Paddling the water trails of Maryland’s Talbot County

Reed Hellman

Talbot County’s miles of creeks, coves, and rivers offer a mix of calm flatwater and more exciting water trails for paddling.

Exploring Talbot County’s water trails by canoe, kayak, or paddleboard opens the tidewater heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Talbot’s 600 miles of shoreline embrace both sheltered waters and more challenging bayfront paddling.

The Tilghman Island Marina, in the town of Tilghman, rents “sophisticated toys for the young at heart” and is an ideal launching area to explore both Knapps Narrows and a number of quieter back creeks. The narrows provides a shortcut from the open bay to the Choptank River and handles a nearly continual stream of workboats, yachts, and other marine traffic. Coming out of the marina’s sheltered basin, paddlers have to sprint across the busy channel and duck into the quieter Back Creek.

Knapps Narrows drawbridge opens to busy marine traffic.

The scramble to cross to the north side of the narrows can take some energetic paddling, but entering Back Creek leads to a tranquil passage behind a bayfront island. This tidal flatwater invites slow paddling and close observation to spot shore birds and other wildlife. The farther up the creek, the wilder the aspect. Rounding a bend, paddlers might even confront a noisy herd of cattle descending the bank to the water.

South of Tilghman, the lovely waterfront village of Fairbanks has two launching areas that give access to Black Walnut Cove, a forest-bordered inlet that offers tranquil paddling. A turn to starboard leads farther into the cove; to port leads out to the open Choptank River, where it empties into the Chesapeake.

Halfway between Tilghman and St. Michaels, Lowes Wharf is the launching spot for Ferry Cove and the long, open water paddle along the Chesapeake bayfront to Bayshore Road. But, Lowes Wharf Marina offers more than just a place to launch. The marina’s open-air waterfront bar dishes up cold drinks and landmark hamburgers. The island-like setting is ideal for watching spectacular sunsets over the bay. And, the marina has waterfront guest rooms, a full restaurant, charter fishing, sunset cruises, crabbing, kayaking, and bicycling, or guests can simply sit back on its private beach.


Outbound from St. Michaels

The St. Michaels and Miles River route presents a unique perspective for viewing this historic bayport. Launching from St. Michaels’ harbor, paddlers pass the town’s numerous attractions, and then head out into the Miles River, where watermen fish for crabs and clams. Birdlife is abundant, with ospreys, great blue herons, bald eagles, and swans in residence.

Talbot County’s waterways provide adventures for beginning and more experienced paddlers.

Insider tip: Beginning paddlers find Oak Creek, off the Miles River near Newcomb, an ideal venue for perfecting skills and taking a short course in classical Talbot County residential architecture.

The creek’s usually placid waters lead past many older homes and sprawling estates. After successfully navigating Oak Creek, continuing north out into the Miles River and Newcomb Creek can provide more challenging paddling and an opportunity to see the famous Chesapeake Bay log canoes and skipjacks under full sail.

This region has the most shoreline and public access to waterways of any region in the state. Large, detailed water trail maps of the two complexes add to the accessibility. And, a half dozen paddling outfitters in locations around the county can supply everything from boats and gear to shuttle services. They’re listed on the water trail maps available from the tourism office or

While a number of Talbot’s water trails are usually suitable for beginner or casual paddlers, swiftly changing weather conditions can make even the most sheltered creek treacherous. Using good water sense, keeping an eye on the weather, and following the suggestions and safety requirements listed on the water trail maps will go a long way to ensuring an enjoyable trip.


Before you go:

Talbot Co. Tourism:


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