13 Best Beaches, Lakes, & Rivers Near Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia

by McEnearney on June 29, 2019

Water recreation may not be the first thing you’d think to associate with the Greater Washington area, but it is a surprisingly rich region for a variety of activities– from beaches and boardwalks to sprawling lakes to nearby walking trails and dining. 

Grab your new swimsuit, a boogie board or floatie, and favorite snacks, then head to these nearby watering holes this summer.



1. Dewey Beach


Dewey Beach, the city, lies on a strip of land about one mile long and two blocks wide. It is lined with a wide, sandy beach opening to a clean stretch of ocean on one side, and by a broad bay on the other side. During the summer months, it is known for young revelers coming to spend nights at any one of the iconic bars in the area, but it is also a popular spot for families to visit. There are a wide array of accommodations, from hotels to small houses to condos. Plenty of restaurants line the boardwalk, from takeaway fries to casual seafood to fine dining. The beach even stays dog-friendly during peak season before 9:30 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m.


2. Rehoboth Beach

Rehobotoh beachboardwalk_intro

Just up the coast from Dewey Beach, this regional destination boasts one of the best boardwalks in the nation, according to posts from Coastal Living Magazine and National Geographic. Among its many magnificent finds along the boardwalk, the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand Summer Concert Series is one of the best reasons to visit. Consider making a second stop at the Dogfish Head brewery nearby.


3. Ocean City

Ocean City Maryland

Our favorite destination for a typical boardwalk experience, complete with a scenic beach, arcades, ferris wheels, and every variety of fried food, Ocean City is a nearby gem worth visiting year after year.  In fact, U.S. News recently ranked this nearby gem the #5 Best Family Beach Vacation in the U.S.Like Rehoboth Beach, this town also boasts one of the best boardwalks in the nation, according to posts from Coastal Living Magazine and National Geographic. Take a look for yourself on the OC Boardwalkcam.


4. Chesapeake Beach

Chesapeake Beach

An hour-long drive outside of D.C., the Town of Chesapeake Beach has a quaint beach town feel without missing a beat on all your favorite things about going to the beach. Spend some time on the boardwalk or take a stroll along the trails. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, Chesapeake Beach is the perfect place to get in some sailing lessons or a chartered fishing trip.


5. Virginia Beach


For a getaway perfect for anyone and everyone, Virginia Beach is the place to go. About 3.5 hours away, it’s well worth it to spend a couple of days here. You’ll find miles of shoreline, a 3-mile long boardwalk, multiple state parks, and a plethora of activities to enjoy. Spend an educational afternoon at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center or the Norfolk Botanical Garden. Do we even need to mention all the attractions for the history buffs?


6. Sandy Point Beach

Sandy Point State Park in Maryland

Another beloved spot along the Chesapeake Bay, Sandy Point State Park is about 45 minutes outside of D.C. and offers plenty to see and do throughout the 768-acres. Take advantage of the trails, cool off with a swim, play some ball, escape land and head out on your boat, or catch some fish or crab for dinner. Make it a full day adventure and do some sightseeing in nearby historic Annapolis. Keep Sandy Point in mind for the Annual Maryland Seafood Festival, which this year will take place on September 7th and 8th.



Rivers and Lakes


7. National Harbor

Sunset over the Potomac River, in National Harbor, Maryland.

Just beyond the border of Washington, D.C. and across from Alexandria, VA, this capital area favorite is the perfect way to enjoy being waterfront without necessarily getting your feet wet. For the early birds, be sure to stop by the Saturday Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until December 23rd. Plan a delicious dinner at any of the plethoras of restaurants and stay for the sunset. No matter what time of day, a ride on the Capital Wheel is a great way to take in the gorgeous views along the Potomac. If you are a more experienced swimmer, check out the weekly open water swims offered by Wave One Open Water to hone your distance swimming.


8. Lake Anna

Sunset Over Lake Anna

About a 2-hour drive southwest from Washington, you’ll find one of the largest lakes in Virginia spreading over a scenic 13,000 acres. Once you’ve exhausted all the recreations that a huge lake offers, check out nearby attractions like James Madison’s Montpelier historic mansion, and a number of wineries (our favorite is Barboursville).


9. Deep Creek Lake


While its location amidst a mountainous region is ideal for four seasons of activity, we are charmed by the sheer variety of summertime options at this iconic lake. The largest freshwater lake in Maryland, it was originally created by an electric company dam in the 1920s. Since it became open to the public, the offerings have grown to include boat, jet ski, and tube rentals as well as nearby park attractions like ziplining, and kayaking and rafting at nearby rivers. Many of the business and restaurants lining the lake offer docks for convenience. If you grow tired of the water, explore by land across more than a dozen nearby state parks!


10. Smith Mountain Lake


In the Roanoke Region, lying amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains, is another manmade lake that just celebrated its 50th birthday in 2016. It has all the family favorites for a day of fun on the water, and many services and restaurants accessible by water for whatever you may need. Glancing around, you will also see a decent amount of undeveloped waterfront compared to other lakes. A fun piece of trivia: in the 1991 movie What About Bob? starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, this lake was actually used in the filming (although in the movie, they say they are at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire).


11. Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls

Nestled in the scenic Catoctin Mountains, this beautiful park’s crowning feature is its scenic falls. Take a load off by the lake or go for a hike to get to the falls. The park is divided into two areas; the Hunting Creek Lake, falls, and camping are located in the William Houck Area and in the Manor Area you’ll find the Scales and Tales Aviary, camping, and a bit of history. With an abundance of outdoor recreation and fabulous views wherever you go, Cunningham Falls might be your new favorite place.


12. Cascade Lake

cascade lake

A great choice for a nearby lake with entertainment built right in, Cascade Lake offers picturesque wooded scenery on 70 acres, located about an hour and a half north of Washington, D.C. There is a large swimming platform with slides, which is great for the whole family. Included with admission are the options to check out the spray ‘n’ playground, go fishing, enjoy a picnic or relax on the grounds. You can also rent a paddleboat!


13. Greenbriar State Park


Make your way about 1.5 hours from D.C. to some of the most beautiful water you can find in the Greater Washington area. Greenbrier State Park provides an enjoyable mix of uses through 42-acres and even includes part of the Appalachian Trail. Whether you’re into water recreation or looking for a leisurely picnic spot outside the city, your expectations will surely be exceeded.


Photos (in order of appearance) courtesy of: [main header] Adobe Stock; [Dewey Beach] Visit Delaware; [Rehoboth Beach] City of Rehoboth Beach; [Ocean City] Bigstock; [Chesapeake Beach] permission of McEnearney McLean; [Virginia Beach] Visit Virginia Beach Instagram; [Sandy Point Beach] Bigstock; [National Harbor] Adobe Stock; [Lake Anna] Bigstock; [Cunningham Falls State Park] Fred Schroeder | Flikr; [Cascade Lake] Carroll County Times; [Greenbriar State Park] dpbirds | Flikr



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