Paddleboarding on the Potomac River
Paddleboarding on the Potomac River Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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It’s no secret that D.C. can get brutally, oppressively hot in the summer. Come July, when we’re at peak humidity, Washingtonians will be clamoring for the nearest body of water to cool off. But when it comes to ways in which you can get wet and stay cool, you have some options: Veg out at a neighborhood pool, take a day trip to a lake or water park, or paddle around in the Potomac or the Anacostia Rivers. Whichever you choose, just remember to heed Baz Luhrmann’s advice and wear sunscreen.

Read more from our summer guide here.

Public Pools

This is perhaps the most effortless—and relaxing—way to beat the heat this summer. Wherever you live in the city, there’s probably a public pool not too far away, which D.C. residents can gain admission to with proof of residency (don’t worry, non-residents, you can get in for a small fee). But like any neighborhood, each public pool has its own flavor and personality. Banneker Pool in Shaw is your best bet to take a dip and mingle with your neighbors, while the Harry Thomas Sr. Pool in Eckington, the Fort Stanton Pool, and the East Potomac Pool in Haines Point are all low-key, quiet spots for swimming.

Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding on the Potomac and Anacostia

At just over 400 miles long, the Potomac River is one of the largest rivers on the East Coast, and chances are you’ve seen just a fraction of it. You’re not going to tackle the entire beast in a rented kayak, canoe, or paddleboard from the Key Bridge Boathouse, but you can at least take on part of it. It’s far more manageable to spend the day exploring the Anacostia, which you can easily see all of its 8.7 miles. Ballpark Boathouse, situated on First Street SE near Nationals Park, also rents kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. Just remember to bring some snacks, it can be a long paddle home. 

Lakes and Swimming Holes

For those that fantasize of hazy summer weekends spent at a lake or swimming hole off the beaten path, sorry—D.C. isn’t really the place for that. Neither the Anacostia nor the Potomac Rivers are swimmable, and there aren’t any other natural bodies of water in the city proper you can safely take a dip in. Luckily, there are a number of places not too far away that are worth the trek: Beaver Dam Swimming Club in Cockeysville, Md. (with a rope swing!), Trout Pond in Hardy County, W.V., and Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Md. (with a huge, slow-moving waterfall) all offer some premium natural swimming options. 

Water Parks

Whether you’re three, 13, or 30, zooming down water slides, splashing around in a wave pool, or lounging in an inner tube on a lazy river is enjoyable for anyone at any age. Good thing you don’t have to travel far from the D.C. area to find all of these things and more. There’s Splashdown Waterpark in Manassas, Va. and the Great Waves Waterpark in Cameron Run Regional Park in Alexandria for closer options, but if you’re willing to make the drive, Soak City at King’s Dominion in Doswell, Va. (with a 65-foot-high slide) and Six Flags America’s Hurricane Harbor in Upper Marlboro, Md. (with a giant, multi-person slide) are well worth the trek.