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Get on the Water to Beat the Heat

a small boat in a body of water

Author: Leila Farrer

It’s not news that summer in DC (and, let’s be honest, most of spring and fall) is stifling. A Washingtonian’s favorite phrase between May and September is without a doubt, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” The weather might seem hopeless to locals pounding the pavement toward a Metro commute, or to tourists museum hopping just for the sweet relief of air conditioning, but we’re here to remind readers that DC is surrounded by cooler temperatures on the water. The city is on a peninsula, after all! Here are a few ways to explore the rivers and find urban waterfalls.

RiverSmart Boat Tours

a small boat in a body of water

The District’s Department of Energy & Environment offers boat tours on the Anacostia River through two non-profit organizations, Anacostia Riverkeeper and the Anacostia Watershed Society. These groups, which also do amazing work with environmental education, citizen science, and river clean up, will take you out on either a motorized pontoon or in canoes. It’s the perfect opportunity to cool off on the water and do some guided wildlife watching and history exploration. Tours are absolutely free (just make a reservation), and are funded by the District’s disposable bag fee. 

Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

a small boat in a body of water

Want some leisurely float time with monumental views? Look no further than the paddle boats on the Tidal Basin! Paddle (or just drift) your way around the Basin and take in the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, and, if you visit in the spring, DC’s famed cherry blossoms. Paddle boats are available for two or four people, and swan boats (which are fabulous) are equipped with a motor for folks with disabilities or who are unable to paddle. Make a day of it with a picnic in the shade near the Franklin D. Roosevelt or Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials.

Kayaking on the Potomac

If you’re looking to put your back into it and get some exercise, kayaking on the Potomac may be for you! Boating in DC offers kayak, canoe, and paddle board rentals at several locations along the river, including at the Wharf, Navy Yard, and Georgetown. Depending on where you launch, views may include the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, spires of Georgetown University, and Roosevelt Island. There’s always a breeze out on the water and sunsets over the Potomac are stunning.

Water Taxi

River cruise with a destination in the water taxi! If you’re making your way between Old Town Alexandria, the Wharf, National Harbor, or Georgetown, skip the Metro and travel it in style on the Potomac. The water taxi is the perfect way to put a spin on your local day trips and includes some of the best panoramic city skyline views. Be sure to check their schedule before you head out.

City Splash Fountains

a group of people on a dock next to a body of water

Find your H2O cooldown in the heart of the city at one of several splash fountains! At 11 inches deep, the Canal Basin pool at Yards Park is perfect for wading, and the nearby fountains provide a waterfall of cool relief. DC’s Department of Parks & Recreation also maintains two dozen spray parks throughout the city, perfect for kids to splash and play. Don’t forget your bathing suit!

Spending time on the water is a great way to mix up your vacation or stay-cation in any season. Get a new perspective (literally!) of the nation’s capital, plus some amazing photos that will set your experience apart. See you on the river!