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Kayaking In Virginia State – The BEST Paddling Destinations Revealed!

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Virginia has a wealth of history as well as some spectacular scenery, including the famous Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Kayaking in Virginia can be one of the best ways to explore this beautiful state.

We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite paddling spots so you can plan your next adventure.

Smith Mountain Dam on the Roanoke River at sunsetPin

21 Best Places To Kayak In Virginia

1: Kerr Lake, VA

A man paddling near the lake coastPin
Courtesy: Jacque Myers on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, is a 50,000 acre reservoir on the Roanoke River that stretches between Virginia and North Carolina. This large lake has numerous coves and inlets to paddle through, as well as some stunning forest scenery to add to your adventure.

Occoneechee State Park can be a great place to launch and it also has kayak rentals and campsites. Fishing can also be pretty good so remember to bring your license.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Occoneechee Park Road, Clarksville, VA 23927


2: Upper James River Water Trail, VA

A kayaker paddles at James River State ParkPin
Courtesy: Virginia State Parks on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Upper James River Water Trail can be one of the most scenic places in the state to paddle, with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Allegheny Mountains.

The water trail stretches for 74 miles but the best section to paddle can be the 59-mile stretch between Iron Gate and Glasgow. This stretch is a designated Scenic Virginia River and can be ideal for a multi-day trip and wildlife viewing.

Kayak rentals and tours can be found near Buchanan.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy, slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Botetourt Road, Eagle Rock, VA 24085


3: Claytor Lake, VA

Canoe regatta on the Claytor LakePin
Courtesy: Virginia State Parks on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Claytor Lake is a scenic lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It can be a great place for a relaxing weekend trip or a day of kayak fishing. The beautiful lake is part of the New River, which is dammed at the eastern edge of the lake.

There are creeks and coves that can make for good adventures. And the water is generally calm, making it great for all abilities. Claytor Lake State Park can be an ideal place to launch, with easy access to the lake and kayak rentals on-site.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
6620 Ben H. Bolen Drive, Dublin, VA 24084


4: Roanoke River Blueway

The Roanoke River Blueway is a 45-mile stretch of gentle, slow-moving water that runs from Lafayette to the landing at the Hardy Ford Bridge. With several access points, it can be easy to paddle shorter distances. The river travels through the countryside and small cities as it makes its way to Smith Mountain Lake.

If you don’t want the whole way, you can launch near Salem and paddle to the end of the trail, which is roughly 20 miles. Kayak rentals are available in Roanoke.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
5003 Enterprise Drive, Lafayette, VA 24087


5: Mason Neck State Park

Kayakers landing on the sandy beach of the Mason NeckPin
Courtesy: Virginia State Parks on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Mason Neck State Park is located on the shores of Belmont Bay, Kanes Creek and Occoquan Bay, giving you plenty of places to paddle. This can be an excellent place to spot wildlife, with bald eagles, ospreys and many other bird species calling the area home.

You can take a guided tour or rent kayaks from the Visitor Center in the state park, where you’ll also find a boat launch for easy access to Belmont Bay. The waters are sheltered and generally calm, so it can be an ideal place for beginners and families.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, calm water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079


6: Smith Mountain Lake

A group of kayakers paddling the Smith Mountain LakePin
Courtesy: Virginia State Parks on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s second largest freshwater lake, with 500 miles of shoreline to explore. It can be a great spot for kayak fishing and long-distance paddling. But it can also be ideal for beginners and families, with lots of coves to check out.

The lake is set within the Blue Ridge Mountains, with beautiful scenery all around. It can be a relaxing place to paddle but motorized vessels also use the lake, so if you’re a beginner you might want to stay closer to the shoreline. You can rent kayaks in Smith Mountain Lake State Park.  

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Rd 888, VA 24104


7: Occoquan River

The Occoquan River is a historic river that can be a picturesque and short paddling trip. You can paddle along the historic waterfront at Occoquan, passing 18th and 19th century buildings, including an old mill.

You can rent kayaks in Occoquan, where you’ll find a public dock. You can also launch on the opposite side of the river at Occoquan Regional Park. The river is calm and can be paddled out and back. 

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Lorton Road, Lorton, VA 22079


8: Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay is one of the most famous and historically significant bays in the United States. There are lots of paddling opportunities around the bay, which stretches into Maryland in the north. As well as the bay itself, there are numerous rivers and small bays, which can make it an interesting place to kayak.

You can rent kayaks in Deltaville.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy to moderate

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Hudgins, VA 23076


9: York River State Park

York River State Park can be the ideal place for a kayaking trip, with direct access to York River as well as Taskinas Creek. You can explore the nature of the estuarine marsh and surrounding forests, and check out some of the wildlife, which includes a variety of bird species.

The park can also be a fantastic fishing spot, with access to both saltwater and freshwater species. But remember, you’ll need a fishing license. You can rent kayaks in the park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy, slow-moving river

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Croaker Landing Road, Williamsburg, VA 23188


10: Hungry Mother Lake

Hungry Mother Lake is a picturesque 108-acre lake surrounded by forested hills and mountains within Hungry Mother State Park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
W Lakeview Lane, Marion, VA 24354

11: Potomac River

You can launch at the Washington Sailing Marina and paddle either upstream to DC or downstream to Old Town Alexandria.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy to moderate

Where to Launch & How to get there:
1 Marina Drive, Alexandria, VA 22314

12: Rappahannock River

The Rappahannock River offers both flatwater and moderate whitewater. You can launch at historic Kelly's Ford and paddle along the water trail to Fredericksburg.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I to III - easy to moderate

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Elkwood, VA 22718

13: Great Dismal Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp is a protected habitat, home to various species of wildlife. Launch at Lake Drummond to paddle through this natural wonderland.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Interior Ditch Road, Suffolk, VA 23434

14: Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge

The Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge can be an ideal spot for a coastal adventure. The area is a stopover location for many migratory birds.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/II - easy to moderate

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Ramp Road, Cape Charles, VA 23310

15: New River Water Trail

The New River offers sections of peaceful flatwater and exciting rapids, with the Appalachian Mountains and Jefferson National Forest as backdrops.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I to III - easy to moderate, not ideal for beginners

Where to Launch & How to get there:
5277 Whitethorne Road, Blacksburg, VA 24060

16: Fairy Stone Lake

Fairy Stone Lake is surrounded by forests and can be a relaxing spot to paddle. Keep your eyes peeled for the legendary “fairy stones”.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Stuart, VA 24171

17: Back Bay

Back Bay offers sheltered water for flatwater paddling with protected wetlands and coves to explore.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Mill Landing Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23457

18: Philpott Lake

Philpott Lake is a large, pristine lake with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding wild forests.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Twin Ridge Marina Road, Henry, VA 24102

19: Lake Anna

Lake Anna is a scenic spot with forest scenery and sheltered coves. It’s ideal for all levels.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
6496 State Park Lane, Spotsylvania Courthouse, VA 22551

20: Bear Creek Lake

Bear Creek Lake is a beautiful small lake within the Cumberland State Forest that can be ideal for new paddlers.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Bear Creek Lake Road, Cumberland, VA 23040

21: Swift Creek Lake

Swift Creek Lake is surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Pocahontas State Park. The water is calm and ideal for beginners and families.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I/Flatwater - easy

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Chesterfield, VA 23832

Kayak/Canoe Rentals & Tours Around Virginia

Here’s a list of the more popular kayak and canoe tours, trips and rental agencies…

●    Clarksville Water Sports (Kerr Lake - rentals)
●    Twin River Outfitters (Upper James River - rentals and tours)
●    Claytor Lake Water Sports (Claytor Lake - rentals)
●    Roanoke Mountain Adventures (Roanoke River - rentals)
●    Mason Neck State Park (Mason Neck State Park - rentals and tours)
●    Smith Mountain Lake State Park (Smith Mountain Lake - rentals)
●    Penguin Paddling (Occoquan River - rentals and tours)
●    Jackson Creek Outfitters (Chesapeake Bay - rentals)
●    York River State Park (York River State Park - rentals and tours)
●    Hungry Mother State Park (Hungry Mother Lake - rentals)
●    Washington Sailing Marina (Potomac River - rentals)
●    Virginia Outdoor Center (Rappahannock River - rentals and tours)
●    Adventure Kayak & SUP (Great Dismal Swamp - rentals and tours)
●    Southeast Expeditions (Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge - rentals and tours)
●    Tangent Outfitters (New River - rentals and tours)
●    Fairy Stone State Park (Fairy Stone Lake - rentals)
●    Back Bay Getaways (Back Bay - rentals and tours)
●    Smith River Outfitters (Philpott Lake - rentals)
●    Lake Anna State Park (Lake Anna - rentals)
●    Bear Creek Lake State Park (Bear Creek Lake - rentals)
●    Pocahontas State Park (Swift Creek Lake - rentals)

And lastly, you should get your head around boating laws for the state.

Do you need to register a kayak in Virginia?
No, non-motorized kayaks are exempt.

You can check out our full guide to VA kayaking laws here.

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