Though it's been a recreational sport since the mid-1800s, kayaking is currently enjoying a major moment in the sun — or shade, as the case may be.
The Baltimore region is home to dozens of kayaking clubs and groups, each full of friendly paddlers eager to share the water — and their expertise — with newcomers to the sport.
"Kayaking is a sport of information," says Brad Nelson, owner of Starrk Moon Kayaks in southern Pennsylvania. From boat recommendations to whitewater adventure spots to the best place for a leisurely paddle followed by a great crab cake, kayakers keep no secrets.
The Baltimore area is a target-rich environment for kayakers, with hundreds of options within a few hours of the city. Here, a selection of favorite paddling spots endorsed by leaders in the Baltimore-area kayaking community who say that fall is the perfect time to get out on the water and enjoy crisp, invigorating weather and nuture's color displays.
Conowingo Pond and Muddy Creek
Location: In the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania state line
Where to park: Kayakers can park and put their boats in the water at Cold Cabin Park, on Cold Cabin Road in Delta, Pa.
Description: One of the most frequently mentioned spots, the pond and creek are part of the Susquehanna River. This section of the river is more than a mile wide in places and can be somewhat rough in bad weather — longer boats make the paddle easier.
At certain points, large rock islands flank the water on both sides, offering an arresting view.
Why paddlers like it: Nelson says, "The paddling is rather spectacular. When you see the stone passageways, you can't believe you're an hour from Baltimore." Chesapeake Kayak Adventures organizer Chuck McMillin agrees, "You feel like you're on another planet. It's gorgeous."
Eden Mill Park
Location: Deer Creek in northern Harford County, near Norrisville
Where to park: Parking is available at the park, on Fawn Grove Road.
Description: Good for smaller boats, the creek's water is flat but swift and the view, including a historic grist mill, is charming.
Why paddlers like it: A relaxing paddle of just over a mile in a pretty setting. Nelson considers Deer Creek ideal for less experienced kayakers. Plus, he says, "Seeing the old grist mill is worth the trip. And you may well see a deer jump out."
Similar paddles: Elk Neck State Park is another northern Harford County paddle
Information: http://www.edenmill.org or http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/canoedeercreek.asp
Location: In Baltimore County, running about 1.3 miles from Prettyboy Reservoir to Falls Road
Where to park: Parking is available at the gated fire road on Falls Road; boats must be carried a quarter-mile along the Highland Trail to the river.
Description: The Gunpowder River offers a variety of paddling options, but the steep, narrow section called "the Gorge" is a favorite among more experienced paddlers. According to Greater Baltimore Canoe Club's Nick Bowley, the water remains a consistent 55 degrees year-round. It is Class II whitewater and Bowley warns that paddlers should be aware of trees.
Other sections of the Gunpowder are appropriate for less experienced paddlers.
Why paddlers like it: "The water quality is always fantastic," says Bowley. "Very clear and cool." American Canoeing Association instructor Rich Kulaweic calls the Gorge, "a great training spot for intermediates."
Island View Waterfront Cafe and Rocky Point State Park
Location: Hawks Cove in Baltimore County; the restaurant is at 2542 Island View Road, Essex.
Where to park: Parking is available at the park or, for customers, at the restaurant. Paddlers can put their boats in from the restaurant.
Description: According to the Chesapeake Paddlers Association's Jay Gitomer, putting in at Island View offers "lots of choices. You can stay in Hawks Cove, which is protected from the weather, or cross over to Hart-Miller Island. There is free primitive camping on the island overnight." Several islands are nearby, and the cove offers easy access to the Chesapeake Bay.
Gitomer warns that because several rivers come together near the restaurant, the tides, currents and wind are unpredictable.
Why paddlers like it: Gitomer likes the number of paddling options available near the restaurant and enjoys grabbing a drink at the boat-friendly cafe after a paddle.
Similar paddles: Hard Yacht Cafe on Bear Creek offers a similar dine-and-paddle experience
Nick's Fish House
Location: The restaurant is located at 2600 Insulator Drive, Baltimore
Where to park: Parking at the restaurant is available for customers.
Description: Nick's Fish House, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge in Hanover Street, provides easy access to Fort McHenry and Baltimore's harbor. Though the water is busy with boat traffic, paddling in the harbor offers a great view of downtown.
Chuck McMillin warns to "stay away from the harbor during the heat of summer — the water quality isn't good."
Why paddlers like it: Nick's is convenient and a fun place for kayakers to hang out after a paddle. Plus, according to Nelson, "Baltimore harbor is really interesting from the water."
Similar paddles: Southwest Area Park and Canton Waterfront Park are also easy launches for harbor paddles
Location: Straddles the Howard and Montgomery line on the Patuxent River
Where to park: Parking and boat launching are available at several locations, including on Greenbridge Road.
Description: Created by damming the Patuxent River in the 1940s, the reservoir spans about five miles of the river. Gasoline-powered boats are not permitted in the reservoir, limiting boat traffic, and the water, surrounded by wooded areas, is often fairly calm.
Note: Kayakers need a permit to paddle the reservoir.
Why paddlers like it: According to McMillin, Triadelphia is easily accessible, convenient for anyone south of the city and "absolutely gorgeous."
Similar paddles: Jug Bay, Selby's Landing and Jackson's Landing are also popular Patuxent River paddles
Location: Annapolis harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, Spa Creek and Back Creek in Annapolis
Where to park: Kayakers can park and launch boats, for a small fee, from the boat ramps in Truxtun Park between Hilltop Lane and Primrose Road in Annapolis
Description: From the park, kayakers can paddle from Spa Creek to Annapolis harbor, to Back Creek or out into the Chesapeake Bay. The creeks are largely residential, with moderate to heavy boat traffic. The views range from city buildings in Annapolis to waterfront homes and less developed areas on the creeks.
Why paddlers like it: According to Gitomer, "The bay can be challenging and the weather can change quickly, but Spa Creek is protected. You can paddle down Ego Alley in Annapolis, to Davis' Pub in Eastport, or back into Spa Creek to see some wildlife."
Kayaking is fun, but even for experienced paddlers it can be a dangerous sport. Some advice before heading to the water:
Get instruction. There are numerous kayaking instructors and schools in the Baltimore region and many books available on the subject. The more instruction and knowledge you have, the better off you'll be when you get in the water.
Take care of your gear. Life jackets are mandatory for kayakers and helmets are recommended. Other important gear includes: float bags, rescue rope and knife, a whistle or signaling device and a first aid kit.
Know your boat and your limits. Tougher paddles, with faster, deeper water, are not appropriate for smaller boats and less experienced paddlers. ACA instructor Rich Kulaweic warns that experts make tough paddles look easy, but "it's much safer to build skills gradually." He adds, "It's way more fun than getting thrashed."
Water levels can change. Storms can transform usually slow creeks into rough paddles. Check water levels and weather before heading out.
Dress the part. Kulaweic notes that hypothermia contributes to many accidents and even on hot days, temperatures can drop quickly. He recommends layering to avoid unexpected chills.