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Itinerary:

A Presidential Paddle at Washington’s Birthplace

Bordered by the Potomac River to its north, the Chesapeake Bay to the east, and the Rappahannock River to the south, George Washington Birthplace National Monument is located in Westmoreland County on Virginia’s historic and bucolic Northern Neck. This area is the birthplace of three United States presidents, including the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Although George Washington lived at Popes Creek Plantation, later known as Wakefield, for only a short period of time, the ideas that he gleaned here early in his life helped shape the man he would become and forever alter the destiny of the United States of America.

For paddlers, this rich historical region is close to several established watertrail networks. Although it may look remote ‒ and the paddling certainly benefits from that fact ‒ you are close to restaurants, cabins, campgrounds, marinas, museums, and other amenities to complement your trip. Whether you’re seeking daytrip paddles and pierside dinners or a stop on your next multi-day paddle, George Washington Birthplace is worth putting on your itinerary.

Paddling Notes

  • Both suggested itinerary paddling routes follow the open, unprotected shoreline of the Potomac River. There is no protection from waves, wind, or boat wakes along these routes. Check current weather conditions and forecasts before setting out.
  • This is not a suitable trip for less experienced paddlers in high winds or strong waves.
  • Currently, there are no outfitters that offer boat rentals on site at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. This location is best for bringing your own boat.

Navigational Hazards

Both suggested itinerary paddling routes follow the open shoreline of the Potomac River. There is no protection from waves, wind, or boat wakes along these routes. The Potomac River is four miles wide here, and the high potential for exposure to wind and waves makes this route less suitable for beginner paddlers during certain 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

In an emergency, dial 911

Report suspicious activity to any park employee or the United States Park Police: (202) 610-7500

Nearest hospitals: Riverside Tappahannock Hospital (618 Hospital Rd., Tappahannock, VA 22560): (804) 443-3311; Mary Washington Hospital (1001 Sam Perry Blvd., Fredericksburg, VA 22401): 540-741-1100

Parking & Shuttles

Parking is available in a grassy field area (designated by signs) close to the beach boat launch. The cul-de-sac provides easy proximity to the launch beach for unloading boats and gear. Overnight parking is not permitted at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. The area closes at 5:00 p.m.

Restrooms

Restrooms are available at the Visitor Center building.

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

Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • During his explorations in this region, Captain John Smith visited the Onawmanient and Cekakawon native peoples. Neither of these independent nations has an identified descendant community, although the Rappahannock tribe’s native territory included some of the southern portion of the Northern Neck.  
  • On June 17, 1608, Smith navigated to Nomini Bay, where he and his crew traveled with two native men to Onawmanient town. The invitation was an ambush ‒ hundreds of native men emerged from the woods shooting arrows at the Englishmen. The Onawmanient chief told Smith that Powhatan had ordered the attack, and the two sides agreed to exchange hostages. Here, Smith met a Wicomoco man named Mosco, who served as a guide and coordinator for his travels on the Potomac.
  • The American Indians here would have followed a traditional Chesapeake Bay indigenous lifestyle based on agriculture, fishing and shellfishing, and hunting. Archaeologists have excavated several oyster shell heaps, known as “middens,” that show evidence of this ancient habitation along the shores of Machodoc Creek, Currioman Bay, Nomini Creek, and Donum Creek.

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • The British were active along this stretch of the Potomac in 1813 and 1814. Enemy troops raided lower Machodoc Creek and were engaged in skirmishes with American defenders near the Coan and Yeocomico rivers and Rosier, Mattox, and Nomini creeks. One of the fiercest engagements occurred on the Yeocomico River on July 14, 1813, involving the American schooner Asp and resulted in numerous casualties on both sides.
  • The burning of Kinsale in Westmoreland County is one of the more well-known attacks that occurred in the Northern Neck during the War of 1812. Captain Henderson of the Northumberland militia was forced to retreat in early August 1814 when the British landed and “pursued and burned every house in route along the way until finally reaching Henderson’s own home.”

Potomac Heritage NST

  • Steamboats played an important role in the development of the Northern Neck and were the primary means of transportation before the 1930s. In that era, the Northern Neck was more connected to Baltimore and Norfolk (via steamboat routes) than it was to Fredericksburg or Richmond today via land-based highways. Many former steamboat landing sites remain at ports in towns like Kinsale and Lewisetta.
  • This river section has excellent examples of tidal Potomac ecology and ecosystem conservation and restoration activities. From the marine fossils found in the shores of Stratford Hall and Westmoreland State Park to the migratory bird population at Vir-Mar Beach, the Northern Neck’s relatively undeveloped landscape provides many public access opportunities. Hull Springs Farm, owned by the Longwood University Foundation on Aimes Creek off the lower Machodoc, is involved in ecosystem restoration and education such as living shorelines and restoring wetlands.
  • The Northern Neck represents the evolution of the United States, both geographically and politically. The region is associated with the Colonial period, mainly due to George Washington’s early years and his family. Livelihoods here were and continue to be dependent on the lands and waters: tobacco farming, contemporary farming and viticulture practices, and forestry, along with commercial sport fishing and seafood industries related to crabs, oysters, and menhaden.

Weather

Main image: Margaret Hill