Trail News

Colonial Beach Paddling & Tips for Novices

September 20, 2023

Paddling on the Potomac River in opposition to wind and tide can be a challenge, but paddlers can find quieter water and tranquil views in Monroe Bay.  For a long paddle, meander from Ice House Marina up Monroe Creek to James Monroe’s Birthplace. Launching is free from Ice House, which also has food, beer and wine available. The Bay-to-Creek experience affords an opportunity to see shoreline habitat, and birds at close proximity. Beach the kayaks at the Birthplace and walk up to the Visitors Center to stretch your legs or find a table for a picnic lunch.

Kelly Woods Vaughn from Riverview Inn, a renovated boutique lodging just off the beach, and Ferry Landing Pier, which rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards during the summer, has the following tips for those new to kayaking:

1) GET A LESSON or WATCH A VIDEO – Tip number one, get yourself a kayaking lesson. You might not think that you need one. How hard can it be to paddle a kayak, right?

2) DRESS FOR THE WATER, NOT THE WEATHER – It might be a hot sunny day, so you’ll be tempted to wear shorts and tee to go kayaking. But the water temperature might be cold. Wear fabrics that dry and not cotton.

3) CHOOSE THE RIGHT KAYAK – There are a whole range of different types of kayaks available.

4) ALWAYS WEAR A LIFE JACKET – Wearing a life jacket is essential for any kayaker – whether you are a beginner or an experienced paddler.

5) SIT PROPERLY IN YOUR KAYAK – Learning how to sit properly in a kayak will make it so much easier when you start paddling. Your kayak might have a nice comfy backrest but don’t slouch. It’s best to sit up straight with your lower back and buttocks at 90 degrees to each other.

6) HOLD THE PADDLE THE RIGHT WAY – This might sound obvious but plenty of people hold their paddle the wrong way when learning to kayak. Hold the paddle with both hands just over shoulder distance apart. Make sure the concave part of the blade is facing you. When you dip the paddle blade into the water, the concave part should sweep through the water. Check your knuckles are in line with the blade.

7) ALWAYS BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES – This is another simple piece of advice but easy to forget. Always bring a change of clothes, even if you don’t think you are going to get wet.

8) KNOW HOW TO RESCUE YOURSELF AND OTHERS – Number one rule of kayaking for beginners is knowing how to rescue yourself and others. You might not capsize on your first kayaking excursion – especially if the water is calm and flat – but it’s always good to be prepared.

9) PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN KAYAKS – Again, it sounds obvious but sometimes in panicked situations, people forget that the most important thing is keeping each other safe. It doesn’t matter if you lose a paddle or even a kayak, as long as you keep your fellow paddlers safe and sound. Boats can be replaced. People can’t.

10) DON’T KAYAK ALONE – If there is one tip I would like to read in every kayaking for beginners guide, it would be don’t kayak alone. It’s never a good idea to go kayaking by yourself.


Ferry Landing Pier in Colonial Beach
Information on where to rent stand-up paddleboards, or kayaks in the summer season.

Enjoy the Northern Neck by water and remember that the waterways were the roads of the region for the indigenous communities who lived here first. Many of our rivers and creeks, such as the Potomac, Rappahannock, Corrotoman, Yeocomico, Wicomico, and Machodoc, carry the Algonquin language in their names.  Like the region’s first inhabitants, in the Northern Neck’s quiet, you can still hear the voices of nature along the water’s edge.