PC: Virginia State Parks
Editor’s note: This PaddleVA blog is the first in a series where we’ll highlight some of our favorite blueways, parks and paddling spots in our great commonwealth. We’ll start with a local favorite that’s near (and dear) to us in the Heart of Virginia.
Tucked at the foot of the Blue Ridge in Buckingham County, James River State Park (JRSP) offers paddlers (and tubers) easy access to the James River as well as long, laid-back stretches of water. With three miles of river frontage punctuated by two landings — Canoe Landing and Dixon Landing — JRSP is the perfect spot for beginners to “get their feet wet” or for more experienced paddlers to enjoy a relaxed trip downriver.
According to JRSP Manager John Fury, who has been with the parks system since 2007, the park provides the perfect spot to reconnect with nature and spend time with friends and family. While some rapids offer that feel of rushing water, nothing in the park is classified or dangerous, meaning paddlers of all levels can enjoy the river together.
“There’s just something about this stretch of the river, this part of Virginia,” said Fury. “Connecting with nature here is so easy. It’s what drives me to see this park succeed and bring in more guests. That’s part of our mission: to connect and protect. Getting people connected to the park’s resources motivates and encourages them to protect its resources.”
PC: Virginia State Parks
Fury noted that the park’s most crowded times fall on summer weekends. However, over the last couple of years, paddling season has lengthened, especially since the pandemic pushed activity outdoors and personal paddling equipment grew more affordable.
“We’re seeing a whole lot more river activity than we’ve ever seen before,” said Fury. “Memorial Day to Labor Day used to be our season, but we’ve expanded beyond those points into what we previously called our shoulder seasons, the two or three months before and after. In all reality, we’re getting people on the river year-round
In other words, when is the perfect time to paddle the James River? Now.
Many parkgoers arrive on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but if you’re searching for a more secluded paddle, Fury suggested coming right at dawn on a weekday. For an added bonus, it’s the prime time for Virginia wildlife activity, including fish, geese, otters, beavers, turtles and a variety of water birds.
“Seeing those fish jump out of the water in the morning, you can see the river come back to life,” said Fury. “I’ve sat on the river bank before watching otters for about an hour, just because they were so fun to watch.”
Are you interested in testing out the waters at James River State Park? We’ve gathered all the information you’ll need to get started below, including a route planner and park logistics. While you’re on the river, make sure to snap some photos. Post them with the hashtag #PaddleVA — plus any tips you have for paddling the James — and we’ll do our best to share them on our social channels and pass on the love of paddling.
Canoe Landing (above) and Dixon Landing (below). PC: Virginia State Parks
Plan Your Route
Canoe Landing to Dixon Landing (2 miles)
This two-mile stretch of river connects the two landings in the park. At about one hour of paddling time (or two hours floating) it provides a short, fun adventure with a few rapids (nothing classified) as well as slower flowing water. Fury notes that this option may be safest for beginners as you can exit the river at any point during your trip and easily access the trail that runs alongside the water to return to your car or to one of the landing sites.
Dixon Landing to Wingina (5 miles)
Searching for a more secluded float? Try this quieter, five-mile stretch, which starts in the park and leads downriver to the Wingina landing, a concrete ramp at the Route 56 bridge. Fury notes that this section of the river is unique in that you’ll float by the location where the James River meets the Tye River at a 90-degree angle — one of only seven rivers in the United States with this particular feature.
Bent Creek to Canoe Landing (6 miles) or to Dixon Landing (8 miles)
Looking for a longer float or all-day fishing? JRSP manages a satellite property at Bent Creek, which includes 16 acres and a boat ramp, expanding the stretch of river available to parkgoers. However, it’s important to note that the Bent Creek boat ramp is accessible only to those using the park’s livery services (which are currently suspended due to staff shortages) or their guide services. Many paddlers use the adjacent (and free) Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) boat ramp, just across Route 60, to put in and paddle downriver into the park. From there, you can choose to exit after six miles at Canoe Landing or to continue on to Dixon Landing for an eight-mile trip.
Fury noted that you’ll spend roughly an hour per mile on the river, depending on pace, flow rate, and other factors. He also added that starting at Bent Creek means you’ll be floating along private property, which could make it more difficult to bail out in the case of an emergency, so make sure you have a back-up plan and form of communication with you!
River Map: Check it out! This web-based map, the James River Explorer, will allow you to track your route.
Tye River Overlook. PC: Virginia State Parks
Don’t Forget the Logistics
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, year round.
JRSP Fees: $5 parking fee for standard vehicles; $3 boat trailer fee; no charge to access the river.
Park Restrictions: The park asks that you not bring glass bottles and that you pack out all trash. (There are trash bins at the canoe landing site and the park entrance.)
River Conditions: Fury suggests checking weather and river conditions before you arrive. The National Weather Service offers a hydrograph for James River, and the United State Geological Survey maintains a river gauge at Bent Creek, which allows for easy monitoring of river height and flow rate. Fury notes that the park discourages paddlers from entering the water if the flow rate is lower than 800 cubic feet per second. When the river runs so slow, wind can easily blow you upriver.
Boat Safety: Make sure you bring your PFD, water, sunscreen and some form of communication, such as a cell phone or radio. First-time paddler? Check out the park’s boat safety video.
Written by Jessica Broaddus