Places to Kayak in Maryland

The “Old Line State” is one of the oldest states in the country, home to Chesapeake Bay, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and some of the most gorgeous wildlife preserves in the country.

Of course, you can’t pay a visit to this lovely state without enjoying some of the many, many kayaking spots available.

Maryland offers countless rivers, lakes, streams, water trails, and ocean kayaking spots where you can spend a few hours, a weekend, or even a weeks-long trip paddling to your heart’s content.

Below, we’ll talk about some of the best places to go kayaking in Maryland, offer advice on how to find the best kayaking tours in the state, go over a few kayaking laws, and answer the most commonly asked questions related to Maryland kayaking.

By the end of this post, you’ll know everything there is to know!

15 Best Places to Go Kayaking in Maryland

1. Potomac River

The Potomac River stretches a breathtaking 405 miles, running from the Potomac Highlands all the way to the historic Chesapeake Bay. There are countless launch points all along its length, so plenty of spots to put in and take out. Whether you’re looking to paddle for a few hours, a day or two, or a weeks-long trip, the Potomac River has something for everyone.

Fair warning: there are a lot of stretches where the water grows turbulent, particularly where the Potomac and the Shenandoah River meet. There, you’ll find rapids from Class I to Class III, which offer whitewater kayakers a chance to test their mettle against thrilling obstacles. The Great Falls provides truly extreme kayaking that only the most skilled should attempt! For everyone else, though, there is plenty of flat, calm stretches of river where you can paddle the same waters used in the Revolutionary War and Civil War by American troops running supplies down-river.

Potomac River, Maryland
Image: Wikipedia

2. Lake Centennial

Looking for a quiet, calm place to spend the day paddling with your kids, partner, or group of buddies? Give Lake Centennial a try! Spanning just 54 acres, it’s small enough that you can paddle it in a day, but it’s large enough that you’ll feel like you have it all to yourself even on the summer weekends when it gets packed.

Lake Centennial, Maryland
Image: Wikipedia

The water is calm enough that even kayaking newbies and small kids will be at ease, and it’s a great place to practice basic paddling skills. If you like some fishing, bring a rod because there will be plenty of great spots to cast out a line and reel in a fish for dinner. Bird-watchers will love this lake because it’s home to 32 species of waterfowl and more than 230 species of birds, including grebes, warblers, geese, gulls, and swallows.  

3. Youghiogheny River

A man paddles his kayak in the white waters of Youghiogheny River
Image: Wikipedia

Also called simply “The Yough”, the Youghiogheny River is one of the most popular spots in Maryland for whitewater kayaking. Starting in West Virginia, it runs north through Maryland on its way to Pennsylvania, offering a great multi-state trip if you’ve got the time. Or, if you’re just looking to tackle a real challenge, head to the Upper Yough, where you’ll find Class IV and even Class V rapids.

This is one of the toughest challenges you’ll find in the state, so you’ll definitely want to go with a tour guide or a group of experienced paddlers. The river has earned the nickname “The Dream Stream” because of how spectacular an experience it offers for those who are brave enough to dare its rapids. However, families will still find the Lower Yough to be a great place to enjoy some calm, slow-paced paddling well away from any rushing currents or whitewater obstacles.

4. Deep Creek Lake

Winter trees' reflection in the Deep Creek Lake. Maryland

Deep Creek Lake is one of the absolute best places to spend an autumn weekend paddling in Maryland. Here, you’ll be surrounded by trees that become even more spectacular when their fall foliage is developing. It’s a glorious explosion of color that transforms this already gorgeous lake into something truly unique and breathtaking during the transition into autumn.

Of course, it’s still a great spring and summer paddling destination, too. The lake is calm enough that you’ll have no trouble paddling with kids or newbies, and it’s just the right size so you have plenty to explore without strong currents or heavy winds. There’s also plenty of hiking trails around the lake, and even a few places to hunt. If you’re really lucky, you may be there at the right time of year to spot the black bears that make their home in the area.

5. Eden Mill Park

Eden Mill Park is home to Deer Creek, one of the best water trails for beginners who are taking their first kayaking trip. The creek itself spans just a mile, so it’s short enough for even inexperienced paddlers to complete it, but its banks are home to breathtaking flora and fauna that will make for a truly memorable experience. 

For those who want to enjoy time on and off the water, once you’re done paddling, you can enjoy hiking through the 118-acre parkland, taking in the gorgeous views and exploring the natural life that calls Eden Mill Park home. It’s a great place to bring kids who have short attention spans and won’t want to spend hours on any one activity, because it’s got enough of multiple activities to keep them happy and engaged.

6. Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

You can’t come kayaking in Maryland and not take a trip out onto historic Chesapeake Bay. Not only is it one of the best places to go sea kayaking in the state, it’s also home to a mind-boggling array of sea creatures. As you paddle around the bay, you can spot green herons, tundra swans, groundhogs, blue crabs, American black ducks, and, if you’re really lucky, even a few dolphins.

You do need to know that the bay is a fairly popular destination for kayakers, paddleboarders, sailboaters, and motor-boaters. You will definitely be sharing the water with a lot of other vessels, especially during the hot summer months. Just be aware of the potential for ocean currents and boat wakes, so you can stay close to shore if you have small kids or inexperienced kayakers, or venture farther out toward the ocean if you’re more skilled.

7. Assateague National Seashore

Wild ponies at the Assateague National Seashore, Maryland

The Assateague National Seashore offers one of the most breathtaking locations for kayaking in all of Maryland. Located near Ocean City, it’s a highly popular destinations for tourists who want to see the wildness of the seashore. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to watch the wild ponies that have made their home on the seashore for almost 300 years. You won’t be able to get close enough to touch them—much less ride them!—but your kids will love watching these majestic wild creatures in their natural habitat.

Be warned: there are only two launch sites that give you access to the seashore. The Bayside Landing Launch is better-suited to more experienced paddlers who don’t mind a longer, more challenging trek to get where they want to go. However, newbies and anyone who prefers a more relaxing trip will want to launch from the Old Ferry Landing Road. 

8. Dundee Creek

If you’re in Baltimore for work or pleasure, Dundee Creek is the ideal place to pay an afternoon visit. It’s located just a few miles away from the city, is family-friendly, and offers countless routes through inlets that makes every visit to the water trail truly unique and spectacular.

Though it starts out as just a small creek, downstream it empties into both the Gunpowder River and Chesapeake Bay, so you can follow it as far as you want for a longer paddling trip. Along the way, you’ll find many opportunities to spot bald eagles, ducks, ospreys, and herons. Best of all, the water trail is pet-friendly, so you can bring your furry friends along for the fun. 

9. Mill Creek

Mill Creek, Maryland
Image: Marinas.com

Locals know this place as both “Mill Creek” and “Skipton Creek”, but whatever its name, just know that it’s a truly amazing paddling destination. Located along a stretch of the Wye River, the creek is a great place to practice more advanced paddling skills and transition from flatwater lakes to a slightly faster-flowing river. You’ll find just enough challenge to improve your kayaking skills, but no true difficulties that will put you in any real danger.

The creek is surrounded by gorgeous scenic views and myriad wildlife, including beavers, blue herons, turtles, and a wide range of frogs native to the region. Spring and summer are the best time to paddle Mill Creek, not just because it’s hotter and sunnier, but because the plant life that blooms in the area is at its most breathtaking during these months. Whether you’re a nature-lover, animal-spotter, or learning kayaker, this is the place for you. 

10. Pocomoke River Trail

Pocomoke River Trail, Maryland
Image: AllTrails

Looking to veer away from the more popular water trails and try your hand at someplace new and challenging? Then the Pocomoke River Trail is just the place for you to spend a weekend. Located in the heart of the Pocomoke River State Park along the eastern shores of Maryland, the river starts at the Great Cypress Swamp, where you can paddle among towering trees and swamp-lands where you can practice avoiding underwater obstacles and narrow confines.

But as you head farther downstream along the 45-mile river trail, you’ll find countless camping spots and playgrounds for your kids along the way. Local anglers will be able to point you to all the best fishing holes where you can cast a line and see what bites. When, finally, it reaches the sea, you’re right near the Delmarva Peninsula, where there are countless places to explore.

11. Tuckahoe State Park

Tuckahoe State Park, Maryland
Image: AllTrails

For anyone who wants a calm, relaxing weekend on flat waters enjoying the open skies, Tuckahoe State Park is an ideal destination. Spanning almost 500 acres, the state park is home to lovely hiking trails, camp grounds, and plenty of places for kids to enjoy land-based activities. However, for anyone who is called to the water, the lake at the heart of the park is the true destination of choice.

The surface is glassy smooth for most of the summer months, so you can relax and enjoy a calm float as much as a fast-paced paddling workout. Or, if you want to get a bit more adventurous, head toward the creek, where the current picks up and carries you through some tricky spots that will make for a truly interesting—and occasionally challenging—ride. Best of all, you can rent kayaks from the state park office or boat office, so you’ve got easy access to gear even if you can’t bring your own from home. 

12. Hawk Cove

Located in Rocky Point State Park, Hawk Cove is a sea paddling adventure well-suited to even first-timers. The cove is actually surprisingly calm considering it’s right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s protected from both strong winds and powerful currents. You’ll find it’s a far more relaxing paddle than you’d expect from sea kayaking, a great place to dip your paddle even if you’re still getting your bearings.

But, if you’re in the mood for a more exhilarating challenge, try paddling from Hawk Cove out to Hart-Miller Island. You’ll have to battle some ocean currents and swells, but it’s worth it to enjoy a night of camping under the stars on the remote island. Or, if you prefer a calmer experience, launch from right next to the local restaurant, then return for a post-kayaking dinner with the whole family. 

13. Conowingo Pond and Muddy Creek

Located along the Susquehanna River near Maryland’s border with Pennsylvania, the pond and creek are well-known and much-loved kayaking destinations among Maryland locals. Though it’s only an hour away from Baltimore, it will feel like you’re far out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature and with only your skills and wits to keep you going.

Susquehanna River, Maryland
Image: Wikipedia

Be warned: the river can get a bit choppy, especially when it broadens to a mile wide (at certain points). You may want a longer kayak (sea kayak) for these stretches, as a smaller recreational kayak could struggle with the swells and strong currents. However, you’ll love paddling around the rock islands, and you’ll put all of your kayaking skills to the test along this waterway.

14. Triadelphia Reservoir

The Triadelphia Reservoir may be man-made, but it’s no less gorgeous a location for it. It’s beautifully calm year-around, so you can come here and enjoy a relaxing paddle during the spring, summer, autumn, and even the winter (if you’re tough enough to brave the cold). The fact that it’s located just a short distance from Baltimore makes it a great getaway for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy a bit of nature.

There are no kayak rental spots near the reservoir, so you’ll have to bring your own. However, it’s well worth the effort of transporting a kayak (or paddleboard) because of how serene the area feels. It’ll be like an oasis of calm just a few minutes from Maryland’s largest and busiest urban area, a great place to kick back and enjoy an afternoon paddling with your spouse, family, or buddies. 

15. Transquaking River

Transquaking River
Image: Wikipedia

If you’ve never heard of the Transquaking River, you’re missing out on one of Maryland’s best kayaking destinations! Located in Dorchester County, it’s far enough from Baltimore that you’ll have to make a weekend’s expedition out of it. But once you’re on the water, you’ll agree that it was well worth the journey.

The Transquaking Loop stretches six miles, meaning you can tackle it in a morning or afternoon, or stretch it out all day long if you really want to enjoy some relaxation. The water trail runs through dense marches and lush forests that will offer stunning views of wildlife along the way. Here, you’ll spot waterfowl, ospreys, and bald eagles. However, make sure to pack plenty of bug spray, because the insects can get very bitey during the summer months.  

Kayaking Tours in Maryland

If you’re visiting Maryland from out of town, you’ll be thrilled to discover there are so many wonderful places to enjoy kayaking. Once you get out on the water and see these places for yourself, you’ll want to come back again and again.

One thing to be aware of is that kayaking in Maryland does involve certain perils. For example, some of the whitewater stretches on the Yough River can be dangerous even for experienced kayakers. Or the bears that make their home near Deep Creek Lake may threaten your family’s safety if you get too close or encounter them at the wrong time of year. Paddling from Hawk Cove out to Hart-Miller Island, you’ll find yourself wrestling with currents that could pull you out to sea if you’re not careful.

That’s why it’s recommended that you sign up for one of the kayaking tours in Maryland. Exploring these lovely areas with a local tour guide or outfitter will be the smart, safe way to go. These locals have spent their entire lives paddling along the river, lake, bay, or seashore where they’ll be taking you, and they know how to be prepared for the worst dangers you’ll face. Plus, they can tell you where best to look to spot wildlife, sea creatures, and the best views, even offer insights and advice to help you become a better kayaker.

Here are some of the best-rated and most popular kayaking tours in Maryland to consider:

Other resources you can use to find great kayaking tours in Maryland include:

  • Trip Advisor Trip Advisor is great if you don’t yet know where in Maryland you’ll be visiting, but want recommendations of the best tour companies to sign up with. Doing a search for “kayaking tours in Maryland” on Trip Advisor will produce a long list that you can then use to choose which city to visit for your kayaking trip. 
  • Yelp Yelp gives you access to tour companies that have been reviewed by real-life users, sorted by the city where you’ll be visiting. For example, if you know you’ll be in Rockville rather than Baltimore, you can search specifically for kayaking tours in that city and narrow down your options. 
  • Google Maps If you don’t know where to go in Maryland but know you want to kayak, hit up Google Maps to help you choose. You’ll be able to see the best places to visit based on your destination, plus the fastest routes to get there.  

Maryland Kayaking Laws

Flag of Maryland, USA

Kayaks are non-motor powered vessels

As such, they are exempted from a number of boating laws that apply only to motorized vessels. They do not require a registration, nor do you need a license to operate them.

That being said, if your kayak has a trolling motor mounted or you plan to operate your kayak with a trolling motor, you will need to register it. 

There is no minimum age for operating a kayak 

While motorized vessels cannot be operated alone by a child under the age of 12 (an adult has to be present), as a non-motorized vessel, this rule doesn’t apply to kayaks. 

Kayakers must have one lifejacket on board per person

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources makes it clear that all kayaks must have at least one lifejacket on board per person. Adults can keep theirs close at hand and within easy reach, but children under the age of 10 must wear it at all times. 

Kayakers must display lights at “low visibility times”

Between sunset and sunrise, and during weather conditions classified as “low visibility” (such as thick fog), you must have an all-round white light visible from 360-degrees for two miles. 

Kayakers are required carry a sound-producing device

Any vessel under 40 feet long, be it motorized or non-motorized, is required by law to carry at least one sound-producing device, such as a whistle or air horn. 

Kayaks need to carry visual distress signals (VDS)

Night-signaling devices are required on all vessels of all sizes. Day signalling devices are not required for manually powered vessels (like kayaks). 

Kayakers absolutely can get a BUI 

Anyone who operates a kayak under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be given a BUI if their Blood Alcohol Level is over 0.08% or they are visibly impaired. If you operate a vessel of any sort—including kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards—on Maryland state waters or federal waters around Maryland, you are “deemed to have consented to take a chemical test for intoxication”.

Penalties for a BUI in Maryland are:

  • A fine of up to $1,000 and up to 1 year in prison on your first offense
  • A fine of up to $2,000 and up to 2 years in prison on your second offense
  • A fine of up to $3,000 and up to 3 years in prison on your first offense

Kayaking in Maryland FAQs

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Can you kayak anywhere in Maryland?

You absolutely can! As long as you are not trespassing on private property when traveling on land to reach the water, you should have no problems kayaking on any of the Maryland rivers, lakes, or waterways. 

Can you drink alcohol on a kayak in Maryland?

Not only is it illegal to operate a kayak while intoxicated in Maryland, but it’s illegal to even drink alcohol on a kayak, too. That means, if you want to drink, make sure to do it while on shore, and stay under the legal limit! 

Can you carry a gun on a kayak in Maryland?

According to Maryland law, if you have the proper permit to carry a handgun, you are legally allowed to carry it on board your boat. This is great for hunters who want to do some kayak hunting or who are traveling to and from their hunting spot via the water. 

However, you will still need to all the hunting laws in Maryland, including hunting a safe distance from national parks and state regulated areas.

Andy Peloquin avatar

Andrew is a sports enthusiast, fitness nut, and avid kayaker and paddleboarder who loves nothing more than spending his free time out on the water. He spends his winters snowshoeing, snowboarding, and dreaming of summer days when he can take his beloved 14-footer fishing kayak out to explore the 1,000+ lakes and rivers within driving distance of his home in central British Columbia, Canada.

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