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Paddling the Head of the Chester at Millington

For those looking to explore the highest reaches of the Chester River, there's no better place than Millington. This town is located on the Queen Anne’s County side of the river and was once known as “Head of Chester”. In the 18th century it was a self-contained bustling center of commerce that was eventually connected to larger cities by railroads. The largest millhouse from the era can still be seen from the launch site at Millington Waterfront Park. Now a private residence, it is said to have milled grain for George Washington’s troops. The town’s history combined with its lasting quaintness make this paddling location a good place for those looking to slow down.

At this location, the Chester River has moderate tidal currents and a gravel bottom. Paddlers interested in getting to the very head of the river can paddle upstream for half a mile through forested shorelines. In the other direction, the river gradually widens and allows for excellent birdwatching opportunities. Though this stretch of the river is a good choice for windy days, it is best paddled at high tide as the river can get quite shallow here.  Lastly, if launching at Millington, be aware that after heavy rains there can be a strong current of fresh water flowing from the head of the river, making paddling upstream ill-advised.

Things to Know

Upstream from the landing, it is a 1/2 mile paddle before reaching the head of navigation. Downstream, the river gradually widens and becomes tidal. The currents here are moderate, but the area is well protected from wind. This stretch of river is best paddled at high tide.

Navigational Hazards

This stretch of river is well-protected, making it a good choice even for windy days. However, a high tide is helpful at this launch due to its shallow nature and gravel bottom. Keep an eye on the weather patterns prior to your paddle; this site should not be attemped after heavy rains, because the downstream current can become quite rapid.

Water Safety

Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The National Park Service, Chesapeake Conservancy and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.

Marine Forecast

We STRONGLY suggested that you review the marine forecast ahead of heading out for a paddling trip. To review the forecast for this paddle trip, visit:

Emergency Information

Launch site address:
Sassafras Street
Millington, MD 21651

Nearest hospitals:
UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown
100 Brown St
Chestertown, MD 21620
(410) 778-3300

Chester River Hospital Center
6602 Church Hill Rd #300
Chestertown, MD 21620
(410) 778-3300

Parking & Shuttles

Gravel parking for 25+ vehicles


Portable toilet


  • ALWAYS wear a properly secured personal flotation device (PFD) when participating in paddlesport activities. Make sure that your PFD has a readily accessible safety whistle.
  • Bring a paddle float and water pump for self rescue.
  • A spray skirt is recommended for cold/foul weather.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing that shields you from the sun (sunglasses, sunblock, hat, and a long-sleeved shirt that can get wet) and is safe to swim in. Water shoes with closed toes will protect you from abrasive hazards at launch areas that can cut your feet.
  • Bring water in bottles than can be secured to your craft. Bring more water than you think you’ll need and drink regularly throughout your journey.


Camping & Amenities

This landing has a gravel ramp from which to launch kayaks and canoes by hand.

There are no camping amenities at this site.

Trail History

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, American Indians inhabited the waters of the Chester River for over 10,000 years.  The river was teeming with fish, oysters, waterfowl, wild game, and edible wetland plants that provided all of the food needed to establish thriving communities.  Settlements were generally located at the heads of creeks or springs, with populations ranging from a few families to several hundred residents.  Ancient oyster middens, or trash piles, can still be seen eroding from the riverbanks where these American Indian settlements once stood.

Before the Civil War, the farmlands of Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties began to be known for their bounty of corn, wheat, and fruit. The introduction of the railroads to these areas opened them up for shipping to other counties in Maryland and beyond, which bolstered the economy of these places greatly. This growth was also accelerated by technological improvements in farm machinery. Shipbuilders in the 18th century enhanced trade by building small boats for local transportation, in addition to larger-masted vessels for trade internationally. Eventually the great steamboats of the early 20th century allowed for increased trade and tourism, bringing products and people to and from the eastern shore. Though the eastern shore is largely characterized by wide open spaces and vast farmlands, advancements and innovations in transportation have allowed for the spread of products, a boost to the economy, and the movement of people to these less-habited shores. 


Main image: Chris Cerino / Sultana Education Foundation