Enjoy a great weekend on the straight and narrow
Bite-sized and charming, Chesapeake City sits like a slightly off-center maraschino cherry atop the Chesapeake Bay near the western end of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. For the thousands of boaters who yearly transit that 14-mile-long waterway connecting the Chesapeake with Delaware Bay, this is either the last or the first Maryland town they see. It is also the first or last good port along the way, which makes it a popular stopover. For the rest of us, it’s an accessible weekend treat, a romantic getaway for couples and a family friendly destination for everyone else. As a bonus, there is plenty of good food.
Chesapeake City is attractive as a weekend getaway for both those who make the trip on their own boats and those who like to trailer in and then explore the local waters. Paddle-sport enthusiasts also find plenty of good water and launch sites nearby, though non-powered vessels are not permitted along the C&D Canal.
But we’ll get to all of that later on. First, let’s talk about how Chesapeake City is laid out.
The lion’s share of Chesapeake City lies on the south side of the C&D Canal, just east of the Chesapeake City Bridge. It is the bridge that dominates the town’s landscape, visible from nearly every part of the city, either soaring above or peeking out between the town’s dozens of historic buildings, park, and boat basin. The town is so historic, in fact, that its entire two street-by-four street downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. This makes the town eminently walkable. Even a hike from the town dock, around the city boat basin, to the C&D Canal Museum is an easy one.
In town, you’ll find a nice little park, a pink ice cream shop, restaurants, shops, and inns. For boaters, there is the boat basin for anchoring, a town dock, and a good marina at Chesapeake Inn. We’ll get to all that too in a little bit.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the canal you’ll find Chesapeake City North, which is even tinier than Chesapeake City South. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. For it is there, directly on the canal, that you’ll find Schaefer’s Canal House, which features docks for a night or a few hours, fuel, an outdoor café, and an indoor restaurant. Next to Schaefer’s you’ll spot the Maryland Pilot station, where Chesapeake Bay-bound ships drop off their Delaware pilot and pick up their Maryland pilot. Those bound for Delaware Bay do the opposite.
If you are arriving by boat
The approach to Chesapeake City from the Bay is straightforward: Follow the main channel up to the Elk River. You’ll recognize the Elk by the handsome white lighthouse on Turkey Point. Turn up the Elk and, after you’ve passed the Bohemia River, you’ll round Town Point Neck and see the entrance marks to Back Creek and the C&D Canal. At once, you’ll see the soaring Chesapeake City Bridge. And immediately after that, you’ll find Schaefer’s Canal House directly on the canal to port and the entrance to Chesapeake City and its boat basin to starboard.
If you are trailering in
Trailer boaters have several choices for launching. First, there is a single boat ramp with parking at the far end of the Chesapeake City boat basin, next to the C&D Canal Museum. On the north side of the canal, you’ll find four lovely paved ramps with tie-up docks and a large parking area at Elk Neck State Park on the north side of the canal. The ramps are open 24 hours a day. It can get pretty crowded on the weekends, though. Another option is to put in on the nearby Bohemia River, where there is a ramp at Bohemia Vista Marina (launch fee $25) and another upriver on Scotchmans Creek at Richmond’s Marina.
If you are bringing your kayak, canoe or SUP
As we mentioned earlier, paddling around Chesapeake City anywhere but inside the boat basin is not an option—you must have a boat with an engine to use the C&D Canal. However, you are in luck because there are several very nice places nearby for exploration by small craft.
We suggest making the short trip down to the beautiful Bohemia River. We especially recommend the four-mile trip up lovely Great Bohemia Creek. The creek begins just upriver of the Route 213 Bridge. There are several marinas, one with a boat ramp (Richmond’s) and a good sandwich shop nearby at the entrance to Scotchmans Creek—also good for paddling. After a good day’s paddle, you can return to Chesapeake City for dinner and a good night’s sleep in one of the town’s several bed and breakfasts or at the Chesapeake Inn.
If you’d like to anchor out, simply turn off the canal into the city boat basin after the Chesapeake City Bridge, sound out a spot and then drop the hook. It’s as easy as that. Keep an eye on the depth sounder, however. There is shoaling on the starboard side of the entrance. Leave the red buoy well to starboard. You should find at least five feet on the way in and eight to nine feet inside. You are welcome to stay for up to 72 hours. For the latest soundings for the basin as well as other boating information, including an explanation of the tide/current cycle in the canal, click here.
Another good choice—though you’ll need to keep a close eye on the depth sounder—is to tie-up along the town’s free-floating docks, which you’ll find immediately to starboard as you enter the basin. Dockage is free, but there is a charge for power. The depth at the first dock is reportedly six feet MLW, though some boaters find considerably less. The second dock has a reported four feet MLW, though again this depends on recent shoaling. The south end of the first dock is reserved for tour boats. You’ll see the signs. Call dockmaster Bill Miner, 410-656-1017, for information on depths. There is a 24-hour limit on dockage, which is available on a first-come first served basis. Pay for power at the town hall or use their drop box.
Turn off the canal into the town boat basin (see directions above) and you will immediately see the sprawling Chesapeake Inn and Marina, with its colorful umbrellas, bright party lights and welcoming pretend palm trees, directly ahead. If you are planning to be there on a summer weekend, call ahead to be sure you will have a slip. The docks are easy to get to and there will be someone there to lend a hand. Just remember to adjust your approach to the current.
This is the best option for larger and deeper-draft vessels. Keep in mind that Schaefer’s is located directly on the canal, the current can be especially swift, making it particularly important to make your approach against the current. Schaefer’s has a very long bulkhead, and there are slips on the west side at the bridge. This is also the only place in Chesapeake City to buy fuel. Call ahead if you are planning a summer weekend stay.
Chesapeake City’s Inns
If you are trailering in, bringing your kayak, or just want a relaxing evening ashore, you’ll want to try one of Chesapeake City’s lovely inns, like the Inn at the Canal on Bohemia Avenue or Ship Watch Inn on 1st Street. The Ship Watch is directly on the canal with all the rooms facing the water, as does its hot tub! The Blue Max Inn, also on Bohemia Avenue, has four porches, fireplaces and parking for trailer boaters in its lot near the boat ramp. The Bayard House at the foot of Bohemia Avenue also has its own cottages for guests next door, right on the canal.
Elk Neck State Park stretches from Turkey Point at the entrance to the Elk River all the way to the beginning of the C&D Canal. In addition to the very nice boat launch area, there is a large camping section for tents as well as RVs. There are also cabins for rent. You can reserve space in all of those from the park website at dnr.maryland.gov
Cruise the C&D Canal
Of course, while you are here, you’ll want to take a trip along the C&D Canal. If you’ve got your own powered boat, you can do it yourself. The trip to the Delaware River is only 14 miles long and you can turn back at any time. We’re not saying there’s a lot to see along the way—the shoreline is entirely rip-rapped so there’s also no place to stop, and anchoring is out of the question. But it’s cool enough cruising one of the world’s most important waterways. Remember to check the current. If you have a boat with a small engine, you’ll find the going easier if you ride the eastbound current toward Delaware and then catch the beginning of the westbound current back to Chesapeake City. Remember to keep a sharp lookout for other boat traffic. Most large ships transit the canal at night or very early in the morning.
If you don’t have a boat with an engine—and even if you do—you’ll want to take one of the cruises that leaves from the town docks. Chesapeake City Water Tours offers ferry service across the canal, as well as one-hour narrated tours on Saturday and Sundays and sunset and happy hour cruises. MV Bay Breeze offers Saturday and Sunday boat tours and sunset and specialty cruises.
Visit the Canal Museum
The second canal-related thing you’ll want to do is to visit the C&D Canal Museum operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the canal. You’ll find it at the far end of the boat basin.
When the canal was constructed in the 19th century, it contained a series of locks, and boats were pulled through the canal by mules. Over the years, the canal has been deepened and widened, and sea level is now maintained throughout, eliminating the need for locks. At the museum, you’ll find one of the old lock lift-pumps preserved. You’ll also learn a lot about the canal’s colorful history.
Walk the C&D Canal
Want to get a different perspective on the canal? Take a hike or bike ride along the Ben Cardin Recreational Trail. The 17-mile trail, which connects with the Mike Castle Trail in Delaware, shadows the canal all the way to Delaware City. It begins at the foot of Lock Street, next to the Chesapeake City North ferry stop. If you are staying in Chesapeake City, use the ferry to get to the other side.
Wander through Chesapeake City
As we mentioned earlier, Chesapeake City is just about small enough to fit into a tea cup. This means you will be able to explore its shops and byways without getting exhausted. Even so, we know you’ll want to stop somewhere along the line at the bright pink waterfront building to get a double-decker ice cream cone with sprinkles at Canal Creamery.
You’ll enjoy the town’s interesting mix of gift shops, galleries, antiques shops, jewelers, and outdoor gear. And pretty soon, that ice cream will wear off and you’ll want to sit down to a good meal.
There are plenty of places to choose from, but if the weather is good, we recommend that you sit outside either on the deck at Chesapeake Inn Restaurant & Marina on the boat basin or dinghy (or take the ferry) to Schaefer’s Lighthouse Bar & Deck. It’s almost like sitting in a canal-side café in France, but with more music and better beer. If the weather is not promising, eat inside at either place or get cozy at Tap Room Crab House on Bohemia Avenue.
Is it dinner time already? We suggest you try the historic Bayard House on the canal at 11 Bohemia Avenue. Their Maryland Crab Soup is practically world renowned. We also love their crab cakes with a carrot and fennel salad. Sit upstairs next to the window, and you’ll have a lovely view of the canal below. Enjoy a cocktail before dinner or coffee and a liqueur afterwards at the Bayard’s Hole in the Wall Bar.
If you are in the mood for an excellent steak, try one of Chesapeake City’s newest restaurants, Prime 225 on Bohemia Avenue. It’s rapidly gaining the reputation for some of the tastiest and most interesting food around. Try the Roasted Oysters Carolina Style. ⚓︎
|1. Schaefer’s Canal House
|2. Chesapeake City Town Dock
|3. Chesapeake Inn Restaurant & Marina
|4. Chesapeake City Boat Basin