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Itinerary:

Key Bridge Boathouse: You Don’t Know Jack

Key Bridge Boathouse might be one of the most photographed and recognizable boathouses on the East Coast. With its colorful fleet of kayaks and canoes, painted docks, and iconic location underneath an arched span of the Key Bridge, D.C.’s oldest standing bridge, Key Bridge Boathouse is an experience to behold on a summer day.

Originally chartered as Jack’s Boathouse in 1945 by Jack Baxter, who was a D.C. police officer for 11 years, this public boathouse became an institution for both locals and tourists looking to get out on the river. As the decades have passed, the boathouse has only become more popular. From the time the Georgetown Waterfront was still an industrial zone, to its demise and ultimate renaissance, Key Bridge Boathouse has been putting folks in boats all along.

Launching at Key Bridge Boathouse allows paddlers to venture upriver for more natural scenery and wooded shorelines, or downriver to see the cityscape of Arlington and the skyline of Washington, D.C.

Paddling Notes

  • Boat rentals available seasonally, approximately April through October.
  • In addition to rentals, Key Bridge Boathouse offers a full program of guided tours, eco-tours, group instruction, and private lessons.
  • If you bring your own boat, there is a $5 launch fee. Private launch customers are required to follow the same boathouse safety policies as rental customers.
  • Before you go paddling in the early spring or late fall, check the real-time water temperature from the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment’s river monitoring stations.

Navigational Hazards

Take caution around powerboats. There is significant powerboat traffic around the Key Bridge Boathouse. Take particular care when crossing the river near Key Bridge itself – the spans and bridge footers can hide kayaks from boat operators and vice-versa. Make yourself visible and avoid paddling into the oncoming path of powerboats.

Though relatively protected, this section of the Potomac River can experience strong, sudden summer storms that bring strong winds. Check the weather forecast before your trip and keep an eye on the skies. Be prepared to quickly head back to shore if the weather changes.

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)

George Washington University Hospital
900 23rd St NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 715-4000

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

Parking & Shuttles

Parking is limited in the vicinity of Key Bridge Boathouse. There are parking spaces at the end of Water Street and metered spaces all along Water Street. If possible, walk, bike, or take public transportation to reduce the stress and expense of parking. If you must drive and can’t find parking nearby, you can park on M Street or in one of the garages further east on Water Street and walk down to the boathouse.

Restrooms

Portable toilets are available at Key Bridge Bridge.

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.
  • 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.

    ***Since Key Bridge Boathouse does not have a potable water spigot, it is recommended that you bring an ample supply of water with you. However, should you forget, bottled water is for sale at the facility concession stand.

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

There is not currently a water fountain or potable water spigot at Key Bridge Boathouse. Since a potable water source is not available on site, Key Bridge Boathouse has bottled water available for sale.

There are no camping accommodations at Key Bridge Boathouse.

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.
  • 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

  • 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.

Weather