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Itinerary:

Mason Neck State Park: Eagle Tour

Set on a peninsula that juts out into the Potomac River in Virginia, Mason Neck showcases the rich history and diverse wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay region. This area has long been an exceptional place to enjoy the Potomac’s natural beauty – in particular, its thriving bald eagle population. But the bald eagles here haven’t always been protected.

In the 1960s, bald eagle populations were rapidly declining across the nation due to habitat loss and the pesticide DDT. After two bald eagle nests were spotted on Mason Neck in 1965, Virginia began buying land parcels to create Mason Neck State Park, which opened to the public in 1985. The state park and neighboring Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge cover approximately 4,000 acres, protecting habitats for eagles and countless other wildlife species.

Paddling is one of the best ways to truly appreciate Mason Neck’s deep woods and lush brackish marshes. The calm, sheltered waters of Belmont Bay and Kanes Creek beckon you to explore, relax, and enjoy what nature has to offer here on Mason Neck.

Paddling Notes

  • Kayak and canoe rentals are available from April through October. Rental boats must be returned by 5:00 p.m.
  • In addition to rentals, Mason Neck offers guided twilight kayaking and canoeing trips on the Friday and Saturday nearest the full moon.
  • The area around Mason Neck and its neighbor Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wealth of wildlife species, including bald eagles, osprey, migratory waterfowl, more than 200 species of songbirds, 31 species of mammals, and 44 species of reptiles and amphibians.
  • Check the weather and tides before you go. If it is low tide on a particularly windy day, the waterline can be up to 30 yards beyond the boat launch area, making for a muddy start to your paddling adventure.

Navigational Hazards

While there are no specific hazards for this trip, it's important to pay careful attention to tides, wind and weather conditions.

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

Parking & Shuttles

There are three parking lots. The closest parking lot to the kayak launch is in front of the visitor center. Parking is $5 for Virginia residents and $7 for non-residents. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until dusk.

Restrooms

There is a universally accessible restroom facility in the picnic area.

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.
  • Bring a paddle float and water pump for self rescue.
  • 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.

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

  • Water: Water is available at the restroom facility and for sale at the visitor center.
  • Camping: None at Mason Neck State Park. Campsites and cabins are available for rent at nearby Pohick Bay Regional Park.
  • Concession: The visitor center sells snacks and ice cream. Drink vending machines are behind the visitor center and at the picnic shelter.

Trail History

The Mason Neck peninsula came into its current form when sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay stabilized 3,000 years ago. However, the cliffs of the Bay’s middle-western shore have eroded up to 300 feet inland from the time of Captain John Smith’s 1607-08 exploration of the area.

Although Native Americans visited Mason Neck as early as 9,000 years ago, it didn’t become an important settlement area for Native Americans until approximately 3,000 years ago, which lasted until the early 1700s.

There are 25 known Native American sites in Mason Neck. One of the most notable tribes that settled in the Occoquan and Mason Neck areas was the Moyumpse or “Doeg” tribe.

Captain John Smith mapped the Native American settlements of Mason Neck, calling the area “Tauxenent” when he sailed up the Potomac in 1608. When Smith explored this area, there was an island in Belmont Bay that was occupied by the Moyumpse tribe. Although the island has subsequently eroded, an area of shallow water near Kanes Creek indicates the island’s former location.

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