Top 5 Rapids of Nelson County
Nelson County Whitewater - There is Magic in These Hills.
For me, Nelson County creeking has become a place of legend with its ties to a rich history of whitewater kayaking. I've spent hours, if not days, listening to (and telling my own) whitewater folklore from adventures past. This little sliver of the Blue Ridge hosts a number of navigable Class III-V streams, a density and variety of whitewater paddling that rivals all other Virginia destinations (that I am aware of). Sure, not all of these streams offer the quality of whitewater you might find on other Southeast classics like the Green River Gorge or Bottom Creek, but each presents a style of their own, both beautiful and challenging. That style is distinctly 'Nelson.' Because their drainages are all close in proximity, it is not uncommon to paddle multiple runs in one day. Earning the 'Full Nelson' or 'Nelson Co Triple Crown' badges have made the journey here mission centric, and the stories of adventure even more iconic. When it rains and the anticipation of paddling in Nelson grows, I start to ask, "What can I accomplish today?" It is a special place in the James River Watershed and one that has certainly captured my imagination for years. As the stories have cumulated, I have started to wonder what other people dub their favorite rapids? What drives them to paddle and where? So, I thought I would share my Top 5 Rapids of Nelson County (plus a neighboring Honorable Mention) in hopes you would share yours! Please do so in the comments below or on social media and don't forget to tag us, @homeonthejames, so we are sure to see your post! Ok, here it goes:
Honorable Mention.) 'Log Flume' - Statons Creek
Statons Creek is not located in Nelson County, but it sure is close. Statons resides in neighboring Amherst County, so technically, I can't claim it as one of my Top 5 Rapids of Nelson County. However, geographically, Statons Creek flows very close by and is usually in the line up of 'go to' creeks when paddling the area, so I have to recognize this sweet rapid! 'Log Flume' is a fast, twisty rapid unlike anything else. The entrance boof has a narrow line, followed by a tight squeeze that slides around an undercut boulder. The weird thing is, this stream is runnable at super low volumes (think 30 cfs) but channelizes surprisingly well. Unfortunately, as I write this, 'Log Flume' has some serious wood in it and has not been runnable in years, go figure. Hopefully one day soon we can enjoy this magical rapid again.
5.) 'Double Drop' - Shoe Creek
Clean waterfalls are not what Nelson is known for, so 'Double Drop' on Shoe Creek is kind of an anomaly for paddling in this area of the Blue Ridge. I love 'Double Drop' because it sums up most of what makes paddling special to me. Unless you have an off-road vehicle, you have to hike in to access the creek, which I enjoy doing. The scenery on Shoe Creek is magnificent. It flows through forests filled with moss and ferns adjacent to the Priest Wilderness Area and is one of the most beautiful places I know. If you catch this stream and put on at 'Double Drop' in late May or early June, you will be surrounded by blooming Rhododendron, adding to its surreal setting.
4.) 'Switchblade' - South Fork of the Piney
'Switchblade' is a complex rapid with multiple layers of consequence, built with sieves and shallow landings. Certainly not a place to miss your boof. With that said, the exit move from 'Switchblade' is an A+ launchpad and offers up some serious hang time. This challenging rapid is just one of many cascades you will encounter while descending the South Fork of the Piney, but to me, the most unique. The SF Piney's headwaters flow from Amherst Co and ultimately help form the border of Nelson below the confluence with the North Fork. This rapid is technically just upstream, but oh so close (I might have to edit this Top 5)! Like most places in the area, the surroundings are stunningly beautiful. As a bonus, it is located just around the corner from Shoe Creek!
3.) 'Cushion' - North Fork of the Tye
'Cushion.' Is. Amazing. This rapid is a gorgeous cascade, consisting of 3 back to back drops (a steep boulder garden that ends in a great boof) and has multiple lines to successfully navigate from top to bottom. I have seen some epic boofs on this rapid, and some epic pitons as well. Like most rapids in Nelson, there is usually wood and sieves to factor in, so it's always worth an extra scout on the drive to the put-in.
When I was younger, I saw a photo of 'Cushion' on American Whitewater and it was an iconic moment that inspired me to start creek boating and explore the whitewater in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This rapid is still one of my favorites not only in Nelson Country, but one of my favorites from my overall paddling experience. Gordon Dalton did an interview with us that details the backstory of how the rapid got it's name on it's first descent. Click here to read more about the history of creekboating in Nelson County with Gordon Dalton.
2.) 'Where's Haynie?' - Paul's Creek
Fast, explosive, steep, and FAST. 'Where's Haynie?' is a wild ride and certainly one of the tallest runnable rapids in Virginia. I have heard some horror stories from this 50-foot tall slide, resulting in broken bones and broken gear. Luckily, I have had some smooth runs thus far, but it definitely makes me wonder if I will ever run it again? There is a very unique 'kicker' 3/4 of the way down the slide... it looks like a piton, and it might be if you hit it wrong. I have seen this drop with no water, and it makes me second guess cruising down this drag strip at speeds of Mach 10 in a kayak, only to smash into the rock that creates the rooster tail! If you run this rapid, you will go fast and feel out of control. Think speeds similar to 'Wintergreen' on the Toxaway. I watched my brother seriously launch over 6-feet in the air off the bedrock on 'Where's Haynie?' and ride out one of the best lines I have ever witnessed in a kayak! Despite the anxiety I have encountered during my descents of 'Where's Haynie?', the shear thrill that this monster arouses while crashing down it has made it one of my favorites.
1.) 'Fodderstep' - South Fork of the Tye
'Fodderstep' is a real gem. It is a scenic rapid that utilizes all the skills and balance a kayaker needs to paddle Class V. When you access the South Fork of the Tye upstream of 'Fodderstep', you will encounter a stream that consists of manky Class III (the kind that makes you want to skip it and put on downstream at Crabtree Falls). After some patience with the mank (assuming haven't cracked your boat), you will arrive at Fodderstep. The stream changes character by channelizing its water into a granite amphitheater, surrounded by sloping bedrock and massive boulders... a magnificent scene. 'Fodderstep' consists of many moves, with good boofs, curlers, twists and turns, all flowing over super smooth rocks. The magic of the Blue Ridge seems heightened at water level in the heart of 'Fodderstep' with clean water, beautiful rock, ferns and moss. I love sitting in the eddy just above the exit slot to soak it all in. Upstream, you see the beautiful chasm of 'Fodderstep,' carved by the crashing waters of the South Fork of the Tye, and downstream, the miles of gradient still left to paddle as this streams flows off the mountain towards the valley below. Enjoy the ride!