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Point Lookout State Park: Looking Out on Our Nation’s River

Image Credit: fabulousfabs

Things to Know

  • Canoe and kayak rentals are available seasonally at the camp store.
  • Paddlecraft do not need to pay an additional launch fee to use the soft launch areas. A launch fee is only required to use the boat ramp.
  • Several campsites are located immediately adjacent to the water, allowing paddlers to launch and land at their own campsite. If you are planning to camp, these particular sites are highly desirable.
  • Some of the remains of Point Lookout’s Civil War facilities, such as the prison pen Camp Hoffman and the former site of Hammond Hospital, are now submerged, but can be paddled around

Navigational Hazards

  • Boats and other watercraft are prohibited within 100 feet of the swimming area.
  • The water conditions on the Chesapeake Bay side of Point Lookout can be much rougher, even when the river side appears calm. Don’t assume that the conditions you launch in will be the same conditions you encounter during your trip.
  • Strong currents, wave action, and shifting sandbars around the Point Lookout shoreline make it unsafe for landing around the point itself. Depending on weather and water conditions, experienced paddlers can explore the “Lighthouse Trail.”

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

In an emergency, dial 911. (Note: If calling from a cell phone, you may get a Virginia dispatch. Tell them you are in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.)

For 24-hour assistance or to report a violation, call the Natural Resources Police at (410) 260-8888 or 1 (800) 825-7275.

Nearest hospital: MedStar St. Mary's Hospital (25500 Point Lookout Rd., Leonardtown, MD 20650): (301) 475-8981

Parking & Shuttles

Ample parking is available in the boat ramp area. Unload boats near launch beach first. If launching from campsite, parking is reserved for each site.


Full restrooms and showers are located in the camping area loops as well as the swim beach areas.


  • 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 open water.
  • 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 160? exploring the Potomac River. Although Smith reported seeing no native inhabitants for the first 30 miles, later explorers met the Yaocomaco up the St. Mary’s River. Like other upriver tribes, the Yaocomaco probably collected oysters and fish at the mouth of the river, working from seasonal camps. In the late 17th century, the Yaocomaco sold their land to the Maryland Colony and moved across the Potomac to what is now known as the Yeocomico River.
  • Smith marked several notable features on his 1612 map, including St. Clements Bay and an American Indian town on the north side of the river. He identified today’s Point Lookout as Sparkes Point, presumably after his 1624 publisher, Michael Sparkes.
  • Publication of Smith’s map drew settlers to the Chesapeake and, in particular, the Potomac River. In 1634, Governor Leonard Calvert landed in Southern Maryland on the Ark and the Dove. After being warned that the Piscataway, further up the Potomac, would not be hospitable to him and his crew, he chose to settle up the St. Mary’s River where the Yaocomaco Indians lived. Calvert exchanged goods for land that became St. Mary’s City, the fourth permanent settlement in British North America.

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • St. George’s Island, near Piney Point, once belonged to the Jesuits as a part of St. Inigoes Manor. In July 1776, Americans fought the British to keep them from crossing to the mainland.
  • During the War of 1812, Point Lookout served as an observation post to monitor British activity on the Bay, as well as a British encampment. About 1,500 British soldiers attacked Leonardtown, the St. Mary’s County seat, on July 19, 1814. Advancing from the east, west, and by water – landing at the Leonardtown Wharf – the British took the town without opposition.
  • The U.S. Navy established an observation post at St. Ignatius Catholic Church & Thomas Manor Mouse, which is located on a hill at Chapel Point overlooking the confluence of the Port Tobacco and the Potomac. This strategic location allowed citizens to see the British squadron as they advanced up the Potomac in August 1814 to threaten Alexandria, Virginia.

Potomac Heritage NST

  • The Jesuits were significant in the founding of the Maryland colony. Their occupation is evident through numerous important archaeological sites in southern Maryland, including cemeteries, slave sites, tenant sites, manor house sites, and a chapel site.
  • St. Mary’s City was the fourth permanent settlement in British North America. It is often referred to as “the birthplace of religious freedom” because the colony passed the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649. Point Lookout was included in King Charles I's grant to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Calvert's younger son, Leonard (Maryland's first governor), claimed the point for his personal manor in 1634.
  • The Point Lookout Lighthouse was constructed in 1830 and still stands today, though it is no longer in use.
  • During the Civil War, Hammond Hospital was constructed at the tip of the point after General George B. McClellan's unsuccessful campaign to capture Richmond. After the Battle of Gettysburg, a prisoner of war camp was established there. Over 4,000 imprisoned Confederate soldiers died at Point Lookout due to exposure, disease, and starvation. Federal Army units served as guards, including African-American soldiers of the U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops) Regiments. After the war, the facilities were quickly dismantled.
  • Webster Field, located on present-day Naval Air Station Patuxent River, boasts numerous archaeological sites, including American Indian sites dating from the Late Archaic to the Late Woodland. The field includes relics from the early 17th century Jesuit ownership as well, including the third St. Inigoes Manor house (built ca. 1750). Part of Webster Field is an area historically known as Fort Point, believed to be the site of the Maryland colony's 17th century St. Inigoes Fort.
  • In the 19th century, a number of 17th century cannons were removed from just offshore in the St. Mary's River.