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Georgetown Waterfront Park: From Rags to Riches

Though it’s hard to believe looking at it today, the Georgetown Waterfront was once a run-down area used for trash trucks and a wrecker yard – left over from its industrial past, when it had been the site of a cement plant, power station, and rendering factory. Today, the Georgetown Waterfront has experienced a true renaissance that hearkens back to earlier times when Georgetown was once a thriving port.

Thompson Boat Center is situated at the mouth of Rock Creek in the shadow of the Watergate Building, just across from Theodore Roosevelt Island. You’ll dip your paddle into the capital city’s history when embarking on a paddling trip from Thompson Boat Center.

Once you’re back on shore, you can take advantage of all varieties of cultural activities and dining opportunities within easy walking distance of the boat center.

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.

Image Credit: ehpien

Things to Know

  • Boat rentals are available seasonally from April through October.
  • Although this route is a shorter loop, there’s no shortage of things to see: The mouth of Rock Creek (which served as the entrance to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal), the architecturally stunning Swedish Embassy, the infamous Watergate building, the impressive Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the spans of Arlington Memorial Bridge, the visual illusion of the steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial, the entrance to the Boundary Channel, and the urban natural oasis of Roosevelt Island.
  • Paddlers will see more powerboat traffic near the Georgetown Waterfront. The seawall in front of The Washington Harbour, just upriver from Thompson Boat Center, should be avoided when paddling because of busy powerboat traffic.

Navigational Hazards

  • Take caution around powerboats. The typical route for powerboats passes under the middle of Roosevelt Memorial Bridge directly to The Washington Harbour seawall. However, just like paddlers, powerboats have the right to travel elsewhere. Make yourself visible and avoid paddling into the oncoming path of powerboats.

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

Parking & Shuttles

  • Parking is available in the Thompson Boat Center lot, accessed from Rock Creek Parkway or Virginia Avenue. Alternate parking is available along Water Street or in garage parking for the Washington Harbor facility.


Thompson Boat Center has full restrooms available.


  • 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.
  • 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.​


Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • Captain John Smith and his crew spent approximately one month in 1608 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.
  • 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.
  • Despite its urban setting, this section of the Potomac still boasts rich ecological diversity. There are two bald eagle nests on the Virginia side, as well as frequent osprey sightings in the area.

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

  • Georgetown was founded in 1751 and quickly became a busy commercial port for tobacco and slaves. In the 1820s, the C&O Canal was constructed along the west bank at the north point of the port. By the late 19th century, sedimentation made this section of the Potomac River and the C&O Canal unnavigable for commercial vessels, marking the end of the port.
  • In the 20th century, the Georgetown waterfront became an industrial site, hosting a cement plant, a power station, a flour mill, a meat rendering plant, and more. These activities continued until the 1960s, when the area was slated for development into a highway, which was never built.
  • 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 C&O Canal were significant stops for early shipping and industry on the Potomac.