From skinny dipping to midday fishing trips, here's how presidents enjoyed the Potomac

Can you guess which president had a pet alligator?

Theodore Roosevelt's memorial on theodore roosevelt island on the potomac. Photo Credit flickr @rocky a

Theodore Roosevelt's memorial on theodore roosevelt island on the potomac. Photo Credit flickr @rocky a


Presidents often walk into the Oval Office with dark hair and leave with halos of shimmering gray. Luckily for our commanders in chief, our nation's capital lies on the banks of the Potomac River, an outdoor oasis many presidents have escaped to for some much-needed reflection, relaxation, and some fun too. 

To celebrate Presidents' Day, check out how these past presidents escaped 1600 Pennsylvania for a little fun on the Potomac. You might be surprised to learn the river has borne witness to more than one naked commander in chief!


1. Take a dip: Adams & Roosevelt

Kayak Photo credit © William MacFarland, courtesy of

Kayak Photo credit © William MacFarland, courtesy of

It’s hard to imagine a modern president hiking down to the Potomac intent on stripping down to his birthday suit and with a nod to his secret service, taking a plunge. But back in the day . . .

John Quincy Adams allowed himself a brief reprieve from work to swim, every day, weather permitting. At one point, cheeky Adams tossed his clothes under a tree and forgot to weigh them down. Whoops! Away with the wind! Time to sneak back into the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt also reveled in mini rebellions by stripping down and diving into the Potomac. But on afternoons when he felt a touch more reserved, he strolled through Rock Creek Park. In memory of this avid outdoorsman and nature lover, a small island on the Potomac was dedicated to him in the 1960s. If you want to explore Theodore Roosevelt Island for yourself, sign up for our upcoming river cleanup.


2. Cast a line: Washington, Hoover, and Bush

Photo credit Adam Field

Photo credit Adam Field

A fisherman takes an earthworm and threads the hook. Worm squirming and hook covered, with one quick flick, the line whizzes away until it lands in the water. The fisherman waits. Sometimes the angler on the other side of that line was none other than a sitting president!

George Washington enjoyed time away from the duties as president. But actually though.  As soon as there was a break during the Constitutional Convention, he left to go fishing. Washington’s love of the Potomac can be witnessed today on a tour of Mount Vernon, his estate, which overlooks the river.

Herbert Hoover allowed his son to keep a couple of alligators on the White House grounds. The toothy reptiles made a habit of escaping and roaming around. They never made it as far as the Potomac River, though, so the president had no fear of reeling in one of his son’s pets during his coveted fishing afternoons.

We hope that even at age 93, President George H. W. Bush finds enjoyment snagging a fish every now and then. Like Washington and Hoover before him, he enjoyed fishing on the Potomac while in office.


3. Find a seat: Johnson

Potomac River hiking hiker

Picture yourself hiking along the Potomac River. You pause for a second and observe. Maybe you see a blue heron swooping down to catch a fish. It's tranquil and calming. After a day in the office, we could all benefit from some scenic views and fresh air, even presidents.

Like his predecessors, Lyndon B. Johnson appreciated a nice swim in the nude. He practiced a touch more modesty by doing so in the privacy of the White House pool instead of the Potomac though. Rather than swimming in the river, Johnson preferred taking walks and observing the Potomac from the trails. It had such an effect on him that his memorial now overlooks the river.

Take a leaf out of our presidents’ book. Head down to the river and let the flowing water mesmerize you. Maybe you choose a spot by some raging rapids and feel drops of water splash on your face as you rest, relax, and recharge. Swim where it is legal to do so, fish where permitted, and walk where your feet take you.


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