The Sound of Silence and the Joy of Laughter — on the Upper James River Water Trail

Sometimes we venture out into nature to find solitude. To simply reflect on its beauty. To escape from noise, traffic and the constant interruptions from modern technology. Other times we feel the need to be surrounded by friends and family, though preferring a more scenic venue than our living rooms. Fortunately, there is a stretch of the Upper James River Water Trail for each of these experiences and plenty of others in between.

The Upper James River Water Trail is made up of approximately 64 miles of the James River in Botetourt and Rockbridge Counties plus about 10 miles of the Maury River, which merges into the James in the Town of Glasgow. If you assumed that roughly 74 miles of river offers a wide variety of sites, terrain and challenges, you’d be right.

Photos courtesy of Upper James River Water Trail.

The James River begins where the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers merge near the town of Iron Gate. Overall, it’s a popular river for paddlers but as it meanders through northern Botetourt County, there are remote and rugged stretches where it’s quiet enough to hear leaves rustling in the breeze and birds calling to one another.

The 13-mile stretch downriver from the Eagle Rock public access point is perhaps the least paddled section. This picturesque portion of the river offers a few rapids and stunning scenery. The Town of Buchanan is often thought of as a hub of activity on the James. If you start your journey there, within minutes of leaving the town limits you’ll find another stretch of river that feels remote and peaceful. Further downriver where the James flows into Rockbridge County, the stretch between Alpine and Glasgow features a seven mile stretch with virtually no signs of civilization.

Photos courtesy of Upper James River Water Trail.

Some river users prefer the sound of laughter instead songbirds. Paddling with a group of friends or family members is a great way to make memories and introduce kids to the beauty of nature. Scouts, church groups, family reunions and other gatherings flock to the Upper James for a leisurely float in kayaks, canoes and especially tubes.

The stretch from Springwood to Buchanan is especially popular with groups. When the river is at normal water level, it’s a relaxing and fun float. It’s roughly five miles and ends at a big sandy public access point in Buchanan where there is plenty of parking and some nice places to grab a meal and a cold drink.

Social or solitary, there is a place for you on the Upper James River Water Trail. There are outfitters and guides ready to give you expert advice and offer a shuttle service so you can enjoy your ideal day on the James River.

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Places to Go, Things to See: