Saint Mary’s Gorge

Virginia Whitewater | Charlottesville Region

Saint Mary’s Gorge

Length:  ~4 miles

Difficulty:  Class IV (V)

Gauge:  Online USGS Tye River at Lovingston

Minimum:  A suggested minimum of 1600 cfs

Maximum:  User’s discretion – Visual

 

The Saint Mary’s Wilderness is located on the western slope of Virginia’s Blue Ridge in Augusta County.  It is VA’s largest designated Wilderness Area with almost 10,000 acres of land.  The Saint Mary’s River itself is unspoiled and contains some the cleanest water we’ve paddled in the entire state.  Scree fields and cliffs line the gorge in its most dramatic state with a number of clean, bedrock waterfalls & slides.  It’s rarely a destination by paddlers after heavy rainfall and has seen very few descents by kayak for no particular reason; however, we believe those who venture into its flow will leave more than satisfied.

Hiking into the Saint Mary’s Gorge from the Blue Ridge Parkway, via the Mine Bank Creek Trail, is the best solution for accessing the river.  The hike down is very scenic, as the Mine Bank Creek features numerous waterfalls.

At the confluence of the Saint Mary’s Trail, take a right and head upstream parallel to the river about .25 mile.  You’ll notice a small camping spot on the left next to a channel formed by an island.  Cross the island and put on the Saint Mary’s using the larger channel.  The first mile will be micro creeking with small boogie water.  Be wary of trees.

Soon enough, the action will pick up and you’ll reach the main stretch of gradient found at the Saint Mary’s Gorge.  Every rapid contains bedrock waterfalls & slides, including two vertical features of about 10 feet in height!

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Saint Mary’s beauty – Max with a perfect line (photo Hunter Davis)

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Hunter with boof (photo Max Posner)

Be sure to take in your surroundings as the gorge is one of the more impressive ones to be found in the state.  You can scout just about every feature on the river left.

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Max on the final slide – watch out for the cave on the left wall (photo Hunter Davis

After a couple of slides, the main section of whitewater is over and the gorge tends to open up around you.  Be wary of plenty of portages paddling the runout, knowing well, there are numerous trees spanning the river at a couple of inconvenient spots.

Shuttle:  The take out is at the Saint Mary’s Road trail access area, just outside of Vesuvius, VA.  Head out Saint Mary’s Road towards town and veer left on Cold Springs Road.  Follow Cold Springs and take another left on Rt. 56 East, crawling up the main ridge.  Once at the top of the mountain, head North on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  There is an inconspicuous dirt pull off on the left, with a small kiosk.  You’ll begin your 2 mile hike down the Mine Bank Creek Trail to access the Saint Mary’s Gorge (staying left about 150 yards into hike).  If you have trouble finding the dirt parking spot for the Mine Bank Creek Trail, look across the Blue Ridge Parkway for the Fork Mountain Overlook at mile 23 as a reference.

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