From raging whitewater to coastal floats, this guide is designed to help you plan your next paddling adventure in the Southeast.
There’s no better way to experience the beauty of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast than a paddling trip on one of the many mountain rivers, peaceful lakes, or scenic bays that dot our region. Please check with locations prior to travel to make sure it is safe to visit or use this guide for future trips when we can all be together again.
Cool Mountain Waters in the Alleghany Highlands, Va.
Get lost in the mountains and enjoy the waters of the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia.
Grab your kayak or paddleboard and float the many lakes, rivers, and streams that make up the Alleghany Highlands Blueway. Explore the Jackson River as it flows through Covington, Clifton Forge, and George Washington and Jefferson National Forest or follow the river on foot and bike for 14 miles on the Jackson River Scenic Trail. Paddle the Cowpasture River, with a few smaller rapids, as it converges with the Jackson River to form the headwaters of the James River.
Visit Douthat Lake at one of Virginia’s oldest parks, Douthat State Park. Swim, boat, or fish on the 50-acre lake or explore more than 40 miles of top-notch biking and hiking trails, offering breathtaking views of the mountains. At the other end of the Alleghany Highlands, you’ll find even more boating opportunities all year at Lake Moomaw with 43 miles of undeveloped shoreline to tour. On your way back into town, view the 80-foot cascading Falling Spring Falls from the overlook on Route 220 or pack a picnic to eat beside the stream at Humpback Bridge.
Head to Alleghany Outdoors, located beside the Jackson River Scenic Trail, for all of your gear needs while in town. They provide kayaks, rafts, tubes, and bikes for a variety of adventures and operate a shuttle service, so you don’t have to worry about getting back.
After a full day of paddling, stroll through town for delicious eats, unique shops, and nighttime entertainment. Jack Mason’s Tavern and The Rail Bar & Grille are excellent spots for pub fare and a cold drink while Café Michel and The Cat & Owl provide an upscale dining experience. Pop into the Alleghany Highlands Arts & Crafts Center and Clifton Forge School of the Arts to enjoy a number of classes and exhibits or see a show at the restored Historic Masonic Theater.
Settle in for the night at one of the area’s cozy lodging options. In Clifton Forge, The Red Lantern Inn and Hill Crest Mansion Inn feature spacious rooms and are within walking distance of restaurants and shops. Stay close to the adventure at The Evergreen Inn, right on the Jackson River Scenic Trail, and Cliff View Golf Club & Inn. You can explore even more scenic cottages and rooms in the area on Airbnb.
All of this, and more, is what makes this part of Virginia Uniquely Alleghany.
Paddle All Day in Russell County, Va.
In the heart of southwest Virginia, Russell County offers a variety of paddling opportunities for every kind of adventurer.
For a scenic excursion, the Clinch River is a paddler’s dream with options for whitewater kayaking and tubing with 12 access points from which to enjoy this biodiversity hotspot. Keep an eye on the development of Clinch River State Park as the park expands from its current nine miles of trails and one public boat launch. Once completed, a series of canoe/kayak access points dotting the bank will connect 100 miles of the river through the state.
The more experienced paddler should check out Big Cedar Creek, located just south of Lebanon, with class II and IV rapids at Big Cedar Creek Falls. If you’d prefer to see the area by land, Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve provides access to walking trails, fishing spots, and views of the water.
For a flatwater paddle, Laurel Bed Lake provides 330 acres to discover on the top of Clinch Mountain. At 3,600 feet of elevation and surrounded by second growth hemlock and mixed hardwoods, the undeveloped shoreline and refreshing lake is a must-see. Near the crest of Brumley Mountain, Hidden Valley Lake is another secluded, high country option encompassed in a rugged terrain. Both lakes are excellent spots to get in some fishing as well.
Head to one of the outfitters in town for all the gear you’ll need for a relaxing day on the water. Clinch River Outfitters, Clinch River Adventures, and Clinch Life Outfitters can outfit you with kayak and tube rentals for the day, plus guided trips of the river so you can soak up all of the local knowledge.
When you’ve had your fill of floating and paddling, head into one of Russell’s towns for some more entertainment. Walk across a one-of-a-kind suspension bridge and along the river boardwalk in Cleveland for an evening stroll, play a round at Cleveland Community Disc Golf Course, or grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants, serving up southern homestyle cooking, barbecue, milkshakes, and more. In the county seat of Lebanon, unwind with a cold beer, live music, and friends at Lonesome Pine Brewing Co. or take in the mountain views with a wine tasting at Vincent’s Vineyard.
Get your fill of cool mountain waters, stunning vistas, and good times when you paddle Russell County, Va.
Float the Day Away in Shenandoah County, Va.
Spend a little time on the water and surrounded by nature along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The best way to enjoy this low and lazy branch along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains is by floating in a tube or kayak.
The new Seven Bends State Park, which opened officially in spring 2020, features two convenient boat access points to enjoy a scenic three-mile paddle, open spaces to walk for wildflower and bird viewing, and picnic tables if you’d like to bring a packed lunch from one of the nearby restaurants. The state park also backs up to the George Washington National Forest with more challenging hikes for every adventurer. Be sure to pack your sunscreen, wear river shoes, and expect about a three hour float as the river runs slowly past farmland and forest. You’re likely to see an egret looking for dinner or a turtle sunning on a rock.
After your float, stop in the town of Strasburg for a cold beer at Box Office Brewery or hand-dipped ice cream at Sugar Creek, then visit the town of Woodstock for baked goods and more at Flour & Water, and stop by Muse Vineyards for a relaxing atmosphere and craft drinks.
Explore Southwest Virginia with New River Outdoor Adventures
New River Outdoor Adventures in Galax, Va., is your one stop shop for all things fun on the New River. With their location right by the river and New River Trail State Park, you’ll have access to any number of adventures in southwest Virginia.
Rent a kayak, canoe, or tube to experience the cool and refreshing waters of the river. Choose from a variety of trip lengths, ranging from a two-mile scenic float to a 14.5-mile paddle with a class II rapid. Pack a lunch and go for a swim while you’re out there.
Experience the river from the 57-mile New River Trail with a half day or full day bike rental. With both boat and bike shuttles offered along the trail, you can soak up the sun for miles. While you’re there, don’t miss out on fishing for bass, musky, walleye, and more. This outfitter is stocked with all the necessities you’ll need for a day on the water, including river shoes, hats, and live bait.
Take advantage of New River’s private riverfront camping options to extend your stay in the area. Explore the Blue Ridge Mountains with New River Outdoor Adventures.
Unforgettable Paddling Trips in Giles County, Va.
Break out your paddling gear and head to Giles County, Va., to experience the New River Water Trail. As one of the oldest rivers in the world, you’ll float past awe-inspiring sights, native wildlife, mild rapids, and more.
With 37 miles flowing through southwest Virginia, you can customize your trip length on the New River. Ingles Landing to Pembroke is a six-mile float past towering cliffs, including the historic Palisades Cliffs, class I and II rapids, and excellent smallmouth fly fishing spots. Pembroke to Ripplemead is a shorter excursion at 2.5 miles but no less beautiful. Beginners and families will love the section from Narrows to Glen Lyn for its calm waters and big islands dotting the course while experts will enjoy paddling Ripplemead to Hale’s Landing for 8.5 miles of whitewater.
If you don’t have your own gear, several local outfitters have you covered while you’re in town. New River Outdoor Company, New River’s Edge, and Tangent Outfitters offer a variety of kayak, canoe, standup paddleboard, and tube rentals in addition to shuttles, fishing trips, mountain bikes, and cabins.
As your playground in Virginia’s mountains, Giles County and the New River Water Trail invite you to experience the magic for yourself this year.
Down By the Bay in Caroline County, Md.
Paddling opportunities abound when you visit Caroline County, Md., located between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Launch from one of the dozen public landings, boat ramps, and marinas to immerse yourself in the nature and wildlife of Caroline’s waterways, from the Choptank River to the Tuckahoe, Marshyhope, and Watts creeks. The 60-acre lake at Tuckahoe State Park is another great spot for families and beginners with native gardens at the Adkins Arboretum and camping when you’re done paddling. Need a boat? At Mathews Landing Rentals, located on the Choptank River, you can rent single and tandem kayaks, a 17’ Boston Whaler Montauk, or an 18’ Bass Buggy Pontoon Boat for the day.
There’s so much more to experience in town, from alpaca and lavender farms to pick-your-own-produce and the latest exhibit at the Fiber Arts Center of the Eastern Shore. Grab a pint at the Market Street Public House, experience authentic Spanish-American flavors at Tenchi, enjoy lunch and a scoop at the Ridgely Ice Cream Parlor, or take the self-guided driving tour on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.
Adventure awaits paddlers of every skill level in Caroline County, Md.
Find Yourself on the Waters of Chesapeake, Va.
Enjoy the Waterways and Earn Rewards
This summer, it’s all about getting on the water and soaking up some sun in Chesapeake, Va. Exploring Chesapeake’s beautiful waterways and awe-inspiring wildlife by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard just got even more exciting with the new Paddle the Peake Passport. Download the Visit Chesapeake, VA app on your smartphone to start earning rewards when you check-in and share photos of your paddle adventures. Using this guide, you’ll find the best places to paddle, learn about the history and ecology of local waterways, flora, and fauna, and more as you “level up” for fun perks.
Get your day started on the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, the oldest continuously-operating waterway in the country. Begin at the Ballahack Boat Ramp, a Paddle the Peake Passport location. Enjoy your day navigating to Lake Drummond as you keep a careful watch for bald eagles, herons, osprey, and more. This waterway is rich with Chesapeake history dating back to the Civil War. You can learn more about this waterway under Things to Do on the Visit Chesapeake, VA app.
Make your way over to Northwest River Park and Campground to 1733 Indian Creek Road for another Paddle the Peake Passport location. Paddle this scenic river along the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Stroll or cycle at Elizabeth River Park along the scenic Elizabeth River. Here you’ll see the towering South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, a 169-foot tall engineering feat. Or walk the bridge and take in the views. Elizabeth River Park is a great place to enjoy a picnic by the water.
For an in-depth telling of the area’s history and ecology, Kevin Fonda of Adventure Kayak & SUP Tours provides kayak rentals, full instruction, and tours on the area’s historic waterways. You can even customize your trip with nighttime, geocaching, and camping adventures.
After paddling, enjoy a taste of Chesapeake. Pick your own produce or buy homemade goods at local farms like Greenbrier Farms and Mount Pleasant Farms, sample wines at Branches Tasting Room, or enjoy a flight of brews at Big Ugly Brewing and The Garage Brewery. Savor a fresh catch plate at Wicker’s Crab Pot, Off the Hook Seafood & Chophouse, or Black Pelican Seafood, or try family-friendly favorites at Angie’s Family Eatery and Irwin’s Fountain.
Find yourself on the road to discovery when you visit Chesapeake, Va.
Live the Paddling Life in Virginia Beach, Va.
The waters of Virginia Beach invite visitors of all ages to experience some coastal paddling this summer.
Home to one of the last great salt marsh habitats on the East Coast, the largest estuary in the Chesapeake Bay, and hundreds of miles of inland waters, there may be no better way to explore the beauty of the area than by floating right through it. Whether you’re in search of a physical challenge or you just want to spend a day floating around, there is no shortage of adventures.
Take in the natural beauty, local wildlife, and vastness of Back Bay Wildlife Refuge on Blue Pete’s Dinner Tour from Ocean Rentals Sandbridge. After a scenic paddle, you’ll make your way over to Blue Pete’s for a delicious seafood dinner from the waterfront deck. Or sign up for the lunchbox tour to explore more of the bay’s tributaries. No experience is needed and all gear will be provided.
Dolphins are frequent visitors to the calmer inland waterways off of the Chesapeake Bay. Tula Adventure Sports, located in the Chesapeake Bay District, offers tours to kayak with these friendly animals. If you’re lucky, they’ll even swim right up next to your boat.
For the more adventurous paddler, try your hand at SUP Yoga with Rudee Inlet Stand Up Paddle. The hour-long session combines the rigorous full-body workout that you’d expect, with an added element of balance that can only come from standing on a board in the water. You’ll never want to go back to the gym again.
Soar high above the Virginia Beach oceanfront on a parasailing adventure that offers a new perspective of the area. Rudee Inlet is the take-off point for several tours like Adventure Parasail, Pirate Parasail, and Air America Parasail. Experience the serenity that comes with floating 1,000 feet about the water for yourself and see why this is a favorite activity in the area.
While in Virginia Beach, make sure to download the Get Outdoors Pass, a mobile passport offering a collection of discounts on outdoor attractions, tours, and rentals. From paddling, surfing, and swimming the open waters to hiking and biking the canopied forests, this is a vacation for every kind of adventurer.
There’s so much more to experience in Virginia Beach when you get off the water. From the rich culinary scene to lively arts and entertainment options, you’ll find yourself wanting to keep the vacation going all night long. Make sure you leave enough time to visit local artisan shops, art galleries, and the Neptune Statue at the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
For fresh seafood brought in daily, Bubba’s Crabhouse and Seafood Restaurant is a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike for a casual lunch or dinner with views of the water. Order from the raw bar, share a plate, or go with the classic Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. Try something new from Baja Restaurant, like a basket of fries smothered in she crab soup and Old Bay seasoning, the fresh catch of the day, seafood risotto, or a freshly squeezed cocktail.
Round out your day with a stop at Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Co. for a rotating list of craft beers on tap and different food trucks every day of the week. You can also head straight from the beach to their original oceanfront taproom for chill vibes and a cold one after a day in the sun.
Check into your hotel, resort, beachfront rental, or campground for the night before you hit the ground running for another day of paddling or relaxing by the water. Live the life when you visit Virginia Beach.
A River Runs Through Knoxville, Tenn.
Knoxville’s past and present is tied to this river. Eight beautiful riverside parks offer spectacular views and water access—plus paved greenways, natural trails, sprawling open space, and more. Starting in downtown Knoxville, the heart and soul of East Tennessee, you’ll find more than 90 restaurants, over 40 shops in beautifully restored buildings, festivals, world-class theatres, parks, and museums in less than one square mile.
The first stop is Suttree Landing Park, home to Knoxville’s Second Bell Fest, with views of downtown along the riverwalk. An accessible boat launch is perfect for a quick paddle down the river and back. The River Landing at Ijams Nature Center features hiking and biking trails, lake paddling and swimming, nature programs, and rock climbing. Volunteer Landing is another top pick for its marina, Bicentennial boat launch, and three-mile greenway parallel to the water. It’s also your boarding spot for river cruises on The Star of Knoxville Riverboat or the Volunteer Princess.
Making your way west, UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm is a hidden gem that lines the banks of the river with trails, open green spaces, and an amphitheater while Lakeshore Park spans a massive 185 acres as the four-mile greenway winds around the shoreline, offering beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. Further down the Tennessee, Concord Park puts you on the river with ease thanks to a beach, kayak and paddle board rentals, and boat launches. Plan your trip around a Summer Concert at the Cove and enjoy local music at sundown.
There’s really no end to the adventure. The Holston River, the longest and most scenic tailwater in the Tennessee Valley, is one of Tennessee’s premier fly fishing destinations. An easy paddle from Holston River Park to downtown Knoxville offers non-stop scenic beauty and surprising glimpses of blue heron, otters, and other river inhabitants.
Speaking of wildlife, Seven Islands State Birding Park is the signature start of an experience along the French Broad, the third oldest river in the world. The park earns its national reputation for exceptional birding with more than 190 species of birds sighted, including songbirds, hawks, Barn Owls, and waterfowl.
Few cities make it so easy or so enjoyable to get on a river as Knoxville, Tenn.
Miles of Shoreline in Mathews County, Va.
From its location on a peninsula, experience a wide variety of ecosystems while paddling Mathews County, Va. From the three tidal rivers and 50 navigable creeks to small beaches and preserved marshland, you could spend days exploring over 200 miles of shoreline this summer.
The five established Mathews Blueways Water Trails and 15 public access points will get you out to the best spots in the county. Beginners and families will enjoy the scenic cruising along the Winter & Horn Harbors Trail as you paddle shallow marshes and estuaries. The East River Trail, divided into an upper and lower section, will take you past historic sites, towering estates, and protected coves while the Piankatank River Trail follows the county’s northern border. If you prefer paddling the open waters, New Point Comfort Trail will take you into the Chesapeake and Mobjack Bay as you float past the third oldest lighthouse on the bay. More experienced paddlers will love the challenge of the tidal currents on the Gwynn’s Island/Milford Haven Trail with numerous creeks for side trips.
While you’re traveling to the area, Mobjack Kayaking provides kayak and standup paddleboard rentals for the whole family, as well as bird watching, history of lighthouses, and oyster bar paddle tours. Bay Country Kayaking also covers tours of Mathews and can accommodate larger groups. Book one of the charter boats for more historical tours, fishing excursions, hands on crabbing, and sightseeing led by a local who knows these waters.
Take a break from the water and explore all that Mathews County has to offer on land. Stop at Williams Wharf Landing for a picnic by the shore and fishing from the docks or have some fun in the sand at Haven and Bethel Beach. Paddle up to the dock at Hole in the Wall Waterfront Grillon Gwynn’s Island for a lunch break by the water. At high tide, take out at Put-In-Creek Landing’s kayak launch to access Main Street businesses, restaurants, and a shaded picnic pavilion area. Round out your trip with an oyster farm tour, crabbing demonstration, sunset cruise, or bike tour before cozying up at a waterfront inn, cottage, or campground.
There’s so much to see by water that you’ll want to come back again and again to experience it all. Make Mathews County, Va., your paddling destination this summer and every summer.
Almost Heaven… Paddling West Virginia
Welcome to West Virginia, where paddling just got a little sweeter this summer.
Home to the nation’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, you’ll find beautiful views around every corner. Don’t let the name fool you. The New River is actually the second oldest river in the world and a prime destination for a whitewater rafting adventure.
Beginners and young families love the Upper New River for its milder flow, gentle rapids, and scenic views of the gorge. The best time to visit is June through August when the weather is warmer and the refreshing splash cools everyone down. The best part is kids ages six to 11 raft for free, one per paying adult.
Families with kids over the age of 11 and adventurous adults will find the Lower New River picks up the pace with more than 25 rapids, ranging from class II to class IV. Interspersed with the rapids are calm sections of water where you can jump out of the raft to swim around and float along.
For the expert paddler, fall is the best season to visit as rafters from around the world flock to the Gauley River for “Gauley Season.” In September and October, the Summersville Dam is drained, creating world-class rapids that have led to the Gauley being referred to as the “Beast of the East.” Expect multiple class V rapids that will leave your heart thundering, clothes waterlogged, and a smile on your face.
Even if you prefer to adventure by land, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is still the place to be. From classic rock climbing routes and challenging mountain biking terrain to hikes with endless views and high-flying ziplining tours, there’s enough to keep you busy for days.
The best way to get on these magnificent rivers is with the folks who paddle them day in and day out. The expert guides at ACE Adventure Resort and Adventures on the Gorge offer a wide variety of trip lengths, from half-day floats to overnight camping trips, so you can experience the full wonder of this stunning setting. Both locations also provide lodging options, so you can get your day started early, and other adventure activities, like aerial adventure courses, standup paddleboarding, paintball, horseback riding, and more.
After a fun-filled day on the water and trails, head into the charming town of Fayetteville, just minutes from the park and the perfect place to unwind. With delicious eateries like Pies & Pints, Cathedral Café, and Wood Iron Eatery, locally owned shops, and craft breweries with low key environments, there’s so much to do and see here.
Looking for more information on the best places to see, eat, and stay? Check out the New River Gorge CVB and Visit Southern West Virginia for local favorites, travel itineraries, outfitters, and more. Discover a slice of Almost Heaven when you paddle West Virginia and the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve this summer.
Paddle America’s Newest National Park with River Expeditions
Explore West Virginia’s New River Gorge, the newest national park, with River Expeditions, the area’s only family-owned and operated adventure company. Running May through October, including deep discounts for midweek travelers, no two trips are ever the same.
Take a scenic float trip featuring mellow waves and playful pools on the Upper New River, perfect for beginners, kids ages six and up, and the “young at heart.” On this gentle section, kids raft free with a paying adult, making this trip even more affordable for the entire family. Inflatable kayaks, or “duckies,” are used on this mild trip as an added challenge.
River Expeditions’ most popular trip remains the classic Lower New River, where paddlers ages 12 and up experience roller coaster waves and adrenaline-filled whitewater rapids—appropriate for first timers, yet revered by experts. This trip has it all—history, nature, culture, and adventure, ending the day beneath the world famous New River Gorge Bridge.
Amenities at River Expeditions include cabin rentals, a campground, RV sites, souvenir shop, saloon featuring local brews and craft cocktails, massage studio, and zipline course. Overnight guests get the fourth consecutive night free, enticing visitors to stay longer and explore the area. Plan your visit and discover the difference a family-owned outfitter makes.
Take the ‘Serenic’ Route in Columbia County, Ga.
Welcome to Columbia County, Ga., where summer is heating up thanks to the Serene18 Paddle Trail. With four separate routes and 18 square miles of waterways to explore, take in the beautiful vistas and active wildlife as you paddle some of the most serene waters around.
Your trip begins on Clarks Hill Lake, or the lake with two names, with over 71,000 acres of water and 1,200 miles of shoreline. That’s larger than the coast of California. This outdoor haven attracts anglers, boaters, and water sport enthusiasts from all over to experience the magical lake. The six-mile water trail will take you between four to six hours as you make your way to the Clarks Hill Dam. Allow some time to cast a line from your boat or rest on the sandy beaches.
Next up is Betty’s Branch, a popular four-mile stretch of the Savannah River. Starting at Riverside Park in Evans, it will take between two and 3.5 hours depending on if you take the shorter route or the full loop. This is an excellent stretch for spotting ospreys, turtles, and otters along the way.
The 2.7-mile loop out to Stallings Island and back is recommended for paddlers with some experience. Be careful of the canal headgates when launching from Savannah Rapids Park. Although the island is protected as the site where the oldest-known Native American pottery was rediscovered, you can bring carrots and apples to feed the wild donkeys and goats that inhabit the island from your boat.
Round out your trip on the Augusta Canal, the longest paddle at seven miles. A steady current will get you from the put-in at Savannah Rapids Park to the take-out at Julian Smith Park in about 2.5 hours. As you make your way towards the town of Augusta, you’ll pass by a waterfall, historical landmarks, and all sorts of wildlife. All four routes are perfect for beginners, families, experts, and everyone in between.
Want to get the most out of your trip? Check out one of the outfitters in town for boat rentals, guided tours, classes, and special events. The friendly folks at Cole Watkins Tours, Keg Creek Watersports, Outdoor Augusta, and Savannah Rapids Kayak Rentals can hook you up for all your paddling needs. It’s recommended you make reservations in advance to ensure your spot upon arrival. Don’t forget to request your free Serene18 passport ahead of time and have it stamped at one of these four outfitters or the visitors center after completing each route to earn a free t-shirt and bragging rights for days.
When you’ve had enough paddling for the day, discover the rest of what Columbia County has to offer by land. There are more than 40 miles of trails throughout the county for walking, running, and mountain biking, including the 18.5-mile Bartram Trail, the technical Keg Creek Trail, and the scenic Augusta Canal Towpath.
Then head into town for a bite to eat and something to drink. Rooted Coffeehouse is a great place to get started in the morning while Frog and the Hen, Cork and Flame, Laziza Mediterranean Grill, and Namaste Indian Street Food offer a wide array of lunch and dinner options. Finish up with a beer at Stay Social Tap and Table or Tip Top Taps.
It will take you a few days to hit all the paddling spots so you’ll want to book a stay in one of the area’s hotels, bed and breakfasts, or campgrounds for a place to crash at the end of the day.
Get on the water this summer in Columbia County, Ga.
Cover photo: Castle Rock on the New River in Giles County, Va., photo by Sam Dean