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Upper James River Water Trail
The Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers converge in northern Botetourt to form Virginia's greatest river, the James River. These headwaters provide some of the finest canoeing and freshwater fishing available in Virginia. A 14-mile stretch of the James River between Eagle Rock and Springwood is the only part of the James River that has been designated a Virginia Scenic River.
The unspoiled beauty of the river is more accessible than ever through the Upper James River Water Trail.
Several boat launches throughout the county provide water sports enthusiasts' opportunities to take in the beauty and serenity of paddling the James River.
James River Access Areas
Outfitters and Guides
Twin River Outfitters
A full service canoe livery that offers canoe, kayak and tubing trips on the James. Also hosts overnight camping floats.
653 Lowe Street, Buchanan
Riders Up! Outfitters
Offers kayak and canoe rentals, guided kayak and canoe trips, Kayaking 101 - an introduction to kayaking on the Upper James River, and guided fly fishing trips.
Downtown Clifton Forge
James River Outdoor Co.
Offers fully guided, half and full-day excursions for both smallmouth and musky.
Confluence Outfitters, LLC
A fishing guide service that boasts over 15 years of experience fishing the James and Maury Rivers. They offer full and half day float fishing trips for smallmouth bass and Muskie. Prepare to relax and be guided down the river on a top of the line white water raft outfitted with custom fishing frame and seats.
H & H Outdoors and Canoe Rentals
Providing all your hunting and fishing needs. Fishing and hunting licenses as well as a bear, turkey and deer check station. Now providing canoe rentals with shuttle service on the James River.
644 Lowe Street, Buchanan
James River Suggested Floats
Iron Gate to Gala
This (4 – 5 hours) float features quick current and impressive mountain views. The trip starts at the Iron Gate boat launch below the route 220 bridge about 1 mile below the below the confluence of the Jackson and the Cowpasture rivers. This trip contains a lot of easy Class I rapids as well as two Class II rapids. The second Class II rapid is locally called "the Squeeze" and should be carefully scouted before being paddled. The trip features good views of Patterson Mountain along the way as well some impressive cliffs upstream of Gala. The trip ends at the Gala boating access located up Sinking Creek about 100 feet past the railroad bridge.
Gala to Craig Creek
This (1 – 2 hours) short float has plenty of easy Class I rapids to enjoy. This trip starts on Sinking Creek from the Gala boating access and enters the James River under a railroad bridge. There are plenty of rapids along this stretch to make this a fun quick trip option. This fload is also popular for fishing and river tubing. The trip ends at the DGIF Craig Creek gravel shoreline access in Eagle Rock.
Craig Creek to Horseshoe Bend
Distance: 13 miles
This (5 – 6 hours) float has numerous Class I rapids and a few very easy Class II rapids along the way. The trip is the most remote of all of the trips in the Upper James River Water Trail and was ranked in the June 2009 edition of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine as one of the best Class I trips in the Southeast. A 10 mile portion of this trip has been designated a “Virginia Scenic River" section. This trip also includes some of the most impressive remains of the James & Kanawha River Canal (All located on private property so please view them from the river only). This trip makes a great full day float but be sure to bring food and water and remember to pack out what you pack in.
Horseshoe Bend to Springwood
Distance: 2.8 miles
Horseshoe Bend is adjacent to Rt. 43 and consists of a concrete boat ramp. Shallow, fast water at this boat ramp makes launching difficult. A canoe launching area is present at Springwood (under the Rt. 630 bridge). Boats have to be carried to the river at this site. This float has a long series of deep pools and relatively long riffles. The fast water is not exceptionally difficult to navigate. Smallmouth bass are numerous and rock bass are common. It is also possible to hook into a musky on this float.
Springwood to Buchanan
From the canoe launching area at Springwood, proceed downstream to the concrete boat ramp in the Town of Buchanan. This ramp is suitable for most small boats, and is upstream from the Rt. 11 bridge. This float is a series of long pools and short riffles, none of which are too difficult. Smallmouth bass and rock bass provide the most fishing action, but this is also the most popular segment for musky fishing.
Buchanan to Arcadia
There is a boat ramp at Buchanan, and a canoe launching area at Arcadia. This launch area is adjacent to the Rt. 614 bridge, and a steep path must be negotiated to get from the parking area to the river. This float is generally a series of pools and riffles, with some rock ledges. Smallmouth bass fishing is good. Rock bass, redbreast sunfish, and muskies may also be caught.
Arcadia to Alpine
This 4.5 mile (1-2 hours) section contains several easy class I rapids and two fun class II rapids at normal water levels. This part of the river is remote and has some great mountain views. This stretch is also excellent for small mouth bass fishing. This section is routinely combined with the Buchanan to Arcadia section, making a great day float.
Alpine to Glasgow
From the canoe launch at Alpine, proceed downstream to the mouth of the Maury River near Glasgow. A concrete boat ramp on the Maury River is located just above its confluence with the James River. A difficult rapid below this ramp on the Maury River makes it unsuited for anything except canoe/kayaks. This is a relatively easy float with plenty of smallmouth bass to provide action. Flathead catfish can also be caught in this section.