The James River winds from west to east in Virginia, cutting through the Blue Ridge Mountains, southern Shenandoah Valley, and the capital city as it travels to its final destination, the Chesapeake Bay. Starting in Botetourt County in the Virginia Mountains, the river offers wild rapids, calm fishing spots, and everything in between for those looking to traverse this 348-mile waterway.
—UPPER JAMES RIVER: BOTETOURT TO AMHERST—
The Upper James River runs from Botetourt County near Clifton Forge to Amherst and is the most undeveloped, scenic portion of the James River. The more tame class I and II rapids span this section of the river, with a few class III segments that are slightly more difficult around Glasgow and Snowden in the James River Gorge. Crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, the river parallels Route 501, splitting off at Coleman Falls towards Lynchburg.
Find more information on the Upper James River section.
Communities to Visit Along the River: Buchanan, Glasgow, Lynchburg
River Outfitters & Guides:
- Twin River Outfitters—Buchanan: Rents canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes. Offer guided river trips, from single day to multi-day camping trips.
- Wilderness Canoe Company—Natural Bridge Station: Canoe, kayak, and tubing trips down scenic and remote section of the James River. Primitive campsites available with river access.
- Matt Miles Fly Fishing—Lynchburg: Guided fishing trips for trout, smallmouth, musky, and freshwater stripers.
Local Dining Hot Spots:
- RA Bistro—Lynchburg
- Brink of the James—Buchanan
- The Red Fox Tavern—Natural Bridge
- Scotto’s Pizza—Glasgow
Wineries & Breweries:
Upper James River Area Highlights: The Buchanan Swinging Bridge was built in 1851 and has survived floods, the Civil War, and almost 170 years. It is one of the most recognized architectural structures in the region, and now serves as a scenic pedestrian route over the James River. Stop by Natural Bridge State Park to see the historic Natural Bridge, a 215-foot tall limestone gorge once owned by Thomas Jefferson that will leave you awestruck.
Access points of the Upper James River:
- Iron Gate/Lick Run
- Glen Wilton
- Craig Creek
- Horseshoe Bend
—MIDDLE JAMES RIVER: LYNCHBURG TO RICHMOND—
The Middle James River section winds from Lynchburg, through Scottsville, and all the way through the capital city of Richmond. The waterway ranges in difficulty, with Class I, II, and III rapids interspersed through the center section of the James. Before you get into the downtown area of Richmond, the waterway is fairly calm and suited for a peaceful tubing trip. However, the downtown section quickly picks up the pace with Class III and IV rapids, making it an ideal section for experienced whitewater rafters and kayakers. Intermediate river runners should consider hiring a local guide for their first run on this section.
Communities to Visit Along the River: Lynchburg, Scottsville, Richmond
- Razorback Guide Service—Scottsville: Guided fishing trips.
- Hatchmatcher Guide Service—Scottsville: Offer fishing tours that cater to fly and spin fishermen.
- Black Dog Paddle—Midlothian: Rent stand-up paddleboards. Offer SUP fishing, yoga, and eco-tours.
- James River Runners—Scottsville: Tubing, kayaking, canoeing, and rafting guided trips.
- Riverside Outfitters Rafting and Recreation—Richmond: Guided kayak, white water rafting, and paddleboarding. Kayak, canoe, tube, and stand up paddleboard rentals.
- James River/Chesapeake Bay Fishing Guide—Richmond: Guided fishing trips.
- Discover the James—Richmond: Guided fishing trips and pontoon boat river tours.
Local Dining Hot Spots:
- Tavern on the James—Scottsville
- The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing—Richmond
- Casa Del Barco—Richmond
- The Smokehouse Grille—Scottsville
Find more Dining Options in Richmond
Wineries & Breweries:
- James River Brewery—Scottsville
- Thistle Gate Vineyard—Scottsville
- Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery—Goochland
- Elk Island Winery—Goochland
- Byrd Cellars—Goochland
- Stone Brewing Company—Richmond
- Legend Brewing Co.—Richmond
Find more Richmond Wineries & Breweries
Middle James River Area Highlights:
There are many parks along this section of the James River, including James River State Park, Totier Creek Reservoir Park, Bear Creek Lake State Park, Pocahontas State Park, and Belle Isle Historic Park, an urban beach in Richmond that residents head to during the summer months to sunbath and swim. If you’re into history, plan a stop at Tuckahoe Plantation, the childhood home of Thomas Jefferson located in the west end of Richmond along the James. Then, head to Hollywood Cemetery, the historic burial ground in the city center across from Belle Isle that dates back to 1849. Over 18,000 Confederate soldiers are buried here, along with famous residents like President James Monroe, President John Tyler, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Access points of the Middle James River:
- Madison Heights Boat Ramp
- Lynchburg Canoe Ramp
- Smiley Block Boat Ramp
- Joshua Falls Boat Landing
- Bent Creek Public Boat Landing
- Wingina Boat Landing
- James River Wildlife Management Area Boat Landing
- Howardsville Boat Landing
- Scottsville Boat Landing
- Shores/Big Island Boat Landing
- New Canton Boat Ramp
- Columbia Boat Landing
- Cartersville Boat Landing
- Westview Boat Landing
- Maidens Boat Landing
- Watkins Boat Landing
- Robious Boat Landing
- Huguenot Flatwater Canoe Landing
- Tredegar Boat Ramp
—LOWER JAMES RIVER: RICHMOND TO NORFOLK—
Leaving the capital city, the James River meanders south through Charles City and past the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown. The section spans roughly 110 miles eastward and empties into the Chesapeake Bay near the Atlantic Ocean. The river widens gradually after flowing through Richmond, leading to larger, more easily navigated waters for boats, making it better suited for water skiing and other large boat recreation. The lands bordering the Lower James River contain multiple wildlife refuges and parks dedicated to preserving the stunning natural landscapes.
Communities to Visit Along the River: Charles City, Smithfield, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk
- Fish Unlimited Guide Service on the James River—Chester: Guided fishing trips.
- Trip Out Catfishing—Hopewell: Guided fishing trips.
- Jamestown Discovery Boat Tours—Williamsburg: Guided historic pontoon boat tours that provide information on Jamestown Island and the original colonists that arrived in Virginia.
- Nauticus Kayak Rentals—Norfolk: Rent single or tandem kayaks.
Local Dining Hot Spots:
Wineries & Breweries:
- Upper Shirley Vineyards—Charles City
- Wharf Hill Brewing Company—Smithfield
- Williamsburg Winery—Williamsburg
- Tradition Brewing Company—Newport News
- The Bold Mariner Brewing Company—Norfolk
Lower James River Area Highlights:
The Virginia Capital Trail runs along Route 5 from Richmond to Williamsburg, providing cyclists a safe travel route close to the James River shores. History lovers will find a variety of historic plantations along the Lower James River. Start at Shirley Plantation, Virginia’s oldest plantation and home to General Robert E. Lee’s mother, and then make your way over to Berkeley Plantation, the former home of President William Henry Harrison that welcomed guest President George Washington for an overnight stay. The most notable historic site along the Lower James River is Historic Jamestowne, the spot where early English colonists built their first settlement. To learn about the lives of the colonists and tour recreations of homes, historic buildings, and the ships that made that important Transatlantic journey, visit the Jamestown Settlement right up the road from the original riverfront settlement in Williamsburg.
To learn more about Virginia’s waterways, take a trip to the Mariners’ Museum, a museum that explores the global maritime history. The museum also features an adjoining park that is the largest privately maintained park in America. The famed Lions Bridge, guarded by four giant lion statues, has gorgeous views of the James River, and a seasonal boat dock offers weekend rentals of Jon boats, paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks. After visiting the Mariners’ Museum, head to Nauticus, another scientific maritime museum in Norfolk that recognizes naval history. Finish your tour of the museum and head outside to the USS Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships built by the U.S. Navy, which is open for self-guided or guided tours.
Access points of the Lower James River:
- Ancarrow’s Landing
- Osborne Landing
- Dutch Gap Access
- Deep Bottom Park
- Hopewell City Marina
- Jordan Point Yacht Haven
- Chickahominy WMA Access
- Chickahominy Riverfront Park Access
- Grays Creek Marina
- Jamestown Yacht Basin
- Kingsmill Marina
- Lawnes Creek Boat Ramp
- Tyler’s Beach Boat Ramp
- Denbigh Park Boat Ramp
- Menchville Marine
- James River Marina
- Ragged Island Access
- Huntington Park
- Harbour Side Marina
- Bennett’s Creek Ramp
- Peterson’s Yacht Basin
- Willoughby Bay Marina
Discover the beauty and excitement waiting for you on Virginia’s James River. Share stories or pictures of your memorable James River experiences below!