Future Destinations | Whitewater Paddling in Virginia

Future Destinations | Whitewater Paddling in Virginia 

It's hard to say if there are any remarkable whitewater first descents left in Virginia. Local boaters have been on the hunt for the 'next best run' for decades, but with limited success. Perhaps the most prosperous era was the late 90's and early 2000's. The thrill of paddling a new run is what the creek boating culture thrives on. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be the first to step up from the Maury to Johns Creek? From Johns Creek to Bottoms? What about being the first kayaker to bounce down Marbles on the North Fork of the Tye? Committing to uncertain, consequential moves can be daunting, yet intriguing, when pioneering something new. The adventure of descending a new creek and problem solving rapid-by-rapid is truly a unique experience.

confluence whitewater Virginia paddling

The past couple of years, I focused on a handful of forgotten drainages flowing off the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, north of Charlottesville. The whitewater was new-to-me and although not all of the creeks were first descents, very little beta was available. The experience was new, authentic, and certainly exciting. The best part was that they were true wilderness runs, most of which were only accessible by foot. 

kayaking whitewater in Virginia

In an effort to explore something new, I traded a lot of opportunities to run the tried and true creeks of Virginia. The thrill of paddling off the beaten path was exciting and motivating. It inspired me to question, 'What future destinations are left in Virginia?' and 'How do we unlock these secrets?' When paddling new or new-to-you rivers, here are some things to keep in mind:

Hike Assisted Kayaking

The majority of roadside whitewater in Virginia has already been discoverd. If you are looking to grab a 1st D, be ready to shoulder your boat and do some serious hiking in order to gain access.

kayak Virginia whitewater hike


Patience is a virtue. Virginia is not known for an abundance of great whitewater like its neighboring states North Carolina and West Virginia. The creeks seem to rise fast, and drain out even quicker. Getting 'skunked' (a term used to describe arriving at a river or creek only to find that it has no water) is inevitable when you venture into the unknown. It's almost impossible to luck out every trip. With that being said, sometimes you will find yourself at the right place, at the right time.


Grab a Map

Grab a map, you're going to need it. Understanding gradient and drainage size is a true skill. Knowing how to spot a new destination on a map is the key to avoiding those laughable moments where you drive 4 hours, only to find a drainage ditch, not an actual stream. It's all about the maps!

Correlate Gauges

USGS Stream Gauges and Virginia IFlows might be your next best friend. Without beta from a real-time visual, you will need to judge water levels based on a correlation from nearby gauges. It sounds easier said than done. Sometimes gauges are 30 miles downstream of the destination you are looking to explore. You will need to exercise some patience, because like I said, getting 'skunked' is inevitable.

virginia waterfalls

Scout First :: Scout Always

Before it rains, do some preliminary scouting to know your access points, creek bed characteristics, and to make sure its even worth bringing out your boat. It will save you time when the creeks are running and you need to hop on before the water drains out. 

kayaking whitewater in Virginia

I continue to be optimistic about finding future destinations in Virginia. They have to be out there, right? Virginia creeks don't run often. When they do, usually the best decision is to go with what we know; Johns Creek, the Maury, North Fork of Tye, Piney River, ect... but sometimes straying from the normal path and embarking on a new mission is what makes paddling such an amazing adventure.

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