Last updated: March 5, 2021
River and Trail OverviewThe Patuxent River Water Trail offers visitors the opportunity to paddle the river, camp along its banks and visit its numerous parks, historic sites, sanctuaries and wildlife areas. The 110 mile-long river is unique in that it is the longest river that flows entirely within the state of Maryland.
From its source at Parrs Ridge in Carroll County to Drum Point on the Chesapeake Bay, the Patuxent River is known for its treasured resources and natural beauty. Dense woodlands buffer the upper reaches while farmlands dominate the southern part creating scenic vistas and a serene rural environment. Archaeological and cultural resources tell the story of 10,000 years of human habitation.
HistoryWar of 1812
The lower Patuxent flows through Southern Maryland, which was a dangerous place to live in the hot summer of 1814. British raiding parties traveled the river and swept through the countryside, terrorizing civilians and taking provisions for British troops gathering in the area.
Citizens of Southern Maryland suffered more raids and skirmishes than residents anywhere else in the Chesapeake region. British attacks continued “like drum beats up and down the river” throughout the summer leaving panic, horror, and destruction in their wake. These actions caused many inhabitants to oppose the war. Some prohibited American forces from stationing at their farms, knowing the militia could not provide security.
The river was also the site of the largest naval engagement in Maryland, which took place at the confluence of the Patuxent and St. Leonard Creek in June 1814. Americans prevailed in a series of skirmishes June 8-10, but the British ultimately trapped them in the creek. This first battle had little effect. On June 26, U.S. land units gave support from nearby heights. Following intense fighting in the Second Battle of St. Leonard Creek, the Chesapeake Flotilla escaped up the Patuxent. The British pursued and on August 22 the Americans scuttled their own fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.
On his Map of Virginia, Captain John Smith recorded fifteen towns, as well as two Chief’s towns along the Patuxent River. The Chief’s towns were Pawtuxent and Acquintanacsuck. Further upriver than Smith reached was another important town called Mattapaneint.
On August 9, 1608, John Smith and crew sailed to the Patuxent River. The next day, they sailed upstream and spent the night at Pawtuxent. Likely accompanied by a guide, the crew headed further upriver and spent the night before turning around. On the return trip, they stopped at Acquintanacsuck before heading to Opanient near the mouth of the river to depart from their guide and camp until the next morning. During these stopovers, the American Indians and Smith would trade, eat together, and exchange information.
Decades later, English colonists had forced many Indigenous peoples out of towns like Pawtuxent and Opanient. The 1674 Proceedings of the General Assembly of Maryland recorded that, "the Mattapnay & Patuxon Indians doe Continue upon the Land on which they now live...Billingsle, having formerly Purchased it of the said Indians...” This property, which was owned by a man named Major John Billingsley, is now known as Billingsley’s Point. It is located just North of Jug Bay and Patuxent River Park, which interprets the region’s American Indian heritage.
Learn moreThe Patuxent River Water Trail is managed by the Patuxent Riverkeeper. Learn more about the river trail at: https://patuxentwatertrail.org.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
To learn more about the Patuxent River launch sites and their accessibility, visit: