Where: The Potomac River.
Why: Stunning sights, succulent food and sunken ships.
How Far: About 30 miles from the District to Mallows Bay -- and another 30 back.
One of the nation's most beautiful and accessible waterways is on the District's doorstep, with a number of great finds on and off the beaten path for the boater with enough time and fuel.
The Potomac is notoriously finicky depth-wise, and knowing how to follow channel markers and cope with crises is of the utmost importance. Bone up on boat safety with the U.S. Coast Guard's excellent guide at www.uscgboating.org.
Once you're prepped, the fun starts at the (in)famous Georgetown waterfront, where you can hang with the big boats -- if space is available. Nearby restaurants offer food options aplenty, and you can dine while you take in the sites and sounds of one of the river's busiest points.
When you're ready, point your bow toward the Memorial Bridge, which connects the District and Virginia from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery. The famous architectural firm McKim, Mead and White designed the simple but evocative neo-classical bridge in the 1920s to symbolize the union of North and South.
When you reach Gravelly Point just north of the airport, you're treated to an in-your-face view of the big metal birds, proving how very large -- and very loud -- commercial aircraft can be.
Slow down as you approach Alexandria's no-wake zone around Old Town. If you have time, take in attractions such as the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a Saturday morning farmer's market and eateries galore. Or keep on going, and you'll soon reach the Wilson Bridge; the sheer size of its construction is awe-inspiring.
At Fort Washington Park, take in views of the area that once protected the water approach to our government's hub. The quaint Fort Washington Marina has fuel -- though the price of petrol might shock landlubbers, even in this age of sky-high prices. You can also tie up at the slips on the public pier and get a bite to eat at the marina's Proud Mary Restaurant and Bar, home of stellar crab cakes and margaritas.
Crossing from Fort Washington back to Virginia can be especially tricky -- watch your channel markers. Cruise beneath an arched stone bridge to Little Hunting Creek, a fishing spot made famous when a six-pound snakehead was hauled from its waters.
After the Mount Vernon pier, where visitors can tie up and take the tour, this trip's longest stretch of open river begins. You'll travel past Occoquan Bay on Virginia's shore and Indian Head on Maryland's. Just south of Leesylvania State Park lies Tim's Rivershore Restaurant, recognizable by its long pier and the impressive number of boats anchored just off shore. Add your boat to the crowd and await the Rivershore Shuttle, a free water taxi to the crab house, which serves up steamers and steaks and lures an interesting boater-biker mix.
Mysterious Mallows Bay has one of the largest collections of wrecks in the world. More than 100 World War I-era steamships were abandoned there, left to deteriorate in the marshy confines of the bay. A few other vessels join them, including an old metal-hulled ferry, and the area is now a refuge for blue herons, osprey, fish, mollusks and more. Canoeists and kayakers flock to the fleet, and it's wise to bring a similar shallow-draft craft with you to truly experience the underwater graveyard. But even from a distance, the dangerous wrecks are impressive -- and serve as a reminder to be safe on your journey home.
Road Trip maps are available online at www.washingtonpost.com/roadtrip, as are addresses and hours of operation (be sure to check before you go). All stops, except Mallows Bay, are accessible by car. Have an idea for a trip? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.