The upper James River has long been a lure for great fishing, canoeing, and swimming, and 60 miles of the James boasts Virginia Scenic River status. Its roaring waters serve exhilarating class I, II, and III rapids while deeper pools are enticing for cooling off during the heat of summer. And the fishing is great with cold water species thriving in the mountain runoff.
Learn More: What is a Virginia Scenic River designation?
Thankfully for those who aren’t familiar with the James River in Virginia's Blue Ridge and its special places and hidden dangers, there’s a team of outfitters and guides who are well-versed in its ways.
Twin River Outfitters has been escorting and launching river lovers into the water since 1978. They’re equipped to send would-be adventurers out in kayaks, canoes, and rafts/tubes. Looking for flat water for easy floats? They know just the stretch. Feisty whitewater for kayaking? Done. An overnight river trip with waterside camping? Oh yes.
Let’s explore some of the options offered by Twin River Outfitters, local experts situated right along the river in Buchanan, and one of our partners offering super water adventures for families.
Day Trips for the James River
Each trailsetter is sent on their way with a canoe, kayak, or raft (as long as the water level allows it), safety orientation, dry bags and boxes to keep your items dry and safe, life jackets, and shuttle service.
Examples of possible day trips are Horseshoe Bend to Buchanan (4 hours, 9 miles, class I and II rapids), Springwood to Buchanan (2 hours, 5 miles, class I rapids), and Buchanan to Arcadia (6 miles, class I & II rapids). Tubers are shuttled upstream from Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan to float back down to the Buchanan Swinging Bridge (about 90 minutes to float), but once you pay, you can run the shuttle back up and float again for a total of three hours of floating time.
Multi-Day Trips for Paddling the James River
Twin River Outfitters has its own campgrounds plus National Forest access that is used during multi-day river trips. However, a new option is available this spring that will have many folks much more eager to disembark: glamping! Indeed, tents will be preset with cots, camp chairs for the fire, an outdoor kitchen area, and firewood at the ready.
Learn more: Glamping on the James River >
The most popular overnight is the 21-mile paddle from Eagle Rock to Buchanan (class I and II rapids), but there are also overnights from Buchanan to Alpine (10.5 miles – great for fishing with a few class II rapids) and Buchanan to Natural Bridge Station (19 miles, class II rapids).
For those who are looking for a full weekend or longer outdoor excursion, test your grit with trips like Iron Gate to Buchanan (37 miles, 2 nights), Buchanan to Snowden (27 miles, 2 nights, class III Balcony Falls rapids), Iron Gate to Alpine or Natural Bridge Station (45 or 54 miles, 3 nights), or Iron Gate to Snowden (63 miles and 4 nights). The latter allows the adventurer to take in the entirety of the Upper James River Water Trail; something to brag about.
Bring a Group!
Plan an outing for ten or more – day trip or overnight – to experience the wilderness and wonder of the Upper James River Water Trail. Opportunities are available for those who plan in advance, and guide service can be arranged. Day and tubing trips for 15 or more are eligible for 10 to 20% discounts on their trip.
• Trips are only offered if the river is within safe water levels.
• Adventurers must be able to swim and must be at least six years old.
• Certain multi-day trips require children be at least 12 years old or older to participate.
• Some trips have minimum group size requirements. For example, Iron Gate to Snowden requires at least eight participants.
The James River was named one of the best lazy rivers for 2017 by Travel Channel and was highlighted as a “safe thrill” for adventure novices in 2016 by Travel+Leisure. It was also a contributing component for the 2018 article “25 Most Beautiful East Coast Destinations” by Vacation Idea.
Learn More: Upper James River Water Trail Website >
For more great paddle destinations, check out A Paddling Guide to Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Twin River Outfitters is located in the Town of Buchanan, which features one of our Must See Main Streets in Virginia's Blue Ridge >