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Going Pleasantly Along Mattawoman Creek at Smallwood

Ever wondered what a restored Chesapeake Bay would look like? Head to Smallwood State Park along Mattawoman Creek, located about 22 miles south of Washington, D.C. This tidal freshwater estuary is an approximate representation of the Bay’s ideal conditions: exceptionally clear water, extensive beds of submerged underwater vegetation (SAV), and many species of fish, mussels, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Unfortunately, this hotspot for biodiversity has faced increased pressure from development, threatening wildlife and water quality.

Mattawoman Creek appears on Captain John Smith’s 1608 map as “Mataughquamend,” an Algonquian compound meaning, “where one goes pleasantly.” Paddling here is certainly pleasant, although it can be difficult to navigate through the submerged grasses and American lotus.

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: alliecat1881

Things to Know

  • Mattawoman Creek contains 54 species of fish and four species of freshwater mussels, making this creek one of the most popular on the Potomac for anglers.
  • Much of the shoreline is owned by the military or by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, so there is relatively little development along this scenic route.
  • The thick vegetation in Mattawoman Creek makes for its unusually clear water ‒ it’s possible to see the bottom in 6-8 feet of water.

Navigational Hazards

  • There is a large amount of aquatic vegetation (SAV, American lotus) which can make paddling difficult along the shoreline.
  • Steer clear of wreckage outside of Mattawoman State Natural Environmental Area near Nelson Point (38°35'17.3"N 77°08'28.9"W).

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

In an emergency, dial 911

Nearest hospital:

University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center
5 Garrett Avenue
La Plata, MD 20646
(301) 609-4160

Parking & Shuttles

  • Park Hours: April through October, open daily 5:00 a.m. to sunset. November through March, open daily 7:00 a.m. through sunset.
  • Entrance Fee: $3.00 per person on weekends and holidays, April through October. $3.00 per vehicle all other times. For out-of-state residents, $5.00 per person on weekends and holidays, April through October and $5.00 per vehicle at all other times.
  • For overnight camping, the daily entrance fee is waived.




  • 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 for cold/foul weather.
  • 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.


Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • Mattawoman Creek appears on Captain John Smith’s 1608 map as “Mataughquamend,” an Algonquian compound meaning, “where one goes pleasantly.”

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • Smallwood State Park is named for General William Smallwood, who reached the rank of major general for his service as a patriot leader during the Revolutionary War. He was elected the fourth governor of Maryland in 1785 and later served in the Maryland senate. During his term as governor, Maryland ratified the federal constitution.
  • The gravesite and retreat house of General Smallwood are located at Smallwood State Park. This restored 18th century tidewater plantation reflects Smallwood's lifestyle as a gentleman planter.

Potomac Heritage NST

  • Sweden Point Marina was once known as Sweetman's Landing. The area referred to as Grinders Wharf (which today is only a few exposed pilings) was built on a natural deepwater channel in Mattawoman Creek. The Grinder family was one of the major brick manufacturers in the Chicamuxen area. They used Grinders Wharf to ship their brick out to the wholesalers.
  • In the mid 1800s, the Washington Steamship Lines used the wharf, and would pick up water on their journey south to the Chesapeake Bay.