Kayaking & Canoeing Virginia’s Waterways

by Casey Higgins | Posted on May 25th, 2012

Comments: 2 Comments

Virginia has everything from leisurely float-worthy waterways all the way up to pretty serious whitewater. For the novice paddler, an outfitter is the way to get your feet wet in the world of adventure watersports, and a great way to explore the waters that are new to you.

Bay Country Kayaking, Gloucester

Bay Country Kayaking, Gloucester

Eco Kayaking Tours

Paddle the James, York, and Piankatank Rivers, as well as Mobjack Bay and Dragon Run Swamp for birding and wildlife watching with Bay Country Kayaking out of Gloucester. Tours start at $45/person (children under 12 tandem with an adult are $25-$30) and include sites like New Point Comfort Lighthouse.

The Smith River through Henry County offers a six-mile stretch that is pretty flat, making it a great place to kayak and admire the natural beauty and wildlife Virginia has to offer. Bald eagles and osprey have been noted along the river! Rent a kayak for $35 a day or a canoe for $40 a day from Smith River Outfitters in Martinsville. Novice paddlers can add a guide to their trip for an additional $45.

Take a kayak out for two hours or two days when you create a sea kayaking adventure with Southeast Expeditions in Cape Charles. Rates from $45 to $125 for trips, or explore on your own from $45 for a half day single kayak up to $275 for a weekly rental of a double kayak.

Explore the Hampton water trails with a guided kayak tour from a Hampton Parks and Recreation ACA-certified kayak instructor.

River Paddles & Floats

The laid back Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers around the Fredericksburg area are peaceful, calm waterways to either learn how to canoe or kayak, or just enjoy a seven-mile float. Contact Clore Bros. Outfitters for info on their trips. Rates start at $70 for the seven-mile trip and go up to $130 for a two-day, 24-mile trip.

Canoeing is perhaps your best intro to paddlesports, and Massanutten Adventures offers a seven-mile Shenandoah River canoe trip. It’s mostly flat water and is a fairly easy two to three hour float that will make you eager to book your next experience. $29/person. Available spring, summer and early fall.

The renowned New River in the Blue Ridge Highlands of Virginia offers trips from 2.5 miles to 8.5-miles, overnighting. You can encounter a relaxing four-mile stretch up to quite a few strong class II rapids, should you choose. The rates are great with New River Outdoor Co. in Pembroke. $55 gets you a canoe for two for the day. Introductory paddling instructions are provided for novice adventurers. Available spring, summer and early fall.

The latest craze on the water? Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Take a paddleboard lesson on the James River with Riverside Outfitters in Richmond. A paddleboard is basically an oversized surfboard and not something you see on the river so much as the coastal inlets around Virginia Beach. The main goal of the lesson? Learn how to gracefully wipe out while enjoying the river scenes above the typical canoe viewpoint. SUP for $75 year ’round.


One month each year the Russel Fork River roars with class V and larger rapids when the John Flannagan Dam releases water. The dam is opened each Saturday and Sunday during October, sending amazing gushes of water through Breaks Interstate Park. One particular 75-foot stretch is known as “El Horrendo” and is considered one of the most difficult whitewater areas in the East. Contact the park for outfitter recommendations.

Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, Purcellville

Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, Purcellville

Did you know that Richmond is the only city with class IV rapids within its city limits? Yep, the James River courses right through at a brutal pace, but families and beginning whitewaterers can easily learn to tame the Upper James River section with its class I-II rapids. The Lower James River section is comprised of class I-IV rapids. Depending on the trip you choose, rafters must be at least 8 years old and know how to swim. Guided trips with the aforementioned Riverside Outfitters start at $54 per person.

The Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are a challenge, serving up class I-III rapids. Hitch a ride with Harpers Ferry Adventure Center (formerly BTI Whitewater) and experience two rivers converging at the meeting of three states (VA, WV and MD). Thomas Jefferson loved the view at this point so much he proclaimed it “worth a trip across the Atlantic.” Rates are from $55/person.

Now that your appetite for getting wet is whet, plan your outdoor water adventure. Your experience is only limited by your imagination and thirst for awesomeness.

Virginia’s Rivers
Virginia’s Lakes
Outfitters and Guides

* Post Updated November 6, 2014.

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Brenda says:

Clore Brothers Outfitters have closed their doors for kayaking and canoeing which is a real shame since they have gotten such wonderful reviews on Yelp.

Front Royal and Warren County have the distinction of being the “CANOE CAPITAL of VIRGINIA !