Everything you need to know: Public launches, Cambridge Yacht Basin, private marinas, kayak and SUP tours ready to welcome 2023 visitors to Dorchester County, Maryland.
Recreational boating and paddling in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a great place to experience nature and beauty and fun. With 25 public boat ramps and soft launches for kayaks and canoes, Dorchester is the only county on the Mid-Shore that does not require permits and fees at public landings.
The Cambridge Yacht Basin – within walking distance of downtown – and a choice of private marinas in the county offer affordable slips for sailboats and cruisers that make it easy and enjoyable to explore the Heart of the Chesapeake.
Here’s a look at how to get out on the water in Dorchester County.
Dorchester Boat Ramps
Access to four major rivers leading to the Chesapeake – Choptank, Little Choptank, Honga and Nanticoke – is easy when launching a motorized vessel or personal watercraft from a Dorchester County public boat ramp.
Two Cambridge locations – Franklin Street and Gerry Boyle Park at Great Marsh – offer dual ramps and plenty of parking on the Choptank River and are in close proximity to Rt. 50. The Nanticoke River boat ramp in Vienna also provides easy access to the highway. Carryout dishes, beverage, ice, gasoline and supplies can be purchased at nearby restaurants and convenience stores in each city.
Other Dorchester ramps like those at Ragged Point, Taylors Island and Hoopers Island deliver quick passage to the Chesapeake and popular rockfish trolling grounds. Additional inland locations are good choices for those with jon boats and skiffs looking to land snakeheads on the Chicamacomico (New Bridge ramp) and Transquaking (Bestpitch Ferry ramp) rivers. Ramp users are reminded to use designated parking areas for vehicles and trailers and avoid nearby roads.
Cambridge Yacht Basin
Located along the waterfront near downtown Cambridge, the Yacht Basin is one of the most convenient and affordable marinas for day use and overnight stays on the Chesapeake. A short stroll up historic High Street leads boaters to Cambridge’s shops and restaurants offering indoor and outdoor dining. See a listing of downtown Cambridge restaurants.
With a maximum depth of 13 feet, the Yacht Basin can accommodate boats of all sizes. All marina services – laundry, bathhouses, gas, diesel and ice – are available and facilities are cleaned regularly. Slips should be reserved in advance.
Marinas Throughout Dorchester
Some of the Chesapeake’s most popular boating destinations can be found elsewhere in the county, including the marina at Suicide Bridge Restaurant on Cabin Creek, just off the Choptank north of the Rt. 50 Bridge; and Slaughter Creek Marina feeding into the Little Choptank where Palm Beach Willies Restaurant is located. The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge has the 150-slip River Marsh Marina, which offers overnight boaters access to all the amenities of the resort.
At Hoopers Island, Rippons Harbor and P.L. Jones Boatyard & Marina accept boaters for overnight visits with quick access to the Honga River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Soft Launches for Canoe, Kayak and SUP
One of America’s top paddling destinations for wildlife and scenery, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge can be explored from water access points or soft launches at MD. Rt. 335, Shorter’s Wharf and Key Wallace Drive, where Blackwater Adventures offers kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) for rent and also guided tours by advance reservation, as well as kayak fishing tours. (They can also deliver kayaks/SUPs to your vacation rental!)
Traveling along designated kayak trails in the tidal marsh, paddlers may see bald eagles, herons, osprey, egrets and other migratory waterfowl. Blackwater Adventures also offers a guided Harriet Tubman tour to explore the waters and landscapes where the heroic Marylander was born and enslaved and returned to lead family members and friends to freedom.
Dorchester County Tourism publishes an excellent paddling guide for exploring the county’s waterways.
Snakehead Fishing and More
Blackwater Refuge is also northern snakehead central in Dorchester County and a great spot to experience one of Maryland’s most popular fishing crazes. Those with fishing kayaks can get in on the action casting topwater lures and minnows dropped under a bobber. The Woolford Store is the local headquarters for supplies, bait, fishing equipment, guide services and expert advice on catching the monster fish.
Parking can be limited at access points, landings and fishing holes. Individuals should heed posted signs restricting roadside parking.
Plenty of other fishing is available. With water ranging from salty to fresh throughout the county, anglers snag rockfish (aka striped bass), speckled trout, spot, croaker, white perch, drum, blue catfish, yellow perch, Spanish mackerel, and more. Consider arranging a fishing charter to help you find the best spots.
Stand Up Paddle Board and Yoga
One of the most exciting and athletic ways to enjoy time on the water is on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).
Once the weather is warm enough, Over Board Paddle & Fitness offers SUP classes including introductory, fitness boot camp, and floating yoga instruction – plus Sunset SUP! Classes and tours sell out and reservations should be made in advance. The sessions are subject to weather conditions.
- Join a riverboat cruise with Choptank Riverboats, authentic padddlewheelers that cruise the Choptank River. Choose from lunch or dinner cruises, crab feast cruises, murder mystery cruises, or sightseeing cruises. The 2023 season runs from May through October. See the schedule.
- Captain Phil Gootee of Gootee’s Marine is offering various on-the-water experiences, including scenic sunrise cruises, Hoopers Island eco tours, and fishing charters. Find out more on the website or by calling or texting 443-521-0817.
- The Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester offers public sails on an authentic oystering boat starting May 13 and continuing through early November. Plus occasional sunset sails. Check the latest on their website or on their Facebook page.
- The classic Chesapeake 1938 buyboat Dudley is now offering charters for special events from weddings and reunions to birding and birthdays; even watching powerboat races.
For more a more in-depth look at getting out on the water in Dorchester County, be sure to read noted Chesapeake Bay author John Page William’s story about exploring local waters here.