Explore Tuckahoe State Park by Kayak!

Kayak at Tuckahoe State Park

I kept hearing that the best flatwater kayaking in Maryland was in Tuckahoe State Park, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Queen Ann and Caroline counties. I was dubious. The lake is a mere 60 acres — not really a huge place to explore. But feeding the lake is the Tuckahoe, a non-tidal river with a current gentle enough you can easily paddle against it.

In fact, Tuckahoe Creek and the creeks that feed Tuckahoe Lake are the main attraction for many Tuckahoe State Park kayakers and canoers. The park surrounds the upper reaches of Tuckahoe Creek, a quiet waterway flowing south to the Choptank River. 

The park’s flooded woodlands provide habitat to many birds, turtles and mammals. Eagles and osprey are routinely viewed flying overhead, and paddlers often observe otter, beaver and muskrat. In fact, we saw either a beaver or muskrat — not sure which, as the sighting was too brief.

History of the Tuckahoe

In the 1800s and early 1900s, railroads and steamships transported both people and goods on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Choptank River, which the Tuckahoe feeds, was particularly important, with numerous wharfs dotting its banks.

On the southern edge of Tuckahoe State Park, then just farmland, the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia Railway Company (and later the Pennsylvania Railroad) operated a rail line that covered much of the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, the short-line “Chesapeake Railroad” went out of business in 1997. The Tuckahoe Creek rail bridge and railway through the park will be part of a planned rails-to-trails conversion project that will further expand the existing trail system, something I look forward to exploring in the future.

Passenger and freight steam vessels sailed the Choptank and Tuckahoe rivers until the 1920s. The steamers landed just south of the park in the quaint town of Hillsboro. The vessels brought manufactured goods from Baltimore and returned home with abundant supplies of local grain and produce.

In the 1960s, the State of Maryland began purchasing property along the stream valley to create the state park. Originally, they planned to dam the creek to create a 300-acre lake, which would support a marina, swimming beaches and other water-related recreation.

Thankfully, though, the the park developers discovered a national champion overcup oak tree, a native tree found in the swampland of the Atlantic coast in the proposed lakebed. Cutting down such a tree was unthinkable, so instead they reduced the lake to the 63-acres that exists today. Sadly, this champion tree — noted as such because of its age and size — no longer exists. The park planners shelved most of the original development ideas, including a hotel and golf course. Thus, Tuckahoe State Park is a typical stream valley park.

Today, Tuckahoe State Park has 20 miles of scenic hiking, biking and equestrian trails, flat water canoeing, camping, hunting, picnicking, as well as a recycled tire playground.

Our Paddle

We launched at the boat ramp, although we could have just as easily launched from the beach over by the kayak rental — there’s ample parking at both. Then we headed away from the dam to the “back” of the lake, following what we had thought was just an arm of the lake through the flooded woodlands, but that turned into the Tuckahoe Creek/River.

We went kayaking the day after heavy rains in early July. The depth of the Tuckahoe was up to 3/4ths of our paddles, around 5 feet deep. The current was pretty gentle — you hardly know you’re paddling against it, until you turn around. Along the way we saw a variety of pretty native plants, from the spatterdock pond lily and lovely swamp rose with its pretty pink blooms to the purple pickerel rush and white lizard tails.

We noticed numerous Eastern painted turtles drying themselves on logs. Speaking of the logs, these lurk just under the surface, offering unwitting kayakers opportunities to beach themselves. Then, of course, later on in our paddle, we saw the mounds that muskrats built, and a larger mound with logs and big sticks, which we believe was a beaver lodge. It was cool to see what we think may have been a beaver splash and dive down again, invisible in the murky depths of the Tuckahoe.

We paddled back a ways and then turned around and headed back to the boat launch. Then we decided to paddle under the bridge up Highfield Creek, until that became unpassable. All told, we paddled about 2.5 miles. With frequent stops for photos and just to float and enjoy being out on the water, we spent easily 2 hours out on the water. We were virtually alone except for the red-wing blackbirds scolding us. It felt like we were exploring a primordial world. Silly as it was, I half expected a dinosaur to come crashing through the underbrush.

Know Before You Go

Tuckahoe State Park offers visitors canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for rent or you can bring your own. As of summer 2022, the boat launch is closed for renovation/improvements. You may launch your non-motorized boats from the beach launch area near the boat pavilion.

There is a bathroom facility, a boat dock, picnic areas, camping and a variety of hiking trails at Tuckahoe State Park.

Getting there: 13070 Crouse Mill Road, Queen Anne, MD
Hours: daylight
Website: Tuckahoe State Park

Check out these additional articles about great kayaking excursions in the mid-Atlantic states. For more about fun things to see and do near Tuckahoe State Park, check out the articles below: