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Potomac River / Mallows Bay Park in Maryland

Trip Overview

It's called the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, and is a historical American oddity. With over 100 sunken ships, it's a fascinating and beautiful place to paddle, full of wildlife. On our recent trip we saw many osprey's and herons, as well as bald eagles, turtles, snakes (in the water), a red fox, raccoons, deer, and more. Much has been written about Mallows Bay, but the Maryland State DNR site is one of the best places to read about it.

Mallows Bay Park is well maintained, has clean porta-johns, parking, some picnic tables, and an excellent put-in, with both a boat ramp and a canoe/kayak launch back in an inlet.

The Potomac is a pretty big river here, but you never go anywhere near the main shipping channel. You may occasionally get some choppiness from the wake of a passing boat or ship, but nothing more.

After you put in and head for the bay the first thing you see is the large rusting wreck of what is probably the Accomac. There is a large Osprey nest on the shore-facing end of the wreck, and there were babies in the nest (as in all Osprey nests we saw), so we stayed away from that end so as not to disturb them.

After checking out the Accomac we headed North into the heart of the bay, where the main wrecks are clustered together.

One thing to always keep in mind while paddling around Mallows Bay is that there are many, many metal obstructions. Most are well above the water and easily seen, but there are also many just below the waterline, and while they are not especially dangerous, you do need to watch out for them. They define the outlines and center keels of the ships, and paddling around them becomes a bit of an obstacle course, which we had some fun with.

Some of the ships have actually become islands, with large trees and shrubs growing on them. In toward shore the arrangement of some of the ships have created little secluded lagoons.

At the Northern end of the bay one ship has created a sandbar which is a nice place to land and get out and stretch your legs before heading back South through the wrecks.

There are also small 2 streams that empty into Mallows Bay. One is to the right when you put in at the park, and goes back about a mile or so and is quite pretty, quiet, and also full of wildlife. The other is smaller and to the left as you're paddling out from the launch, but it was blocked by a fallen tree so we couldn't get too far up it.

If there is any negative to this paddle, it would have to be that there is a lot of seaweed in Mallows Bay, which tends to drag at the bottom of your boat and slow you down, as well as getting tangled in your paddle. But we found it to be no more than a minor annoyance.

Overall a totally enjoyable day on the water.

Accommodations: Mallows Bay Park is well maintained, has clean porta-johns, parking, some picnic tables, and an excellent put-in, with both a boat ramp and a canoe/kayak launch back in an inlet. Fees: None Directions: From the Maryland beltway go South on Rt 210, Indian Head highway, almost to the town of Indian Head, then go left on Rt 225, to Rt 224. Stay on Rt 224 to the entrance to the park. Resources: One of the best online places to read the history of Mallows Bay is on the Maryland State DNR site: www.dnr.state.md.us/naturalresource/winter2001/ghostship.html

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing, Kayak Fishing, Fishing, Photography
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water, Open Water/Ocean
  • Number of Portages: 0
You need to be careful, there are many metal objects in the water, from thick metal rods to jagged, flat pieces, and how many you see and how many are just below water level depends on the tide. This is not a good place for an inflatable kayak, and out among the shipwrecks is not a good place for a SUP.
The later into the Summer you go the thicker the seaweed gets. Late in the Summer, in close to shore it is almost impossible to paddle.

Locations on this Trip