Traveling the Potomac: Your Guide to Restaurants, Breweries, and Waterfront Fun

by Patricia Keppel | Posted: Jun 30, 2017 | Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Comments: 8 Comments

potomac river sunset

While the Potomac River totals about 405 miles in length, Virginia’s section of the river starts in Harpers Ferry, traveling southeast in Northern Virginia before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. The river creates a natural border between Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. along its route, but it is more than just a dividing feature on the map. With a bevy of paddling activities, scenic overlooks, and waterfront destinations along the Potomac, the river is a haven for outdoor lovers living in the populous Northern Virginia area. Take a trip to the Potomac River and use our guide to find everything you need, from breweries and wineries to interesting detours and pit stops available along the way.



potomac river great falls

Entering Virginia near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this section of the Potomac River begins smoothly, with relatively calm waters perfect for tubing and kayaking. As the river gets closer to Washington, D.C., however, the current begins to strengthen, and jagged rocks peeking above the current create some of the roughest waters in Virginia. The apex of the rushing waters converge through Great Falls Park, a scenic waterfront park which contains 15 miles of hiking trails. In this area of the river, swimming and wading are prohibited due to the danger of the swift currents, but experienced kayakers with prerequisite training and certification may get permission to take on the challenging river waters.

Communities to Visit along the River: Purcellville, Lovettsville, Leesburg, Tysons, Arlington, Alexandria

potomac river alexandria

River Outfitters & Guides:

Local Dining Hot Spots:

Wineries & Distilleries:

doukenie winery loudoun

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Area Highlights:

The upper section of Virginia’s Potomac River has plenty of entertainment to be found along its shores. Head to Leesburg, which features a historic downtown replete with fantastic restaurants, tons of craft breweries and scenic wineries, and the nearby Topgolf complex, a high-tech driving range for golf enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a luxurious overnight getaway, book a stay at Lansdowne Resort & Spa, located in the heart of Northern Virginia’s Wine Country.

potomac river washington dc

Shopping enthusiasts will also find plenty to do in the area along the Upper Potomac at shopping centers like the Leesburg Premium Outlets and Tysons Corner Center, as well as a multitude of cute boutique shops in historic downtown Alexandria. Just north of Alexandria, Arlington is a hub of history and monuments. Walk through the somber Arlington National Cemetery and visit the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. For additional outdoor recreation, a portion of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs from Turkey Run Park to Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and is open to cyclists, pedestrians, and horseback riders.

Upper Potomac River Access Points:

  • Harpers Ferry Access
  • McKimmey Boat Ramp
  • Algonkian Regional Park Boat Ramp
  • Riverbend Park
  • Columbia Island Marina
  • Gravelley Point and Roaches Run
  • Washington Sailing Marina
  • Belle Haven Marina




Westmoreland State Park

The lower Potomac River below Alexandria transforms into calmer waters that are better suited for kayaking and stand up paddle boarding than the Upper section. Several national wildlife refuges on the banks of the lower Potomac provide sanctuary for birds and wildlife in the area, including Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge. For outdoor activities like hiking and biking, the region features several notable state parks, including Mason Neck State Park, Prince William Forest Park, Caledon State Park, and Westmoreland State Park.

Communities to Visit along the River: Stafford, Fredericksburg, Colonial Beach

Stratford Hall potomac river

River Outfitters & Guides:

Local Dining Hot Spots:

Wineries & Distilleries:

A. Smith Bowman Distillery

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See All Potomac River Breweries

Area Highlights:

Mount Vernon, George Washington's Estate and Garden, overlooks the Potomac River.

Get beautiful views of the Potomac and the capital skyline when you walk or bicycle the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail, which travels along the river from Theodore Roosevelt Island outside of D.C. to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Here, you’ll see the first president’s home restored into its full glory, with pristine grounds and stunning vistas that overlook the Potomac. After journeying further south along the river, stop in the Fredericksburg area for a brewery tour or explore the downtown district to find restaurants and shopping opportunities.


Leave Fredericksburg and continue toward King George, where you can stay the night at Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, a renovated 16th century estate that was the birthplace of President James Madison. Get even more presidential history at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Colonial Beach. Just a few miles down the road, Westmoreland State Park has six miles of hiking trails along the shoreline. Rent one of the wood sifting baskets from the park office to sift for shark teeth at the park’s riverfront beach. Looking for more coastal trails to explore? Head to Stratford Hall, the Birthplace of Robert E. Lee, where you can enjoy several miles of trails before taking a tour of the historic 1730’s Great House. Finish your tour with an opulent stay at the Inn at Stratford Hall.

Lower Potomac River Access Points:

  • Pohick Bay Regional Park Boat Ramp
  • Belmont Bay
  • Tyme and Tyde Marina
  • Hampton’s Landing Marina
  • Leesylvania Park Boat Ramp
  • Willow Landing Marina
  • Hope Springs Marina
  • Waugh Point Marina
  • Machodoc Creek Marina at Dahlgren Marine Center
  • Colonial Beach Yacht Center
  • Stepps Harbor View Marina
  • Coles Point Plantation Marina
  • White Point Marina
  • Point Kinsale Marina
  • Coan River Marina




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Avatar K. Eaton says:

Please denote the places the photos depict.

Avatar Jennifer Gross says:

Don’t forget Dockside excellent food and service

Avatar Nicole Cosper says:

Harpers Ferry Brewing in Purcellville overlooks the Potomac

Avatar Lorrie Martin Monger says:

Hey, don’t forget wilkerson’s restaurant in colonial beach! It’s got crazy good food, and it’s own dock!

Avatar Mindy Ashton says:

Fredericksburg is great but not on the Potomac River.

I can see some good place for kayaking here

Avatar Mac says:

Some of your recommendations have closed in the last year.

Mac, Can you let me know which one? I saw that one of the breweries I had closed recently, but couldn’t find any others that had closed as far as I know.