As D.C. residents, it’s easy to dismiss the paddle boats on the Tidal Basin as a tourist trap, but the activity actually proved to be one of the best ways to spend an afternoon this cherry blossom season.
For $32 per boat, up to four people can enjoy paddling, or just coasting, around the Tidal Basin without a time limit until the last boats are due in at 7 p.m. I got on the boat at about 5 p.m. and was met with unforgettable views of the Jefferson Memorial with a golden hour glow and the Washington Monument surrounded by full cherry blossom trees.
The Tidal Basin boathouse sits down a ramp on the edge of the water at 1501 Maine Ave SW. It’s one of Boating in DC’s seven locations around the District and is accepting riders until mid-October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
My friend and I waited for 15 minutes at the top of the ramp before being called down to the dock, and after paying, an employee gave us a few quick instructions – don’t paddle too close to the Jefferson Memorial, stay 10 feet away from the walls and keep the life jackets on. The line for walk-ups was short when we arrived, but reservations are encouraged for their busier hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The employees were friendly and efficient, and I appreciated the quick and no-frills nature of the operation. It’s the sort of activity you can do on a whim even if you need to be in and out pretty quickly.
Each boat is equipped with two sets of foot pedals and a steering wheel attached to a stick in between, although ours was a little jammed and hard to turn. We were fully prepared to put in elbow grease to get around the Tidal Basin, but with a steady current on the water we barely broke a sweat. Keep in mind that it might be a little more difficult to paddle around with the boat’s max of four people, since two folks will have to just ride along.
The Basin was densely scattered with boats of people enjoying the warm and sunny afternoon, and the area stayed packed for the entire hour we were out on the water. After a long, stressful week, we took this as an opportunity to relax and let our worries float away with the grimy water of the Potomac River.
By the time we were situated in the middle of the Basin, I felt most of my stress from the week melt away while we admired the impeccable view of the Washington Monument framed with lines of pink and white blossoms on either side. We could even see part of the White House poke through the trees at the right angle.
Second to that view was the new perspective of the Jefferson Memorial we were able to enjoy the whole time. This already-massive monument looked colossal from down in the water, and the swarms of people on the steps and inside the dome looked miniature to us.
Our prime objective to people-watch, from the others on the water to the constant flow of people enjoying the flower-lined 2.1 mile loop trail, was a highlight of the experience for me. And of course, we fawned over all of the dogs tagging along with their owners from a distance.
When we felt like we’d made the most of our time on the water, it wasn’t too difficult to navigate our way back to the dock where we were helped out of the boat.
Despite how silly you may think you’ll feel paddling among tourists on a body of water you’ve seen countless times from the shore, an afternoon spent on one of these paddle boats is worth it.
This article appeared in the April 4, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.