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Itinerary:

Fletcher’s Boathouse: A Cove Full of History

For more than a century, Fletcher’s Cove in Washington, D.C. has been a renowned destination for fishing enthusiasts chasing the annual shad run, as well as locals looking to escape the summer heat and city bustle. But Fletcher’s Cove is not just for the fishing crowd. Located in a natural cove formed in the rock of the Potomac riverbank, Fletcher’s Boathouse houses distinctive red rowboats that generations of visitors have oared.

A trip to the Boathouse feels like stepping back in time half a century. Many of the staff have worked at the Boathouse for decades and are full of stories collected through the years. The Boathouse offers canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and rowboat rentals for those who want to experience the natural scenery from the water.

Paddling Notes

Fletcher’s Cove is not recommended for paddlers who want to bring their own boats. Launching from the docks is for rental customers only. The self-launching location is downriver from the cove in a muddy and rocky area. Ask the concession staff to point you to where to launch.

Before you go, ask about water level and flow. The Potomac River is tidal at this location, and since the river is narrow, the tide can create a moderate current that is swift enough to prevent paddling back upriver. It’s best to plan your trip so you’ll be paddling back upriver with the tidal flow, not against it.

Fletcher’s Cove is located at the head of tidal navigation on the Potomac River. Boats leaving Fletcher’s Cove are required to go downriver and not venture up toward Chain Bridge, where the final drop of the fall line occurs at Little Falls – somewhat of a misnomer, as the rapids at Little Falls aren’t so little!

Navigational Hazards

  • ​Fletcher’s Cove is a relatively protected stretch of water. However, strong summer storms can descend down the river valley and bring strong winds. Check the weather forecast before your trip.
  • Although infrequent, powerboats will occasionally venture this far upriver. The area is low-speed/no-wake zone, but take caution around powerboats.
  • There is a noticeable (though not severe) tidal current that will make paddling upriver more strenuous during an ebb (outgoing) tide.

Water Safety

Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The National Park Service, Chesapeake Conservancy and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.

Marine Forecast

We STRONGLY suggested that you review the marine forecast ahead of heading out for a paddling trip. To review the forecast for this paddle trip, visit:

Tidal Information

See the most recent tide information.

Emergency Information

Emergency or To Report a Crime:

Call 911 or 202-610-7500 (U.S. Park Police 24-hour Emergency Number)

Sibley Memorial Hostpital
5255 Loughboro Rd NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 537-4000

Georgetown University Hospital
3800 Reservoir Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 444-2000

Parking & Shuttles

There are two parking lots at Fletchers Cove. The first, between Canal Rd and the C&O Canal, is smaller and fills quickly. The second, larger gravel parking lot, is located between the C&O Canal and the river.

Note: driving to the lower parking area requires traversing through a low clearance tunnel underneath the C&O Canal. Roof racks, boats tied down on vehicle roofs, or taller vehicles will not fit underneath the tunnel. Be sure to carefully check your clearance before proceeding through the tunnel.

Further, the ingress and egress from Canal Rd into the Fletchers Cove facility can be challenging as the road leading in is only 1.5 lanes wide. Be courteous, patient, and cautious. The entrance is most easily entered by either heading west on Canal Rd and making a left turn or by heading down Reservoir Rd and crossing Canal Rd to the Fletchers entrance.

Restrooms

Fletchers Cove has new large, ample restroom facilities.

Equipment

  • ALWAYS wear a properly secured personal flotation device (PFD) when participating in paddlesport activities. Make sure that your PFD has a readily accessible safety whistle.
  • Bring a paddle float and water pump for self rescue.
  • A spray skirt is recommended for cold/foul weather.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing that shields you from the sun (sunglasses, sunblock, hat, and a long-sleeved shirt that can get wet) and is safe to swim in. Water shoes with closed toes will protect you from abrasive hazards at launch areas that can cut your feet.
  • Bring water in bottles than can be secured to your craft. Bring more water than you think you’ll need and drink regularly throughout your journey.

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

Water: Drinking water fountains are located in the building that houses the restroom facilities.

Camping: Camping is not permitted at Fletcher’s Cove. The C&O Canal Trust runs the Canal Quarters program, which makes six historic lockhouses available for rent (Lockhouse 6 is a short drive from Fletcher’s Cove).

Concession: Fletcher’s Boathouse has a concession with snacks, drinks, and basic lunch options.

Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • Captain John Smith and his crew spent approximately one month in 160? prospecting for minerals along the Potomac. He mapped the Nacotchtank tribe here, who were later called the Anacostan – which is where we get the name “Anacostia River.” Although there is no Nacotchtank descendent community, the Piscataway tribes take an active interest in interpreting the American Indian history of the Washington metropolitan area.
  • Smith was not the first Englishman that the Nacotchtank encountered. Englishman Henry Fleet lived with the Nacotchtank for five years in the 1620s. He learned the Virginia Algonquian language, which allowed him to become a trader and translator for Lord Calvert when Calvert brought settlers to Maryland.
  • The American Indians on the south shore of the Potomac would have followed a traditional Chesapeake Bay indigenous lifestyle based on agriculture, fishing, shellfishing, and hunting, as well as trade with other groups upriver, across the river, and possibly across the Bay as well.

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • This region was a stronghold for American resistance to the British advances on Washington. During the War of 1812, British forces occupied Alexandria for five days, pillaging the city for naval, shipping, and merchandise exports.
  • Across the river, Oxon Hill Farm’s Mount Welby house witnessed the explosions that destroyed Fort Washington and the plundering of Alexandria. Mary Welby DeButts described hearing “every fire” from the Battle at Bladensburg and how the house was illuminated by fires in Washington. She wrote of finding rockets “on our hill” and that a British fleet “lay directly before our house.”
  • Washington Navy Yard was a ship-building hub during the time of the War of 1812, supporting the defense of Washington D.C. and serving as one of the last lines of defense in the Battle at Bladensburg. As the British marched into Washington, Admiral Tingey ordered the yard to be burned to prevent its capture by the enemy.
  • After a British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, British forces occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House and the Capitol on August 24, 1814. The occupation lasted only about 26 hours, when a severe storm forced the British to return to their damaged ships.

Potomac Heritage NST

  • Oxon Hill Farm reflects the importance of agriculture and farming in early America. Land along the present-day George Washington Memorial Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail was farmed for tobacco production. Alexandria, Jones Point Park, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal were significant stops for early shipping and industry on the Potomac.

Weather

Main image: BeyondDC