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Kayaking in Roanoke, VA

Kayaking & Paddling in Virginia's Blue Ridge

Paddling along Virginia's Blue Ridge is a fantastic way to experience the region's beauty, no matter the season. Whether you seek a calming journey on a peaceful lake or an exciting ride down a lively river, over 260 miles of waterways await. 

Whether you're a seasoned kayaker or a newbie, rentals are readily available to get you on the water.  Skilled outfitters offer guided tours and shuttle services to help you navigate the waterways with ease.

So, plan your escape to Virginia's Blue Ridge and embark on your aquatic metro mountain adventure!

Where to Kayak & Paddle in VBR

Please check with authorities regarding the required skill levels for the locations below, as rapid classifications change as water levels rise and fall. Also, when the water reaches a certain level, entering is no longer safe.

Upper James River Water Trail

Twin River Outfitters - James River - Buchanan, VA

Made up of the first 64 miles of the famed James River, the Upper James River Water Trail passes through Botetourt and Rockbridge counties. A designated Virginia Scenic River comprises a 59-mile stretch and provides outstanding recreational paddling with views of unspoiled shorelines. The trail has 11 sections, some of which deliver more difficult rapid classifications, so make sure to study up before heading out, as beginners or those lacking a high level of technical skills should not enter certain sections.

Learn more: Explore the James River with Twin River Outfitters >

Upper Pigg River Blueway 

When the water levels are optimal, the eight-mile Upper Pigg River Blueway in Franklin County offers an easy paddle experience with striking scenery consisting of farmlands and wooded areas. This blueway is a lot of fun and will have you returning for more.

Learn More: Pigg River Blueway Access Points & Maps >

Carvins Cove

For a fun paddling experience, head to Carvins Cove Natural Reserve. This scenic area boasts a sparkling 600-acre reservoir, perfect for a day of paddling adventures. Whether you prefer kayaking, rowing, or stand-up paddleboarding (bring your own!), Carvins Cove has you covered. Rentals are available for kayaks and rowboats, allowing you to explore the reservoir easily.

Learn More: Boating & Fishing at Carvins Cove > 

Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake has many coves where paddlers can stick close to shore and away from boaters for a calmer day on this gorgeous lake that seems to shine as it reflects the Virginia sun. With over 500 miles of shoreline, there is plenty of space to enjoy a relaxing paddle and discover why Smith Mountain Lake is known as "The Jewel of the Blue Ridge."

Learn More: Boat Rentals at Smith Mountain Lake >

Roanoke River Blueway

Roanoke River - Roanoke, Virginia

Hailed as the “Best Urban Kayaking Spot” in the nation by USA Today, this 45-mile waterway offers a unique paddling experience in the heart of Roanoke. Navigate past a bustling cityscape while surrounded by natural beauty. Explore hidden coves and encounter diverse wildlife, all within easy reach of urban amenities.

Learn More: Roanoke River Blueway Guide & Map >

Craig Creek

Carve your path through cascading waterfalls and discover hidden swimming holes nestled amidst the lush Virginia wilderness. Experience the thrill of navigating a more adventurous waterway, perfect for kayakers seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Learn More: Craig Creek Recreation Area >

Smith River Blueway

Embark on a journey down the iconic Smith River Blueway, renowned for its gentle currents and abundant wildlife. Glide effortlessly through a scenic wonderland teeming with birds, fish, and turtles. Perfect for a relaxing paddle with the family or a solo nature escape.

Learn More: Franklin County - Smith River Blueway Map >

Philpott Lake

Concerts by Canoe - Philpott Lake

Explore the vast expanse of this scenic lake encompassing 3,000 acres by kayak or canoe. Enjoy a tranquil paddle amidst breathtaking mountain views, or cast your cares away with a day of fishing on this angler's paradise.

Kayakers and paddlers should also head to Philpott Lake to take part in the annual Concerts by Canoe live music series that is held on the water. A band performs on a floating stage while attendees listen from the water in their kayaks, tubes, canoes, and boats, for an awesome blend of the arts & outdoors in Franklin County.

Learn More: Philpott Lake in Virginia's Blue Ridge >

Blackwater River Blueway

Enjoy a scenic paddle along the Blackwater River Blueway from Brubaker Park (intersection of Coles Creek Road and Hickman Road) to Jamestown Road and Blue Bend Road in Franklin County. This is a great option for beginners or those seeking a leisurely day on the water.

Embark on an epic journey from Brubaker Park all the way to Smith Mountain Lake. This extended route is perfect for experienced paddlers looking for a longer adventure.

Learn More: Blackwater River Blueway Access Points & Maps >

Kayak Rentals & Outfitters

James River & Twin River Outfitter - Botetourt County

Based in Buchanan, Twin River Outfitters is the oldest outfitter operating on the Upper James River. They have everything you need for a great day on the water. Additionally, they provide numerous trip options to enjoy the Upper James River fully. 

Roanoke Mountain Adventures has kayaks for rent in single and tandem varieties. They offer advanced reservation shuttled kayak outings where your group, gear, and boats are transported upstream to Salem’s Rotary Park. This is not a guided outing, and there’s no support between drop-off and take-out.

Roanoke River Kayaking

On the river, you are responsible for yourself, so inquire with Roanoke Mountain Adventures about the skill level required to navigate the 6 miles of river from Rotary Park to Roanoke’s Wasena neighborhood.

Single and double kayaks are available for hourly or daily rentals on a seasonal basis at Carvins Cove. The Western Virginia Water Authority rents kayaks, perfect for exploring the scenic reservoir.

Know Before You Go

Standup Paddleboarding - Blackwater River - Franklin County, VA

Before any outing in Virginia's Blue Ridge, you should become familiar with the Leave No Trace 7 Principles. These principles focus on how responsible outdoor recreation helps protect the picturesque beauty of outdoor areas and keeps them pristine and ready to enjoy for future generations. Beyond respecting Leave No Trace principles, ensure a safe and enjoyable trip, especially if you're new to the local waterways or paddling in general.

Roanoke Outfitting and Adventures offers educational classes that cover essential river safety and injury prevention techniques. Signing up for a class can boost your confidence and prepare you for a smooth paddling experience.


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