Date: March 30, 2021; Length: 13.7 miles; Duration: 3 hours 15 min
This section of the Upper James River was located in Virginia and was one of several sections mapped out in detail for the public to access and use. I chose the section from Craig Creek to Horseshoe Bend for both its comparatively mellow rapids of class I-IIs and what it offered in a shorter shuttle or hike for me. Parking at the Horseshoe Bend parking area just off the highway, I packed my packraft and other essential items and started my hike to the put in at Craig Creek, just outside of a small town called Eagle Rock. Once there, I came to a big parking area that led down to the river, just below the bridge where there was a flat open area to put in on the right of the river.
After the whole set up process of inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack I was on the James River. Right off the bat I noticed the river had a little green tint of color adding to the more typical light brown look, while having decent clarity. But clarity wasn’t much of a concern as the water was plenty high enough that scraping or portaging never came up. Still, it remained moderately wide but had a good current and passed by a handful of islands in the near fourteen miles of this stretch of river. Numerous class I and three class II rapids were labeled on the maps (online and at the access points), but even the class IIs were described as easy ones. And that they were, mostly being waves of low to moderate levels, without exposed rock to avoid or ledges to run certain ways. So paddling was a breeze between these light rapids and the calmer stretches with good flow. Beyond the river was a mixture of trees or open grassy areas for banks and mountains or rock formations a little farther off. Some houses were off the water a little ways at times, but never seeming too out of place. As for people, I was the only one on the water or off it in my three plus hours out there. Wildlife was more common though, as I spotted some turtles on a log at one point and a good amount of geese, ducks, and smaller birds. It was a pleasant time between the scenery and river itself, while also making good time. I arrived at my takeout of Horseshoe Bend off on the left, which had a designated landing making for an easy exit.
Back on land, I deflated my packraft, and packed it and everything else back up, ending this trip on the James River. It was a great outing and I plan to come back to this river to seek out another section that I’m sure is just as well mapped out, described, and equipped in accessibility. And it would be good to experience this in the Summer or Fall when the surroundings will be more full of life and the river likely at a different level and a resulting paddling experience.