The Potomac River is Virginia’s most northerly waterway, defining the border between Maryland and Virginia.
George Washington chose the shores of the Potomac for his own Mount Vernon estate—a beautiful 500 feet of scenery, and among the top attractions in northern Virginia. The Potomac provides its vast 300 mile+ region with a primary source of drinking water since the 1800s. The Native Americans—to whom the river owes its namesake—still reside in Suffolk County to this day.
A Rich Cultural History
The Potomac is an anglicized name for the Patawomeck, an Algonquin name meaning “great trading place.” Indeed, through the 1600s, the river served as a major trading route for the tobacco industry. Aside from trade, the waterway is rich with history, acting as a point of entry for invading British forces during the war of 1812, and serving as a means of escape for countless slaves through the 1800s.
Though it is far further south of the Mason-Dixie line, the Potomac was the division between the Confederacy and Union forces during the Civil War. The river’s role as a trading route diminished following World War II, as the river has proven unpredictable and dangerous. Today, only a handful of lighthouses mark perilous points along the way.
Recreation and Activities
Wild and unpredictable by nature, the Potomac is an excellent location for thrill-seekers. White-water rafting and kayaking make up a better part of the activities to enjoy along the river. Numerous sight-seeing cruises allow visitors to enjoy much of the historical region through Virginia, into the nation’s capital, and Maryland.
The rich trail system provides an escape for runners, hikers, and bicyclists looking to escape the bustle of city life—a common scene along this busy corridor. The river is home to a number of native fish species, including pike, walleye, and bass in addition to providing robust crab and shellfish.
Notable Cities on the Potomac
The Potomac runs through many of the major centers of Northern Virginia including Arlington, Alexandria, and McLean. Fort Belvoir, Quantico, and Fort Hunt are military hubs in the region—the latter being among the wealthiest regions in the United States. From busy commercial areas to industrious counties, the area is one of great opportunity.