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Itinerary:

Dyke Marsh, The Belle of the Potomac

Belle Haven Marina and Dyke Marsh are both rare treasures of their own accord. For many locals, Belle Haven Marina has been an institution for generations, where parents watch as their kids learn to kayak and sail in the same place where they had learned themselves. Don’t let the sailing activities signal any sort of pretense – the staff and regulars at Belle Haven Marina are relaxed and as welcoming as they come. Belle Haven Marina is situated on a peninsula of land just south of historic Old Town Alexandria with views of the Wilson Bridge, Hunting Creek, Jones Point Lighthouse, and Dyke Marsh. It’s hard to imagine that a place so quaint and peaceful as Belle Haven Marina exists within a stone’s throw of the Beltway.

Just as rare is Dyke Marsh Preserve, one of the few remaining freshwater tidal wetlands on the Potomac. Best explored by kayak or canoe, Belle Haven Marina’s kayak launch is perfectly located on the protected side of the point for easy access to paddle Dyke Marsh. Referred to as “Hell Hole” in the 19th century for its wildness and mosquitoes, it might be more aptly nicknamed “Heavenly Preserve” in contemporary times.

Paddling Notes

  • Canoes, single kayaks, tandem kayaks, as well as standup paddleboards are seasonally available for rental. Make rental arrangements at the marina office before heading down to the kayak launch area.
  • Though this is a beginner friendly paddle and the routes stays near shore, it does traverse an open water environment.
  • In addition to paddling, Belle Haven Marina also offers sailboat lessons and rentals. If it’s a breezy day that doesn’t look good for kayaking, then it’s probably a great day to be sailing!
  • A hike along the Haul Road Trail, less than a mile in length, gives a land side perspective on Dyke Marsh Preserve and ends at a boardwalk with benches looking out on a wonderful view of the river.
  • Interested in bird watching? Every Sunday morning at 8AM, Friends of Dyke Marsh, a volunteer group dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the marsh preserve, organizes bird walks led by experienced birders.
  • If bringing your own boat, there is a $5 launch fee for canoes and kayaks.

Navigational Hazards

Though the paddling route is near shore, the exposure to open water does mean that paddlers can be susceptible to large boat wakes from powerboats and tour boats traveling up and down the main channel.

When departing from and returning to the kayak launch, be mindful of sailboats also leaving from or returning to the dock in the same vicinity. These are not massive sailboats, just 14 foot Sunfish and 19 foot Flying Scots. Just be courteous and aware as it is harder for a sailboat to maneuver or avoid collision, especially in tight quarters.

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:

Emergency Information

Emergencies Call 911 or 202-610-7500 (US Park Police)

Inova Alexandria Hospital
4320 Seminary Rd, Alexandria, VA 22304
(703) 504-3000

Facility address (***Belle Haven Marina does not have a street numbered address, however it is well marked from George Washington Memorial Parkway):

Belle Haven Marina
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Alexandria, VA 22307
703-768-0018

Parking & Shuttles

Parking is available within the marina along the point. However, the marina can be busy on weekends. Belle Haven Park, just north of the marina, features two large parking lots within walking distance to the marina.

Restrooms

Belle Haven Marina an indoor bathroom facility building maintained by the National Park Service.

Equipment

  • ALWAYS wear a personal flotation device (PFD) properly secured, at all times when participating in paddlesport activities.
  • Always bring a paddle float and water pump for self rescue.
  • A spray skirt is recommended.
  • Whether you are renting or bringing your own, make sure that your PFD has a safety whistle that is readily accessible.
  • Wear protective clothing appropriate to the weather, activity, and environment especially sun protection (large brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeved water-appropriate shirt, sunblock lotion). Assume that you will get wet and be mindful that your clothing would be safe to swim in.
  • Footwear: watershoes or similar are a must have for paddlesports. Launch areas and the river can contain abrasive hazards that can cut feet. Footwear that protects toes and can be walked in when wet is necessary. Flip-flops and sandals are not sufficient or appropriate.
  • Water: Bring water in bottles than can be secured to your boat. Bring more water than you expect to need and drink it throughout your paddling journey.

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

  • Water fountains are located on the bathroom facility building. The marina office has vending machines with soft drinks and bottled water for sale.
  • Belle View Shopping Center contains several restaurants and a Safeway grocery store. Not far away is Del Ray Pizza – Belle Haven, a popular spot with locals.
  • Camping is not permitted at Belle Haven Marina.

Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • Nearby Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is teeming with aquatic and bird species. The marsh is one of the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetlands in the Washington area. Over 300 species of birds have been seen at the park. Keep an eye out for migratory species such as the red-eyed vireo and great crested flycatcher, as well as dozens of bald eagles. Flowering plants throughout the preserve also attract a diversity of butterflies and other pollinators.
  • Smith visited the area in June of 1608. He met with Piscataway Indians in a town called Moyaone, the political center of the Piscataway nation at the time. Archaeological evidence shows indigenous occupation of the area for approximately 11,000 years. Piscataway towns in this area sustained themselves on the natural riches of the Potomac and Piscataway Creek, and nearby game and agriculture. Visitors to both sides of the river here can experience a natural landscape similar to that found during the height of American Indian habitation and the Colonial era. By the end of the 17th century, this land became an integral part of the tobacco culture that remained central to the economy for the next 300 years.

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • On August 27, 1814, as Washington, D.C. was burning, the British fleet rested on the Potomac near Mount Vernon. As British forces attacked and burned Washington, a British naval squadron sailed up the Potomac and forced the surrender of Alexandria. Loaded with loot, the fleet then headed downriver. On September 1, the British attempted to run the deep-water channel below the Belvoir house site, a position that previously had been identified as a strategic defensive location on the river. Here, a hastily assembled American force, composed of Virginia and Alexandria militia under the command of U.S. Navy Captain David Porter, hurriedly began to mount a battery on the bluffs above the river. For four days, British and American forces exchanged cannon and musket fire. The British fleet eventually passed the American positions. British shells demolished what little was left of the old Belvoir Manor.
  • The British ship Anna Maria, serving as a sentry near Swan Creek to make sure that American forces did not re-occupy the strategic point that had been abandoned when Fort Washington was destroyed, took onboard many runaway slaves. The British Army and Navy had been sending out the call through the slave communities that any slave that offered to assist the British in the war, by offering intelligence or fighting against the Americans, would receive a life of freedom somewhere in the British Empire for their service. Upon reaching the Anna Maria these men would be trained with small arms and eventually join a regiment known as the Colonial Marines. Sixty-five slaves made it to the Anna Maria as it sat anchored in Swan Creek. Today there are communities in Trinidad, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone that can trace their origins to the resettlement of Colonial Marines and their families.

Potomac Heritage NST

  • Just upriver, the Jones Point Lighthouse is one of the last riverine lighthouses in the country. The lighthouse operated from 1856-1926, and was designed to help ships navigate the shoals on the Potomac River. It advanced Fresnel lens could be seen nine miles away, providing critical support to the growing maritime economy during that time period.
  • In 1918, a shipyard was constructed at Jones Point to build ships for World War I. After experiencing extensive damage throughout both world wars, the lighthouse was restored and reopened to the public in 1964 with the help of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the National Park Service.
  • This region has a rich history of land conservation. Piscataway Park was established to protect the historic viewshed of Mount Vernon, and tax credits to local property owners initiated the land trust movement in the United States. The National Colonial Farm is a living museum of colonial farming and a modern day organic farm which generates its own electricity using solar energy. The traditional farming methods used at the colonial farm demonstrate the life of most tobacco-farming colonists.
  • Marshall Hall, built circa 1725 and destroyed by fire in 1981, is an example of colonial-era land use in the area. Beginning in 1650, the original property was combined with other smaller sites, including a parcel deeded to the Marshall family by the Piscataway Indians. The property stayed in the family until they were forced to sell it after the Civil War. From the late 1800s until the 1970s, the estate was the site of a popular amusement park.

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