Kayaking & Canoeing Virginia’s Waterways

by Casey Higgins | Posted on May 25th, 2012

Comments: 2 Comments

Updated October 9, 2015.

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

Bay Country Kayaking in Gloucester.

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 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 or a canoe for the day from Smith River Outfitters in Martinsville. Novice paddlers can add a guide to their trip.

Take a kayak out for two hours or two days when you create a sea kayaking adventure with Southeast Expeditions in Cape Charles.

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



Kayaking on the New River

Kayaking on the New River in Pembroke.

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. 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. 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. Available year ’round.



Whitewater Rafting on the James River in Richmond.

Whitewater Rafting on the James River in Richmond.

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.

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 are available with the aforementioned Riverside Outfitters.

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.”

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 Scenic Rivers
Virginia’s Lakes
MORE Outfitters and Guides

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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 !