James River - Virginia

Date: March 30, 2021; Length: 13.7 miles; Duration: 3 hours 15 min

Put In: Craig Creek Landing

Just below the bridge there is and open space in shallow water to access, with an area to park a little off the bridge.

Takeout: Horseshoe Bend Landing

Big concrete landing with places to park and a big detailed map of this area of the river.

Paddling Experience = 5/5

This section of the James in Virginia was a nice mixture of a solid current and light manageable rapids. The water level was also high enough to avoid any scraping yet not too high to have flooding. Paddling was an ease while still making great time.

Natural Scenery = 5/5

The scenery here had the occasional mountains off in the distant but also banks lined with rock formations, trees, and open grassy areas, with houses sparse. This variety of life just off the river also helped give the water some color to it, all while only in early Spring.

Accessibility = 4/5

This section of the James has some quality access points (clear landing or flat open space, big parking areas, and detailed maps), they just are limited to the put in and take out I used of nearly 14 miles of river. Other sections are more prevalent in accessibility though.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: Unknown. Good current to it, with riffles to light rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
At this level the river had a good current. Scraping wasn't an issue and rapids consisted of mainly waves with few boulders exposed.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge located in Buchanan, about 10 miles downriver of Horseshoe Bend.):

  • USGS Number = 02019500
  • Discharge Rate = 5600 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 6.5 ft

Overall Experience

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.