Stretching over 400 miles in total, the Potomac River flows from the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean, via Chesapeake Bay. It's one of the largest rivers on the Atlantic coast, with more than 5 million people living in its watershed, and is a highly historic and important river for the United States, with George Washington himself deciding to establish the nation's capital on the banks of the Potomac River due to the advantages it provided as both a water source and trade route.
The Potomac River flows right through Washington D.C. alongside world-famous monuments like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the historic area of Georgetown, the Pentagon, and more. This makes it a highly popular recreational and touristic part of the nation's capital, with many great parks and waterfront locations to be found all around DC where people can walk, kayak, fish, and simply admire the beauty of the Potomac River and the surrounding scenery.
Best Spots along the Potomac River in Washington D.C.
The Potomac runs alongside or through many major areas and neighborhoods all around Washington D.C. including Georgetown, Palisades, and Foxhall Crescent, continuing up past Bethesda. There are lots of great locations for people to enjoy the Potomac River in Washington D.C. and here are some details on the most popular spots:
- Georgetown – This historic neighborhood, named after George Washington himself, is located right on the Potomac River and is also the home of many Washington D.C. monuments like the Old Stone House, Volta Bureau, and PNC Bank. Filled with high end stores and popular restaurants, it's a lovely neighborhood to explore, with kayaking on the Potomac River and cycling popular in this area. Head down to Georgetown Waterfront Park for some beautiful views of the Potomac.
- National Harbor – Opened back in 2008, National Harbor has swiftly developed into one of the hottest spots in Washington D.C. for locals and tourists to congregate and have good times. The area is filled with hotels, restaurants, stores, condos, and more, as well as a fully-featured marina. Kayaking around the National Harbor is very popular and the many boats around here make it a great spot to admire the Potomac River.
- George Washington Memorial Parkway - Located in Arlington, right by Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is another beautiful spot to appreciate and admire Potomac River. A National Park, this area houses various memorials and beautiful green spaces, as well as providing easy access to many other DC attractions and landmarks.
Things to Do on the Potomac River in Washington D.C.
There are many different activities to enjoy on the Potomac River in Washington D.C. The simplest and most common activity of them all is to simply walk along various stretches of the river, notably through the locations listed above like Georgetown and National Harbor, as well as other areas like the neighborhood of Alexandria and Great Falls National Park, which is located a little drive north of the capital. There are many different parks and places to simply sit and appreciate the Potomac River and snap some photos of it too.
Cycling and running also offer ways to stay fit while enjoying the Potomac. Various hiking and cycling trails can be found all around Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, with one of the most popular being the Capital Crescent Trail which starts off in Georgetown and heads up to Bethesda. The Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath is another good option and also begins in Georgetown. These trails are used all year long and it’s not uncommon to see many people jogging and cycling along the route of the Potomac at all times of year. You might even spot some fisherman looking for urban bass at locations like Fletcher’s Cove.
Of course, it’s also possible to actually get out there on the waters of the Potomac River itself. Kayak rentals and guided kayaking tours can be found all around Washington D.C. from companies like Calleva's Liquid Adventures - 25 Ericsson Rd, Cabin John, MD 20818 (301 216-1248) and Active Nature - Poolesville, MD (202 262-5312) being just a couple of examples. Many of these kayaking tours take in various big sights and landmarks around D.C., or you can simply rent some kayaks and head out on the Potomac for your own adventures. Sightseeing boat tours along the Potomac River can also be enjoyed at various locations.