Paddling James — A Kayak Adventure on the James River

The James River begins in the Appalachian Mountains and flows 348 miles to the Chesapeake Bay, past Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown — all former or present state capitals of Virginia. It’s been a river vital to the state of Virginia and remains so today.

It’s easy to see why. The river is a major recreational destination. Numerous parks and other recreational attractions make it an obvious daytrip destination for those wishing to experience its scenic beauty. Canoeing, fishing, kayaking, hiking, and swimming are some of the activities to enjoy along the river.

We appreciated the unspoiled beauty of the river as we paddled through scenic valleys and past rolling farmland. Some Class I and Class II rapids along the journey made it exciting. I could see this being popular for tubers, as the water never really seemed deeper than 4 feet and usually much less.

For our trip, we depended upon Wilderness Outfitters to provide us our kayaks and shuttle us to the drop off point, Cedar Creek, which flows through and created nearby Natural Bridge. Most of our paddling was steering, as the river’s current carried us down without requiring much effort on our part.

Wilderness Outfitters is located only 5 miles from the Natural Bridge and numerous hiking trails in the James River Face Wilderness Area and provide canoe, kayak and tube trips on one of the most scenic and remote sections of the Upper James River. 

From the drop off point, we planned to paddle down river to Wilderness Outfitters’ location along the river, just before the Maury River joins and creates some Class III rapids from the combined water flows. Once at the Wilderness Outfitters, we pulled our kayaks up to dry land, and then were off to our next adventure!

To get there, though, we had to navigate several sections of rapids, but only Class I and II rapids, thankfully. Normally I prefer placid water kayaking, but this made me a huge fan of river kayaking, and I plan to look for other similar experiences!
We saw numerous birds, including many many Canada geese and fast-moving kingfishers. We also noticed several heron, surprising one when we accidentally floated too close. 
And then we saw the bald eagle, sitting majestically in a tree. She kept an eye on us as we passed by.
This section of the James is mostly rural, with trees lining both shores. Rail road tracks are on both sides and in one place, the river flows below a train bridge. We also noticed some stone ruins sporadically along the shore, little picturesque mysteries, as we weren’t able to find any explanation of them. 
All in all, it’s a really beautiful paddle and exhilarating in brief spurts as you navigate the rapids!

Know before you go: if you’re interested in paddling a different section of the James, check out this list of outfitters. For the whole upper James River water trail, click here.

Getting there: 631 James River Road, Natural Bridge Station, VA 24579

Hours: Check out the website for availability.


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