I thought I would post a trip report for a trip from the summer of 2012 to Lake Accotink. Lake Accotink is in Springfield, VA. They rent canoes and pedal boats and row boats on the lake. It is so cheap ($6.00/ hour) to rent a canoe, it is almost not worth lugging your own canoe over there to canoe for an hour. There is a $2.00 launch fee for private boats. But here is the issue: they only allow 3 people per boat no matter what. That means if you are taking 2 children out, who each weight less than 40 lbs each, they would rather you take both children by yourself than have another adult in the canoe to paddle and provide safety. This doesn’t make sense to me, but you can’t argue with the people who work there, it is a decision from the higher-ups. We have paddled there twice, once we took our own canoes and once we decided to rent when we got there. The way we got around the only 3 people per canoe rule is that I rented the canoe with my child and his friend and paddled over to an inlet about 10 minutes away and picked up my husband. Then we stayed away from the livery while paddling so they would not notice. We paddled around a little bit and then dropped off my husband at the inlet (which by the way has a trail to the canoe livery).
This is a good first canoe trip with children. I say this because of all the extras they have at this park. They have a playground, a mini golf course and a carousel and they have a stand that sells refreshments (ice cream and such). So you can take a short paddle and then do the other stuff as well as kids can play on the sand beach, but there is no swimming.
Since it is almost a year later that I am writing this trip report, I cannot remember the wildlife we saw. This is before I had pool noodles or balls in the canoe. So we depended on doing a short canoe and then going to play on the playground, getting a carousel ride and the like.
There is room for about a dozen cars near the canoe livery/ put-in. So you can drive your car up and drop off your canoe near the put-in, but chances are you are going to have to drive to the overflow parking which is a 1/4 mile away. At this park in the early summer they have a cardboard boat race. It is hysterical and an event not to be missed, but they don’t let you canoe on that day.
There are restrooms available and snacks and picnic tables as well as tables at the snack bar. If you are coming with a young child, I would bring your own lifevest for that child. They just have the horse collar type of PFD and I would suggest getting a type III life vest that has the strap underneath the crotch. Something like this. The infant type goes up to 30 lbs, the small child vest is 30 – 50 lbs. Both have a strap under the crotch. The next size is 50-70 lbs. and does not have a strap at the crotch. I bought a bunch of these at Value Village, obviously you have to go there often and buy them when you see them, but I’m pretty sure I never paid more than $5 per life vest and I have several. I did have to buy the infant life vest new at Target, since I was not able to buy one used. My child used the infant life vest until age 3.5 due to his weight.
We may go back this year to Lake Accotink, to meet a friend who lives near by. I am trying to get away from places that offer too many amenities because I want my child to enjoy the canoeing and being in nature. And here there are so many distractions that it is hard to instill that value. And there is no swimming and I would not try to swim in this location. This is a very suburban park. Still it is a great park, there is NO FEE to enter the park except when they do the Cardboard Boat Races. So that is a plus. I noticed there is a $10 charge for out of county residents at Burke Lake. I have not been there. But there is no swimming at that park either.
I recommend this park as a place to take children for a first canoe and then later as a break from canoeing at places which have no amenities.