Once it gets warm, and the family is clamoring for stuff to do outside, it becomes time to hit a few fairly gentle river spots, and maybe consider an overnight along the flow.
For many of us, with the arrival of summer comes the impulse to hit the water. Whether it’s relaxing along a lazy stretch of flat-river or navigating the pleasurable challenge of a Class III rapid, a canoe-trip through one of Mother Nature’s original water parks offers a great, active way for you and yours to satisfy the urge.
New River, Austinville
Put in at the boat ramp off state Va. 636 (Store Hill Rd) in Austinville, takeout at the New River Trail State Park—3.5 miles, 2 hours.
Before the New River hits West Virginia and goes basically crazy, it offers many a fun, beautiful and pleasurably challenging float. Along this short but gratifying adventure—there are numerous Class I and II rapids for your enjoyment—the New River Trail State Park hugs the banks throughout, making for mucho scenery. And for the fisher-folks, a slow, deep pool under the old steel bridge provides opportunities for angling big muskellunge and channel catfish.
The float ends either just above or below Foster Falls, a Class III-V rapid. With its numerable rock gardens and ledges, big smallmouth and spotted bass, and, of course, the easy-to-portage and re-run rapids, the falls area is great for hanging out.
Interested in extending the trip? It’s possible to put in further upstream, or simply float on down to the Blue Cat in Draper.
Blue Cat Outfitters
Canoes, kayaks, tubes, lessons, guided fishing tours and shuttles. Facilitates overnight adventures as well. Canoes start at: $45.
For more info, call 276-766-3729, or visit bluecatsnewriveroutfitters.com
The New River Trail is a linear, 57-mile rail-to-trail type park spanning four counties and passing through the city of Galax. It offers great, primitive riverside camping.
Clinch River, St. Paul
Put in at the public landing in the town of St. Paul on Riverside Drive, takeout at Burton’s Ford (see below for details)—6.1 miles, 3.5 hours.
This stretch of river is super remote—post St. Paul, markers of civilization consist of a line of railroad tracks and a few sparse, rural homesteads. There’s a ton of wildlife, with copious duck, heron and other birds making for exemplary bird-watching. Fishing-wise, flourishing smallmouth bass and sunfish populate the first few miles of river. And, according to the U.S. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “fly-fishing with bright colored poppers can be very productive in the shallow flats around Saint Paul.”
Between the lulls in flow, there are segments of Class II and a couple potential instances of Class III rapids. The first of these latter shelves is located about 3 miles in, where the river does a big hair pin turn, with a 3 – 5 foot drop smack in the middle of the turn. The second is a bit further downriver. If desired, both rapids can be avoided via a quick portage on river-left.
A note on the Burton’s Ford takeout: This is an informal access on river-left, located via heading south on Va. 65 out of Castlewood and taking a right onto state Va. 611, which dead-ends at the river.
Clinch River Outfitters
Canoes, kayaks, tubes, paddleboards, tutorials and shuttles. Canoes start at: $25.
For more info, call 276-275-4154, or visit clinchriveradventures.com
Upper James River, Buchanan
Put in at the landing in Horseshoe Bend, takeout at the boat ramp in the Town of Buchanan (above the state Route 11 bridge)—9 miles, 3-4 hours.
Located a little over 20 miles from where the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers converge in northern Botetourt County to form the James River, this run features good current, with dozens of riffles, Class I, and even a handful of Class II rapids. With panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and high, mountainous hillsides towering above the river, the route proffers some of the best scenic eye-candy the state has to offer. In fact, just above this stretch of river lies the James’s only officially designated segment of “Virginia Scenic River”—a designation that, according to the VDGIF, is “…reserved for rivers and streams possessing the most outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics.”
While you’ll pass by some houses and under a few bridges—including that of I-81—mostly you’ll be drifting through farmland and forests. There are lots of gravel bar beaches abutting lovely little swimming holes and numerable big islands with bisecting side channels to explore. Additionally, be on the lookout for blue heron, green heron, dark-black minks, bald eagles, waterfowl, turtles, turkey, deer, beaver and river otters.
Twin River Outfitters
Canoes, kayaks, tubes, rafting, shuttles. Provides detailed river maps, dry-bags/boxes and mini-lesson with each booking. Canoes start at: $32.
For more info, call 540-261-7334, or visit canoevirginia.net
For an overnight adventure, divide the 21 miles from Eagle Rock to Buchanan, pitching a tent 13 miles in at Twin River’s private, primitive, paddle-in only campground. This extended float is a real treat, with 9 miles of river free of any houses.
Maury River, Buena Vista/Glasgow
Put in at the Jordan’s Point Park in Lexington, take out at the Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista—7 miles, 3-4 hours.
The Maury is a smaller treat of a seasonal river where, from April to the end of June, you can expect to enjoy an amazing and quiet float. One of the best things about this trip is the impressive gradient, which keeps the river running swiftly, making for almost constant riffles and numerous Class I and II rapids for your navigating pleasure. Scenery consists of a lot of farmland, with clear, pristine waters allowing for views of rocky, pebble-strewn bottoms and shimmering fish. Additionally, there are numerous canal remains and stone-works leftover from the mid-19th century North River Branch of the James River and Kanawha Canal system. Paddle up to the ruins and explore.
Note: As water conditions do fluctuate, you’ll want to be sure to check the gauges—high-water can get dicey above 3.5 feet on the Buena Vista gauge, with readings between 1.75 and 3.5 feet being ideal.
Twin River Outfitters (see above for contact/rental info).
This trip is considered a “customized adventure,’”and is available for groups only. Call for rates.
Camp in downtown Buena Vista at the Glen Maury Park. For an extended trip, follow-up the Jordan’s Point run by floating another 11-12 miles down to Glasgow.
Shenandoah River (South Fork), Front Royal
Put in at VDGIF ramp in Simpson on Va. 623, takeout at the Front Royal boat ramp on Va. 681—6 miles, 3-4 hours.
This section of the Shenandoah’s south fork is shallow, with lots of riffles and rock cover. It’s a fairly easy but interesting float, with constant moving water, riffles, some Class I rapids, and a couple areas of smallish Class IIs. Located between the Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest, this run offers a fine, semi-secluded trip with forests, wildlife and natural beauty abounding. The water is typically crystalline, clear, and healthy, resulting in what the DGIF describes as “…some of the finest smallmouth bass fishing in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Front Royal Canoe Company
Canoes, kayaks, 4 – 6 person rafts, tubes, and shuttles. Canoes start at: $45.
For more info, call 800-270-8808, or visit frontroyalcanoe.com
James River, Appomattox/Buckingham Counties
Put in at the public boat landing at Bent Creek, take out at Dixon Landing in Buckingham County’s James River State Park—8 miles, 3.5 hours.
This trip lands you deep in the rural fringes of the county where the Civil War officially came to an end. While compared to its mountainous headwaters west of Lynchburg, the James in Appomattox is a little wider and imminently much calmer, the river remains small enough to feel quaint, and moves at a brisk enough pace to offer numerous riffles. The float snakes through a mostly isolated stretch of high Blue Ridge foothills with some small islands and the occasional rolling, sycamore-lined cow-pasture. Putting in at the public landing where U.S. 60 crosses Va. 26, be sure to check out the stone ruins of the old bridge’s Civil War era pillars towering amid the current.
Canoe, kayak, and tube rentals plus shuttle. Canoes start at $40.
For more info, call 434-933-8682, or visit: dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/james-river-livery
James River State Park. The 1,561-acre park is known for its rolling grasslands, estuaries, thickly timbered forest and, of course, its 3 miles of shoreline. There are bath houses, upscale cabins, and primitive campsites. Camping alongside the river bank is highly recommended.
Shenandoah River (North Fork), Luray
Put in at the Bealers Ferry landing, takeout at the Burners Bottom landing—11 miles, 5 hours.
Located along the northern reaches of the picturesque Shenandoah Valley National Park and winding along below Skyline Drive, this float is rife with picturesque scenery. While the Shenandoah’s southern fork is probably better known, the North Fork is a small, swiftly flowing river famous for its pristine clarity and gorgeous rocky beds. Meandering 100 miles over the course of about 20 as-the-crow-flies miles, with stretches of fun, family-friendly Class II rapids, the float offers stellar landscapes, great opportunities for wildlife encounters, and plenty of interesting paddling.
Shenandoah River Outfitters
Canoe, kayak, raft, tube rentals, and shuttles. Canoes start at $45.
Shenandoah River Outfitters offers a range of log cabins and cottages—from basic to luxury—as well as primitive campsites abutting the George Washington National Forest. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the overnight float option, which splits the South Fork’s 20 miles with a riverside camp in the middle.
For more info, call 540-743-4159, or visit shenandoah-river.com