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If there was ever a place suited for paddling, Delmarva is it. The peninsula’s personality is formed by the waters which surround it – the pounding Atlantic surf, the Chesapeake’s broad expanse, the steady flow of the tributaries flowing into the Bay, the murmuring of currents through the marshes as they rise and fall with the steady breathing of the tides, Paddlers of all abilities and interests find endless opportunities here. Experienced paddlers challenge themselves with long-distance, overnight trips that cover miles of rivers and inlets or the strong currents and big waves of the ocean. Beginners loop around ponds and sheltered waters on guided trips with experienced instructors. As they gain experience, the draw to explore the waters of Delmarva is irresistible.

The dozens of rivers and thousands of miles of passages in the marshes add up to a lifetime or more of exploring. Every trip along a familiar, often-visited trail is a new adventure. To quietly glide through reeds and come upon a Great Blue Heron stoically standing, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim too closely and too slowly; to lift your paddle and let the lapping waters take you where they want; to retrace the history of the Chesapeake from the Nanticoke to the Colonists to slaves wading their way to freedom – the possibilities are as endless as the streams lacing across Delmarva.

Here’s a brief overview of paddling in Delmarva. Kayaking is almost too easy to learn. Rentals, tours, and instruction are easy to find and very affordable. A few minutes of instruction and an hour or so of practice, and you are ready for the easy water trails.

MARYLAND UPPER BAY

Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Beyond

Where to Canoe & Kayak
Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center Water Trails, Grasonville. You can rent a kayak or bring your own and paddle around the center on one of three trails, along Marshy Creek, Prospect Bay, or Cabin Creek. This is a particularly good trip for bird-watchers, with herons, egrets, owls, and eagles in abundance. 410-827-6694. www.bayrestoration.org

Eastern Neck Water Trail, Rock Hall. Actually, Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge is an island off the southern tip of Kent County, where the Chester River meets the Chesapeake Bay. The trail connects seven biologic, scenic, historic and ecologic sites located around the island for the recreational and educational benefit of paddlers. The waterproof, tear proof, floating map and guide which is available at the Friends of Eastern Neck Bookstore located at the Visitor Center.

RENTALS AND TOURS

  • Adventure Crafters, Queenstown. A large, well-run operation that can serve both experienced kayakers as well as beginners on vacation. Daily, weekly rentals. They run half day and full-day trips that visit Wye Island, the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge, and the coves along the Chester River. They give a 10% discount to active and retired military. 888-KAYAK-MD, www.adventurecrafters.com
  • Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Grasonville. Check the listing above. Rentals are only for paddling the water trails by the Center.
  • Kent Island Family Kayak Rentals, Chester. Rentals are by reservation only; no drop-ins. They set-up nature paddles and some that are themed for the kids, like their “Pirate” paddle. 410-362-2200.
  • Matapeake Beach, Rt. 8, Kent Island. This is a public beach operated by Queen Anne’s County Parks & Recreation with kayak rental. It is directly on the Chesapeake Bay, so it’s subject to whatever weather whims Mother Nature whips up. 410-758-0835. www.parksnrec.org
  • Sultana Projects, Chestertown. The Sultana is a replica of a Colonial-era ship that was part of the British Navy. (We don’t hold that against her.) She’s berthed at the dock in Chestertown and serves as the floating classroom and symbol of the Projects. The Projects develops awareness of the historic and ecologic importance of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. There is a series of half-day guided paddles along the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail, and other trips along the adjacent rivers. 410-778-5954. www.sultanaprojects.org

MARYLAND MIDDLE BAY

Cambridge- St. Michaels-Tilghman Island

Where to Canoe & Kayak

BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, CAMBRIDGE
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 410-228-2677, 410-228-6328. www.fws.gov/blackwater

Blackwater is a special place, 27,000 acres of rich tidal marsh, evergreen and deciduous forest, and managed floodplains for the benefit of migrating waterfowl. And such a migration! About 35,000 Canada and Snow Geese and 15,000 ducks of various denominations winter at Blackwater, the avian equivalent of high season in Ocean City. It’s also home to the largest breeding population of Bald Eagles on the East Coast, outside of Florida, the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel, and the endangered migrant Peregrine Falcon.

 

There are miles and miles of meandering creeks and tidal swells to explore. If you are not familiar with the area, you should go with someone who is or be very competent with a GPS. There are stories of the ghostly voices of lost paddlers floating across the barrens at the full moon. Ok, maybe not. But you’d really feel stupid if you got lost and had to be rescued by the local Cub Scout Den.

To prevent that, pick up one of the Paddling Trails map at the Visitor Center. It details over 20 miles of trails, with information about navigation, wildlife, and other useful stuff. The waterproof map is $5. Proceeds go towards trail maintenance. You can also download an order form at http://friendsofblackwater.org/paddling.html

CHOPTANK & TUCKAHOE RIVERS WATER TRAIL, GREENSBORO/HILLSBORO/PRESTON/SECRETARY
This is one freakin’ amazing site! The Old Harford Maritime Center in W. Denton developed an incredible on-line guide to the Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers. They’ve laid out 15 trips that are anywhere from an easy hour to an overnight trek. The trips are themed: Nature/ Religion/African-American History/River Trade. But that hardly does the site justice. There’s a mile-by-mile slide show of each trip, so you know what to look for in terms of navigation. There are also full-color slides and descriptions of the fauna and flora you’ll see. Detailed itineraries; several types of maps, planning guide. Amazingly comprehensive, intelligently laid out, and so user-friendly that it’s almost condescending. You can view it all online at www.riverheritage.org/riverguide/index.html. To get a hard copy, visit the Old Harford Town Maritime Center, 10215 River Landing Rd., W. Denton, MD 21629, call 410-241-8661, or e-mail a request to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

FISHING BAY WATER TRAIL, CAMBRIDGE Fishing Bay Wildlife management Area is adjacent to Blackwater. Owned by the State of Maryland, it’s actually larger than its Federally owned neighbor, at 28,500 acres. It’s the largest publicly owned tidal wetland in the state. With no visitor center, just several boat ramps, and largely unknown by the public, it offers a remote wilderness paddling experience. Expect to see whitetail and Sika deer, native muskrat and alien nutria, quail, Bald Eagles, and osprey. The water trail has two identified trails totally about 10 miles. Both are subject to strong winds and strong currents at times. Copies of the waterproof, tearproof map are free. You can find them at the Sailwinds Visitor Center in Cambridge, or at the WMA. The map doesn’t show any office. They might be at the boat ramps. You can also send a e-mail to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Put “map request” in the subject line. Include your name, mailing address, and number of maps you want. The URL for Fishing Bay WMA is: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/fishingbay.asp#ar

NANTICOKE RIVER MAP Seaford DE to the Bay. The Nanticoke is one of the remaining largely pristine rivers on the East Coast. At 63 miles long, and quite broad in most places, it’s the largest tributary of the Chesapeake on the Eastern Shore, yet most people don’t even know it exists. Paddlers staying along the shoreline will see the usual array of flora and fauna, as well as some rarer plants, like Box Huckleberry and Reindeer Moss. A “Heritage Map” of the river is free and available at visitors centers, parks, tourism offices or by mail. Send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Put “map request” in the subject line. Include your name, mailing address, and number of maps you want.

TILGHMAN ISLAND WATER TRAILS Tilghman Island. The map has ten separate water trails that explore the waters around Tilghman Island. The map is excellent: clear directions and easy-to-read map, a paddle log, checklist of birds, information about tides and vagaries of the waters around Tilghman. Free download at www.tourtalbot.org.

RENTALS AND TOURS

  • Blackwater Paddle and Pedal, Cambridge. With the owners tracing their Delmarva pedigree to the Native Americans and the Custis family, you know you are working with guides who thoroughly understand and appreciate their subject matter! Rentals are available for go-it-aloners, but the half day (2 hour) and full-day trips are excellent, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the area and what you should expect to see. The day-long combo trips involve both biking and kayaking, so you experience the area by land and sea. 410-901-9255. www.blackwaterpaddleandpedal.com
  • Eastern Shore Adventure, Easton. Half and full-day kayak rentals; weekly by request. Their guided tours get away from the usual places, paddling in the less-know reaches of the tidal marshes of Kings Creek, in the Wye River Wildlife Management Area, and the back creeks of Blackwater. 410-820-8881 www.esadventure.com
  • ‘Peake Paddle Tours, Trappe. Terry Hebert guides day-long (4-5 hours) trips along many of Delmarva’s Rivers: Choptank and Nanticoke, Pocomoke and Tuckahoe. There’s no daily schedule; trips are by reservation and built around the paddlers’ interests and abilities. 410-924-5290. www.paddletours.com

WHERE TO KAYAK & CANOE

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has a set of water trail maps available for purchase ($3 each) on the website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/trailguides.html
They include: Janes Island State Park; Pocomoke River State Forest and Park; Smith Island Water Trail; Tilghman Island Water Trail; Tuckahoe State Park; Wye Island NRMA. You can also download GPS waypoints for the Janes Island water trail. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/janesisland.html

ATLANTIC COASTAL REGION

Assateague State Park, Maryland is at the northernmost end of the island. The waters on Sinepuxent Bay are suitable for canoes and kayaks. There is an outfitter who rents kayaks and equipment. Check at the visitor center to confirm hours and days of operation. 410-641-2120. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/assateague.html

Worcester County (Berlin, Pocomoke City, Snow Hill)

The county tourism office has maps of a slew of trails – seven so far – scattered throughout the area. You can paddle on Nassawango Creek, the Pocomoke River or in the Chincoteague Bay, through bald cypress forest or along tidal flats.

You need to contact Worcester County Tourism to get the maps. They are not yet downloadable. For a preview and some basic information about the trails, go to www.visitworcester.org or call 800-852-0335.

RENTALS AND TOURS

  • Pocomoke River Canoe Company, Snow Hill, MD The Pocomoke River is amazing. It’s only about 20 minutes from Ocean City, but you are in a different world when you are on this river. The tea-brown waters come from tannin leached from the bald cypress trees that line the shore. This is the northernmost stand of bald cypress in North America. Remember that when you’re on Jeopardy. It could win you big money. But a few feet down, the water is fresh and sweet, clear and very drinkable. The river is so deep that Snow Hill was an ocean port during Colonial times, despite being inland. The river is so long that it very nearly bisects the Delmarva Peninsula. The thick forest protected slaves on the run, as the river was a major route of the Underground Railroad.  All in all, a place well worth exploring. The Canoe Company added kayaks to its fleet this year. Both they and the canoes are very maneuverable in the calm waters of the river. You can rent by the hour, day, or week. You can put-in at their dock or load your kayak onto your vehicle. They provide transport to put-in and pick-up spots for an additional fee. 410-632-3971, 800-258-0905. http://atbeach.com/amuse/md/canoe/
  • Shad Landing Concessions, Pocomoke River State Forest & Park, Snow Hill. Canoes and Kayaks for rent. 410-632-2566 http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/pocomokeriver.html
  • Adrenaline High, Salisbury This is a custom touring company that does both kayaking and biking tours for groups of up to 4 people. They specialize in multi-day trips with unique accommodations, like a houseboat. They also set up half-day and day trips, trips for church, social, or civic groups. 410-749-2886. www.adrenalinehigh.com

LOWER BAY

Crisfield

You can also download GPS waypoints for the Janes Island Water Trail. This has six different trails, all of which begin and end at the park marina. Most of the trails are protected from winds and current. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/janesisland.html

Smith Island

The Smith Island Water Trails Paddlers Guide details seven well-marked routes through the island’s 8,000 acres of marshland and meandering creeks. More experienced paddlers can explore the marshes solo, but it’s still best to talk to the locals. After a while, one hummock of cattails looks a lot like another. Check in with DelmarvaLITE to see if there are outfitters renting kayaks. 443-944-8097. Otherwise, you have to bring your own from the mainland via the daily ferry from Crisfield. You can do this as a day trip, but you’ll probably enjoy making it an overnighter. There are only two B&Bs, Chesapeake Sunrise (410-425-4220, www.smithisland.us and Inn of Silent Music (410-425-3541, www.innofsilentmusic.com) To get the water trail, e-mail Jim Rapp at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

RENTALS AND TOURS
Tangier Sound Outfitters, Crisfield. Half-day and all-day rentals, as well as guided tours. They specialize in back country kayak camping. You’ll use the paddle-in sites on platforms in Janes Island State Park and will camp on private land where the outfitter has permission. A very cool way to have an unusual Chesapeake adventure. They also offer a 4-hour beginner paddle class. 410-957-1270. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/outdooradventures/tangier.html


WHERE TO CANOE & KAYAK
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has a set of water trail maps available for purchase ($3 each) on the website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/trailguides.html
They include: Janes Island State Park; Pocomoke River State Forest and Park; Smith Island Water Trail; Tilghman Island Water Trail; Tuckahoe State Park; Wye Island NRMA.

VIRGINIA

The barrier islands which protect the Eastern Shore of Virginia from the Atlantic Ocean are recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve. They are one of the last, great unspoiled ecosystems in North America. This delicate chain of sand spits and sea grasses are largely undisturbed by humans, remaining the home of wildlife and sea life, plants and birds, shaped by the wind and sea.
One of the coolest paddle guides out there is Virginia’s Seaside Water Trail. It’s a series of 37 trails for paddlers that stretch from Cape Charles up to the Virginia\Maryland state line. There are over 100 miles of trails in all, divided into routes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced paddlers. Along with clear directions, the download locates launch sites with both written directions and GPS coordinates, and information on lodging, campgrounds, and services. http://www.blackwaterpaddleandpedal.com/

Assateague Island has some good options for paddlers. The Virginia end of Assateague allows kayaking. However, it is operated as a wildlife management area, so there are restrictions involved. Stop at the visitor center for a map of the put-ins and to talk to a Ranger about your plans and what’s allowed. On the Maryland end of Chincoteague Bay, you’ll find four campsites near the put-in that are designed specifically for paddlers. http://www.nps.gov/asis/


RENTALS (AND TOURS)

  • SouthEast Expeditions, Cape Charles & Onancock. Mary & Bill Burnham are long-time outdoorspeople, with extensive experience on the water and on the trails. They rent kayaks by the hour, day, or week; free delivery with advance reservation. Their kayak tours are excellent. Most have an ecological emphasis, but some are designed just to get out and enjoy the scenery. Then there’s the Winery Kayak Tour, which involves a tour of Chatham Vineyards, a paddle along Church Creek, and a bottle of wine to take home with you. (Cape Charles) 757-331-2680, 757-331-2660, 877-225-2925. (Onancock) 757-787-2933, 305-240-3298. www.sekayak.com
  • Oyster Bay Outfitters, Chincoteague. They also rent kayaks by the hour, day, or week if you want to explore on your own. But if you are not familiar with the wildlife refuge or the other waters around Chincoteague, you should consider one of their tours. The guide is licensed to operate within the refuge, and knows where to go for the best chance of seeing wildlife and birds. 757-336-0070. www.oysterbayoutfitters.com
  • Up a Creek With A Paddle Tours, Chincoteague. Half-day and all-day guided tours around the refuge conducted by a certified Virginia eco-tour guide. Consider taking a sunrise or sunset tour. The sunrise is especially cool, since the wildlife is usually more active early in the day. 757-693-1200. www.upacreektours.com
  • Wildlife Expeditions, Chincoteague. Open year-round, which gives you the option of experiencing the marshes at a time when few people are on the water. Rent or go out on a tour to see the area from someone who’s known it all his life. Jay Cherrix comes from a family that’s lived on Chincoteague for generations. Be sure to look around inside the shop. Jay is also an incredible carver. Not so much of traditional decoys, but of flying dragons and a phoenix, among other creatures. 757-336-6811. 866-CKA-YAKS.

Cape Charles

Schooner Serenity, Cape Charles. This is the classic schooner, silhouetted against the sunset while the passengers enjoy the view whilst sipping champagne. You can participate in the sailing or just relax and enjoy being out on the water. Weekend scheduled sunset sails. Other nights private charters. 757-710-1233, www.schoonerserenity.com

Chincoteague

Assateague Explorer Pony Watching/Wildlife Cruises, Chincoteague. These folks specialize in pony watching. The wild ponies can be elusive critters, but the crews know where the horses like to hang out. The pontoon boat gets in close for photos. Their kayak pony tour is somewhat unique in that the ponies are again the focus of the tour, although you’ll see and learn a lot about the rest of Chincoteague’s nature. 757-336-5956. http://www.nps.gov/asis/

Captain Barry’s Back Bay Cruises & Expeditions, Chincoteague. The “Indiana Jones of Chincoteague,” complete with the fedora, knows the waters and the creatures of Chincoteague Bay as well as Indiana Jones knows archeology. His four cruises are hands-on educational. You’ll be catching crabs, getting off the boat to explore tidal flats, and learn about the nesting and migrating habits of seabirds. One of the best family tours, particularly for younger kids. 757-336-6508, http://www.captainbarry.net/index.htm

Chincoteague Cruises & Nature Tours, Chincoteague. Capt. Charlie Birch is a 7- generation Chincoteague Island waterman. His very personal cruises are limited to 6 people, making them perfect for families. The usual tour is about 90 minutes long, cruising along the waterways for a good look at the critters in, on, above, and below the water. He also has special crabbing, birding, and barrier islands cruises that are 4 hours long. 757-894-8149, 757-336-5731. http://www.chincoteaguecruises.com/

Chincoteague Spider Pontoon Cruises, Chincoteague. Want to get married at sea? Here’s your chance. Capt. Leslie Fleming is an Accomac County Marriage Celebrant. That means if you have a valid Virginia Marriage License, he’s the guy who can make it official. The Spider can carry 4-6 people, so you don’t have to worry about a big reception, either! The 1 ½ - 2 hour cruises go out to the Assateague Lighthouse or around the Chincoteague Bay. He builds his trips around the passengers’ interests, so each cruise is a little different. 757-990-4242 http://www.chincoteaguespider.com/

Fishawn Charters, Chincoteague. Every morning, the boat heads out for a 3-hour fishing trip in Chincoteague Bay. In the evening, she takes nature lovers on a 90-minute, just-before-sunset tour, which is an excellent time to be on the water. The sun isn’t beating down; the bugs are less hungry; and the wildlife is more active. 757-336-1953. www.fishawn.com

Linda J Charters, Chincoteague. This 24’ pontoon boat makes several nature cruises daily. Their special cruise is the 2-hour sunset nature cruise. The birds and dolphins are feeding before settling down for the night, and the captain knows where they usually are to be seen. Bring your own snacks and drinks or picnic and join them. 757-336-6214. http://www.intercom.net/~captmilo/

Exmoor

Broadwater Bay Ecotours, Exmoor. Capt. Rick Kellam does not have a fixed schedule of tours. What he does instead is build itineraries around areas of interest for groups reserving his boat. He can carry up to six passengers on adventures built around hands-on aquaculture, lighthouses, life on the barrier islands, natural history, surf & fly fishing, wine-and-cheese sunset cruises. Give him a call and tell him about your group and family and see what he comes up with. He’s a 5th generation Hog Islander, former member of the VA Marine Police, and guide for Orvis and The Nature Conservancy. 757-442-4363. http://www.broadwaterbayecotour.com/

DELAWARE

The Delaware State Park system is quiet friendly to paddlers. You can go on-line and buy a season pass ($27 in-state; $54 non-resident) or pay a day fee, which varies depending on the park.  You can rent kayaks and/or canoes at most of the parks:
Cape Henlopen State Park Fishing & Kayak Center, Lewes. Kayak rental and information about where to paddle from the fishing center. Park office 302-645-8983. http://www.destateparks.com/park/cape-henlopen/index.asp

Fenwick Island State Park, Fenwick Island. Little Assawoman Bay is the western boundary of the park, so there are plenty of opportunities for salt water kayaking, mild close to shore, sometimes more exciting as you paddle out. Kayak rental is handled by Coastal Kayak. 302-227-2800 http://www.destateparks.com/park/fenwick-island/index.asp

Killens Pond State Park, Felton. The centerpiece of this park is the 66-acre millpond. The Murderkill River Canoe Trail gives more adventurous paddlers more of a challenge. Pick up maps at the camp headquarters. 302-289-4694. http://www.destateparks.com/kpsp/kpsp.htm
Trap Pond State Park, Laurel. Another nice park built around a large lake. The waters are quiet, but there’s a wilderness canoe trail which leaves the lake to go into the surrounding swamp. Slather on the bug repellant and go for it. 302-875-5151. http://www.destateparks.com/park/trap-pond/index.asp

As far as finding other put-ins goes, the best source for information is www.delmarvakayak.net Their list of put-ins, both official and casual is extensive, personal, and very helpful: http://www.delmarvakayak.net/beach_put_ins.htm This site is a treasure-trove of information of all sorts for kayakers. A great resource.

RENTALS AND TOURS
DEWEY BEACH
East of Maui, Dewey Beach. Primarily a surf shop, they rent kayaks by the day or week. They also set up 2-hour ocean kayak tours. 302-227-4703. www.eastofmaui.com

FENWICK ISLAND, DE
Coastal Kayak, Fenwick Island, DE. Fenwick is at the northern tip of Ocean City, so if you are in O.C., this is the outfit to call. This is an excellent operation, covering just about every kayaking need or interest. Rentals by the hour, day, or week. Also a School of Coastal Kayaking for those who are interested in more than casual paddling. They offer a slew of tours that take you to all of the different eco-systems of the Easternmost part of the Eastern Shore. The waters of Assawoman Bay around Ocean City are just one. You can also paddle through the Bald Cypress near Snow Hill, or take a tour of the woodlands surrounding a nearby pond and stream system. Advanced paddlers can do some ocean paddling in the Atlantic. 302-539-7999. www.c-kayak.com

LEWES, DE
Quest Fitness & Kayak, Lewes. A very serious fitness center with a very serious sense of humor and fun mixed in with the crunches and aerobic classes. Their kayak program is extensive. No rentals, but all sorts of cool excursions: Pizza & Paddle (designed for nearly teens and teenagers); Dolphin Quest; Full Moon paddles (June 7, July 7, August 6, September 4) – those are awesome; and Pints & Paddles, which starts with a paddle along the Broadkill River inMilton and ends with a tour and tasting at Dogfish Head Brewery. What’s not to like? They offer day care at the gym; it’s not clear if they offer that to paddling adults. 302-644-7020. www.questfitnesskayak.com

 

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