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DC on the Water: 12 Ways to Embrace Washington's Waterfronts

Kayaking on the Capitol Riverfront - Family Friendly and Waterfront Activities in Washington, DC

Outdoor activities like boat tours, kayaks, paddleboarding and water fountains make a splash in Washington, DC.

The District’s two rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia, shine brightly once the warm weather of spring and summer settles on the city. Fortunately for visitors, there are plenty of ways to explore these DC waterfronts, with family friendly outdoor activities that include being both on or beside the rivers. Many of these things to do have a fitness component, so we’re not just talking “lazy afternoons” here. Read on for more waterfront fun.

1 Head to Key Bridge Boathouse for kayaking and paddleboarding

@boatingindc - Key Bridge Boathouse - Summer in Washington, DC

Located in Georgetown on the Potomac River, Key Bridge Boathouse is a great place to go for on-the-water adventures. Rent a kayak, canoe or even a standup paddleboard and make the river your personal playground. You should be able to catch views of the gorgeous Georgetown waterfront, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and even the Washington Monument. You can also paddle over to Roosevelt Island, which is an attraction unto itself.

2 Have a monumental time with Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

Tidal Basin Jefferson Memorial Paddle Boats - Washington, DC

Gaze at the gorgeous Jefferson Memorial and an array of cherry blossom trees as you glide around the Tidal Basin on either a pedal boat or a swan boat from Tidal Basin Paddle Boats. Expect picturesque views of the National Mall as you navigate one of the most scenic areas in the District.

3 See the sights on a DC boat tour

Odyssey Cruise on the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Located on the Southwest WaterfrontEntertainment Cruises offers sightseeing tours daily, providing stunning visuals of the memorials and monuments from an on-the-water perspective. Its boats offer lunch and dinner cruises, as well as themed excursions, so your options are plentiful. There's also Embark DC, which offers customized tours that depart from the Georgetown waterfront; Potomac Riverboat Company, which offers a variety of narrated cruises on the river, including water taxi excursions; and DC Cruises, which sports 100-passenger tour boats to see the monuments, as well as water taxi tours that connect Georgetown and the National Mall.

4 Discover dazzling views with DC Ducks
Discover dazzling views with DC Ducks DC Ducks

DC Ducks offers awesome sightseeing tours on its distinctive amphibious vehicles. You start at Union Station, driving past the city’s famous monuments and museums, learning as you go. Then, the car turns into a boat, taking you straight into the Potomac River for a thrilling adventure off-land. This 90-minute journey is unlike any other tour in the District and a great family friendly activity.

5 Walk, run or bike along one of DC’s outstanding trails
Walk, run or bike along one of DC’s outstanding trails November Project DC

Both the C&O Canal Towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail are ideal for a leisurely hike or an eye-popping bike ride. The 185-mile C&O Canal trail runs through Georgetown, boasting beautiful views of one of DC’s most historic neighborhoods, and runs alongside the Potomac River in certain spots. The Capital Crescent Trail starts in Georgetown and winds all the way to Silver Spring, MD, flanking the Potomac along the way.

6 Take a C&O Canal Boat Ride
Take a C&O Canal Boat Ride Kathleen Conklin

At the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, you can hop on with C&O Canal Boat Rides and take a historic trek down the canal. The boat is a replica of those used in the 1870s, when the C&O was oft-used to transfer products like coal and lumber. Take in scenery as rangers in period clothing guide the way. Both kids and adults will enjoy this one-hour adventure (kids three and under ride for free).

7 Visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s riverside estate

George Washington's Mount Vernon - Family Friendly Things to Do Near Washington, DC

The historic and elegant George Washington's Mount Vernon sits right next to the Potomac River in Virginia, providing jaw-dropping scenery and plenty of period-authentic features. The property includes the iconic mansion, outbuildings, a tomb and even a working blacksmith shop and farm. The entire family will also love the interactive exhibits and artifacts inside the Museum and Education Center.

8 Explore National Harbor
Explore National Harbor Visit National Harbor

Set just south of Washington, DC on the Maryland banks of the Potomac River, National Harbor presents numerous recreational options, including an exceptional roster of restaurants and hotels. The kids will love riding the Capital Wheel, which sports amazing vistas of the River, Old Town Alexandria and even Mount Vernon.

9 Hang out at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown
Hang out at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown The Washington Harbour

Georgetown’s river waterfront is home to tons of great restaurants – many, including SequoiaTony and Joe's Seafood Place and Farmers Fishers Bakers, offer patio seating in warm weather – and plenty of outdoor activities. In summer, children (and adults, too) can splash in the sprinkler-style water fountain, watch the boats and feed the ducks. Before or after, get your shopping on in the historic neighborhood.

Discover Washington, DC in 360 Degrees - Find out why a trip to Washington, DC is the best vacation ever by experiencing it in 360-degree video

10 Savor the outdoors at The Yards Park

Capitol Riverfront - Family Friendly Activities at Yards Park - Waterfront Things to Do Washington, DC

Located near Nationals Park and at the center of the emerging Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, The Yards Park sits next to the Anacostia River in resplendent fashion. Its bridge is an architectural marvel while its modernized “outdoor rooms” make the park a perfect place for playtime. The DC Jazz Festival (June 10-19) also holds concerts here during the summer.

11 Make your way down the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail - Washington, DC

The southeast pocket of DC has undergone significant development in recent years, including a continuous new 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that runs along both sides of the Anacostia River. Run, bike or stroll down the 10-12 foot wide trail that winds next to the revitalized waterway.

12 Coming soon: The Wharf

Canopy by Hilton and Hyatt House at the Wharf - Hotels Coming Soon in Washington, DC

The Wharf is a new $2 billion waterfront neighborhood that will reside next to the Potomac River on the Southwest Waterfront. Slated to open in October, the development will be filled to the brim with restaurants and year-round events, as well as marinas and public piers. Expect The Wharf to emerge as DC’s ultimate waterside attraction.

Looking for more outdoor fun? Check out the top 10 running spots in the District.