the lake. Residents with lake front property can have a permit to dock their pontoon and deck boats with electrically powered motors only. Permits are required for the use of sailboards and windsurfers, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and floats.

• Fishing
• Canoeing/kayaking/floats
• Pontoon boats/sailboards/windsurfers

Lake Mercer in Fairfax Station, near West Springfield, has a secluded shoreline where people come to walk on peaceful trails and admire this serene 43-acre body of water surrounded by woods. Part of the Pohick Creek Watershed, Lake Mercer is part of a 154-acre park where visitors are allowed to fish, but no motored boats are allowed in this small lake. The best reason to come is to look for wildlife, including birds, beavers, foxes and turtles. The 3.5-mile trail around the lake is mostly paved and a bit hilly.

• Fishing
• Canoeing (must carry, no boat launch)

Lake Anne sits behind the Lake Anne Plaza shopping center, a local brewery and a small museum. It’s a waterfront village, with shopping, dining, a farmers market and social gatherings planned to resemble the Italian coastal town of Portofino. Lake Anne is part of the four man-made lakes of Reston and no swimming is allowed, but fishing, boating and lakeside picnicking is permitted. Lake Anne has summer boat rentals open to the public of canoes, kayaks, paddleboats or rowboats; tickets are sold at Reston’s Used Book Shop.

• Fishing
• Canoeing/kayaking
• Rowboats/paddleboats

Water Parks

Atlantis Waterpark is part of the NoVA Parks family and is located near Centreville at Bull Run Regional Park. Two huge waterslides, one open and one you ride in total darkness, along with a giant dumping bucket, are the showpieces of this small park, but there is also a pool for youngsters and a snack bar.

Great Waves Waterpark is located in Cameron Run Regional Park in Alexandria. The major attraction is the wave pool; 17,500 square feet of rolling water. There are speed slides and waterslides here, plus a tot pool and shade under the rental cabanas. After all that water play, Cameron Run also offers mini golf and batting cages inside the park.

Ocean Dunes Waterpark is located in Arlington’s Upton Hill Regional Park. The 230-foot open slide and 170-foot covered slide are the major attractions, along with a 500-gallon dumping bucket. There are squirting jets and waterfalls too. Host a party by renting the large picnic shelter with a BBQ grill or hike the trails around the water park.

Pirate’s Cove Waterpark in Pohick Bay Regional Park features Buccaneer Beach, a water playground with lots of pirate-themed touches like a 300-gallon dumping bucket operated by a giant parrot and a skull and crossbones flag. Kids love playing in the sandbox where they dig for buried treasure. After skimming down the waterslides, stop for a meal at the Captain’s Galley Cafe.

Volcano Island Waterpark is located in Algonkian Regional Park on the banks of the Potomac River in Sterling. The giant wading pool has a multilevel playground with numerous water features. At the top, the lizard-operated 500-gallon dumping bucket sits beside two palm trees ready to pour. Pick up a snack at Paradise Cafe then relax under the tiki canopy. The tree stump slide, water cannon and two large waterslides add to the fun.

Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole in Reston features the fun of the Old West, where settlers rushed for gold. Here you can frolic in Boomtown, the giant activity pool with slides, flumes, sprays and showers. Hop a float for a ride along the 725-foot Rattlesnake River or slide down Pete’s Peak, a replica of a lost mine in a ragged mountain. There’s a beach volleyball court for older kids and Tenderfoot pond for babies.

Splashdown Waterpark is located in Manassas. Larger than most of the regional parks, this private park has several slides, like the four-story Pipeline Tower, Tropical Twister and Cannon Ball slides. Along with a lazy river, there’s a challenging log-walk and a playground with fountains and sprays. Coney Island Cafe serves BBQ and pizza. Look for discounts available to younger kids on Mondays and Thursdays.

(July 2018)

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