Paddling or rowing a small watercraft on flat water is an outdoor activity that takes in all the senses. Maryland, known for the Chesapeake Bay, has nearly 3,200 miles of shoreline, which includes hundreds of miles in flat-water trails easily navigated in a kayak or canoe. The scenery along these rivers and creek ranges from wild rural landscapes to urban bustle. Here are 10 fabulous paddle trails within a day’s drive of Baltimore City.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Transquaking River (Eastern Shore – Dorchester County)

Part of the Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area
LeCompte Wildlife Office
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, Md.
(410) 260-8780
Public Access free

The Transquaking River is one of the most scenic rivers in Maryland. It is often missed by those who opt for the more popular Blackwater trail. The Transquaking weaves through a magical landscape of lush marshes, framed by endless sky, interrupted only by a few lone trees or patches of forest. Launch at Bestpitch Road and turn at the canal entrance and enjoy the six- mile Transquaking Loop. Insect repellant is necessary.

Special on this trail – Trail is famous for bald eagles, osprey and waterfowl.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers Water Trail (Eastern Shore – Caroline and Talbot Counties)

Caroline Office of Tourism
10215 River Landing Road, West Denton, Md.
Caroline public launch sites are free
Talbot public launch sites require permit ($10 per year)
(410) 479-4950

Part of the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the Upper Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers encompass 80 miles and are set in pristine wilderness, not harshly affected by development. The Choptank River, the longest river in Maryland, and the Tuckahoe were likely part of the Underground Railroad system that allowed African-American slaves to escape to freedom. The landscape has changed little in the last 150 years. Launch in Denton at the Joppa Steamboat Wharf which replicates an 1883 terminal building with passenger waiting room and agent’s office. Trail meanders through towns, forest, marshes and historic areas.

Special on this trail – The Steamboat Wharf at Denton, Adkins Arboretum, Caroline Living Heritage Museum (town of Denton), overnight camping at Tuckahoe State Park.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Potomac River Water Trail (Lower – Prince Georges, Charles and St. Mary’s Counties)

Multiple public landings
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, Md.
(410) 260-8780

The Lower Potomac Water Trail stretches 115 miles from Washington, D.C. to St. Mary’s County at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It begins in an urban historic setting with familiar monuments in Washington and continues through rural areas full of wildlife and pleasant flat water. In places the Potomac River is very wide and can be difficult to navigate for a paddler.  Best to stick to the shoreline and explore the many creeks along the way.

Special on this trail – The paddle through Washington, D.C., Goose Creek and Port Tobacco River in Charles County.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Assateague National Seashore (Eastern Shore)

At the end of Route 611
Eight miles south of Ocean City, Md.
Open year round, 24 hours a day
Entrance fees: On foot or bicycle –free. Vehicle $3 per day or $15 for 7 days. Annual Pass $30.
(410) 641-1441

The Assateague paddling experience is rare because of the wild ponies that have inhabited island for 300 years. They still wander all parts of the island leaving memorable images on the bay side landscape. Paddle through marshes viewing abundant waterfowl. Take a break and walk the Atlantic beach or join a ranger-led kayak tour ($10). Kayak rental and camping also available.

Special on this trail – The abundance of waterfowl, and the wild ponies.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Point Lookout Water Trail (St. Mary’s County)

Point Lookout State Park
11175 Point Lookout Road, Scotland, Md.
Dawn to Dusk (Day use)
$3 per vehicle (MD)
$5 per person weekends and holidays May-September
(301) 872-5688

Point Lookout is as the southern tip of the Western Shore’s bay coastline where the Potomac River runs into the Chesapeake Bay. Historically famous for its lighthouse and its Civil War prison camp, the park and lighthouse are said to be haunted. There are three water trails offer access through tidal marshes, pine forests and open water around the lighthouse.

Special on these trails – Bald eagles seen on the Greens Point trail, the Civil War Museum, sunsets over the Potomac are spectacular. Camp overnight and extend the stay.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Pocomoke River Trail – Porters Crossing (Eastern Shore)

Pocomoke River Canoe Company
312 N. Washington St., Snow Hill, Md.
This is an outfitter that will supply kayaks, canoes, a map and provide drop off services
(410) 632-3971

The Pocomoke River in Worcester County is Maryland’s deepest river for its width. Named for the Algonquin word meaning “black water” the river is dark – in some places, coffee colored due to the tannic acid leaking into it from the abundant cypress trees of the Pocomoke Forest. The water trail between Porters Crossing and Snow Hill runs through a forested cypress swamp, open marsh area and a small historic town.

Special on this trail – cypress “knees” or roots, otter nest in the muddy banks, bald eagles

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Kingfisher Canoe Trail (Prince Georges County and Washington DC)

Anacostia Watershed Society
4302 Baltimore Avenue, Bladensburg, Md.
Boat launches at Bladensburg Waterfront Park is free
(301) 699-6204

The Kingfisher trail is an urban trail offering both views of nature and the city. Starting at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park the 8-mile trail goes through the hidden gem, Kenilworth Marsh where beavers, otter and waterfowl can be observed. Toward the end the trail weaves past the Aquatic Gardens, and National Arboretum. Tides can run low so it’s best to travel on the incoming tide. For the best experience, do the entire trail starting in Bladensburg and ending in
Anacostia Park.

Special on this trail – Kenilworth Marsh is amazing. If the tide is high, paddle up to Aquatic Gardens.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Janes Island Water Trail (Eastern Shore)

Janes Island State Park
26280 Alfred Lawson Drive, Crisfield, Md.
Open: 8 a.m. to Sunset
Free for Day Use
(410) 968-1565

Janes Island State Park has over 30 miles of marked water trails meandering through the saltmarsh. Maps are available at the camp store or online. The pristine beauty of the saltmarsh set against a border of pine forest and the Tangier Sound offers some of the most stunning beauty in Maryland’s waterways. Paddle out 1.25 miles to a 7 mile long sandy beach accessible only by canoe or kayak. Insect repellant necessary

Special on this trail – the Janes Island beach, very private, great for walking, sea glass, shells and Indian artifacts frequently found there. Sunsets over the Tangier Sound are incredible.

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

North Branch Potomac Water Trail (Allegany County)

Trail runs from Westernport to Cumberland
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, Md.
(410) 260-8780

The Potomac River is runs 32 miles between these two towns in Allegany County. The scenic waterway goes through forests and small towns with a variety of public access points and services along the way.

Special on this trail – City of Cumberland, see Canal Place with Railroad Museum on the C&O Canal

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Talbot County Office of Tourism

11 South Harrison Street, Easton, Md.
Public Access ramps – Permit – $10 per year
(410) 770-8000
Map with launch sites and trails

Tilghman Island in Talbot County sits between the Choptank River and the Chesapeake Bay. Ten different water trails weave in and out of salt marshes, harbors, small communities and open water in the areas surrounding Tilghman. This could be a favorite paddle destination for several day trips.

Special on this trail – Knapps Narrows is a working waterfront with seafood processing and a working skipjack. It also has the busiest drawbridge in Maryland connecting the island to mainland.

Mindie Burgoyne is an author, travel writer and tour guide living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her blog The Travel Hag shares information on outdoor travel for women. She is the author of Haunted Eastern Shore; Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake.