Paddle through the Ghost Fleet of the Potomac at Mallows Bay

Rate this Adventure Mallows Bay

An hours-drive from downtown DC sits the largest shipwreck fleet in the Northern Hemisphere. The ships provide an exciting and eerie playground for paddlers, anglers, and adventurers.

The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, as it's now known, is the result of our great nation's call for 1,000 wartime transport vessels to be built in 18 months. The quick deadline led to hasty construction and, when World War I ended before the contract was fulfilled, hundreds of ships sat unused. Attempts to salvage materials from these already-obsolete vessels proved fruitless and many of the ships ended up halfway-burnt in Mallows Bay, where they still sit today.

Mallows Bay sits due south of DC on the Potomac River, just across from Marine Base Quantico. The park offers parking, a boat launch, kayak launch, and great views of the river and the ships you'll soon be paddling around.

You'll want to head out between tidal extremes - high tide covers most of the vessels and low tide can make navigating between the vessels challenging. From the launch, head west to the auto ferry wreckage (the largest vessel in the Bay and the only one that's all metal). The majority of the fleet lies north of the ferry, so head that direction next. The river is about 2 miles wide at this point, so inexperienced paddlers should hug the coastline to avoid choppy conditions.

There is a small beach to the east of the bulk of the fleet that you can land on for a short break from paddling, depending on tides. Stay on the lookout for megalodon shark teeth here. I have yet to see one, but I've heard they can be found here.

Once you've had your fill of exploring the ships, you can head back toward the boat launch and check out the marshes to the south and east. You'll have a good chance of seeing one of the many bald eagles that call Mallows Bay home here.

If you keep heading east past the launch, you'll make your way through an old lock door where water was once pumped out of a section of the Bay to make salvaging materials easier.

Anglers will love all of the structure the vessels provide for the river's bass, bluegill, catfish, and more. Just watch out for all the metal and wood that can snag your line!

Pack List

  • Kayak, canoe, or paddleboard - there is at least one outfitter that will rent equipment here, but you'll need to call ahead
  • Paddles
  • PDF - don't be a hero, there are plenty of obstacles that can knock you out of your boat here, and windy conditions make for large waves if you head out into the river
  • Tough-soled shoes - this is a former salvage yard, after all
  • Dry bag
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera - preferably in a waterproof case
  • Binoculars - to get a close-up of the bald eagles
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Fishing equipment (optional)
  • Fishing license - MD or VA should both work in tidal waters of the Potomac, but please check the regulations before you head out
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Activities Fishing, Photography, Kayaking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Easy Parking

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