James River Great Variety for Beginner and Advanced Paddler

The James River begins in Western Virginia and crosses through the Blue Ridge Mountains, providing a corridor to the Atlantic Ocean. Over 350 miles in length, this river offers great fishing and a variety of trips.

Locher Landing on the Maury

  • Rapids: Class III

  • Distance: 3 miles


Take US 60 East for 6.5 miles to Buena Vista. Turn right at the traffic light onto Route 501 South. Stay on Route 501 South toward Glasgow and Natural Bridge. Just before Glasgow the road will fork. Turn right at the fork onto Route 130 West, toward Glasgow and Natural Bridge, and drive for .5 miles. Turn left onto the public access road to Locher Landing for the put-in. To find the take-out, go back to Route 501 South. Continue on Route 501 South for 3 miles. The boat launch is just before Snowdenon on your left, located before the dam.

Water Levels

This section is passable most of the year except following prolonged dry spells.

River Description

This stretch is beautiful but polluted. In the summer when the water level drops, you may find yourself scraping some rocks with the bottom of your canoe. The stretch is fairly slow-moving. The only whitewater to speak of is at Balcony Falls, a Class II or III rapid depending on the water level. The slow stretch will build up your anticipation for Balcony Falls. There is no way to avoid the falls except by portage. Balcony Falls is great to surf and play around in because it is a series of small ledges. With strength and courage, you can paddle up these ledges.

After Balcony Falls there will be another slow stretch. Take-out river left where Route 501 comes down out of the mountains and meets the railroad tracks. The river and the road both run parallel to the James here. You will see a well-worn trail climbing up to the railroad tracks and Route 501. There is a small wayside for parking. Be sure to get out here because a 30-foot dam is a bit further down the river.

Arcadia to Arnold's Valley

  • Rapids: Class I-II

  • Distance: 12 miles


Take US 11 or I-81 South to milepost 168, the Arcadia exit. Turn left at the stop sign onto Arcadia Road, Route 614, and drive 1.7 miles. After crossing the James River, look for the parking lot immediately on your right. There are several take-outs for this trip along the way. The take-out for the 12-mile trip is just off Arnold's Valley Road. From Lexington take US 11 South 11.8 miles to the Natural Bridge Hotel. Turn left at the hotel onto Route 130 East and drive 3.2 miles. Turn right onto Arnold's Valley Road, Route 759. Drive .4 miles and then turn right onto Greenlee Road, Route 793, which will take you to the take-out parking lot, which is located next to the railroad tracks. You can also take-out at the Lochler Tract Valley Road. Turn left onto James River Road, Route 782, and drive for 2.3 miles.

Water Levels

The section is passable most of the year except following prolonged dry spells.

River Description

This is a long float trip. There aren't too many rapids here but there is plenty of opportunity to fish for bass and sunfish. If it has been dry you will find that you may have to pull your boat over some shallow rock gardens. However if it has rained recently these rock gardens will turn into Class I-II rapids. This is a great all day excursion.