11 Epic Places To Kayak In Virginia: Discover The Best!

Virginia, known for its history and beautiful landscapes, is a great place for kayaking. You can paddle through forests, past mountains, and along calm coastlines. This guide will show you the best kayaking spots in Virginia.

Virginia has lots of kayaking options, from peaceful rivers to exciting rapids. This guide will explore the top 11 kayaking destinations in the state, each offering a unique experience.

We’ll take you to scenic rivers, calm lakes, and coastal areas so you can see Virginia’s natural beauty, historic sites, and wildlife while kayaking. Let’s get started!

11 Epic places to kayak in Virginia

The 11 Epic places to kayak in Virginia

Uncover the best spots for kayaking adventures across Virginia. Experience thrilling paddling journeys at these 11 epic locations. Find your next kayaking destination with our comprehensive list.

#1. Chesapeake Bay

Virginia has some incredible places for kayaking, and one of the best is Chesapeake Bay. It’s big and beautiful, making it a top kayaker choice.

What makes kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay so special is that you can explore large, open waters. While paddling, you’ll come across hidden coves that are peaceful and away from the busyness of everyday life. These secret spots allow you to connect with nature in a profound way.

Plus, there’s a variety of marine life in the bay, which makes your adventure even more thrilling. You might see playful dolphins swimming near your kayak or majestic ospreys flying above you. These wildlife encounters create memories you’ll cherish long after your trip.

Tangier Island is a unique kayaking destination in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. This small island has its own special culture and relies heavily on the water. While kayaking around Tangier Island, you can soak in its charming atmosphere and meet friendly locals who have deep connections to this extraordinary place.

Another fantastic spot in the Chesapeake Bay area is Assateague Island.

#2. Shenandoah River

Shenandoah River kayaking

The Shenandoah River in Virginia is a fantastic place for kayaking. It has calm parts for beginners and exciting rapids for experienced paddlers. This river flows through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in the northwestern part of Virginia, covering about 55 miles. It splits into two parts, the North and the South, offering stunning scenery and great kayaking.

One of the best things about kayaking on the Shenandoah River is paddling through Shenandoah National Park. While you’re on the river, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests and might even see some wildlife that lives in this area.

Shenandoah River kayaking Virginia

No matter if you want a relaxed trip or an exciting adventure, the Shenandoah River has options for everyone. Beginners can enjoy calm sections perfect for easy paddling, and more experienced kayakers can tackle thrilling Class I-III rapids.

In the fall, kayaking on the Shenandoah River becomes even more special. The vibrant leaves on the trees turn the landscape into a colorful wonderland, with the leaves reflecting off the water, making it a truly magical experience.

#3. James River

The James River in Virginia is a fantastic place for kayaking. It’s known for being versatile, meaning it has calm sections for easy paddling and challenging parts with rapids for an exciting adventure. This river flows through central Virginia, passing by Richmond before reaching the Chesapeake Bay.

What’s great about kayaking on the James River is that it offers different experiences. Beginners can enjoy peaceful areas, and if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, you can tackle the thrilling rapids in the James River Park System. So whether you’re new to kayaking or more experienced, you’ll have a good time here.

What makes the James River special is that it combines city and nature. While you’re kayaking, you’ll see historic landmarks and modern city views, which makes the adventure unique with a touch of history and culture. There are also islands like Brown’s Island and Belle Isle along the river where you can take breaks, explore trails, or join seasonal events.

In Richmond, the James River Park System is popular for outdoor activities, including kayaking. Belle Isle, within this park system, is an easy spot to access the river and start your kayaking journey downstream.

#4. New River

New River kayaking Virginia

The New River in Virginia is famous for its fantastic kayaking experiences. People come from all around to enjoy its grandeur and stunning scenery. When you paddle on its calm waters, you’ll be surrounded by tall cliffs and rugged landscapes, making your journey unforgettable.

One of the best things about the New River is how incredibly beautiful it is. Located in southwest Virginia, this river has peaceful waters and incredible canyon views that will truly amaze you. That’s why so many kayakers come here to enjoy the beauty of nature.

What makes the New River special is its long history. It flows southward through the Appalachian Mountains and is one of the oldest rivers in the world. When you’re kayaking here, you can feel a connection to all the people who have traveled this river for centuries.

A highlight of kayaking on the New River is exploring the famous New River Gorge. This dramatic canyon offers breathtaking beauty and exciting outdoor activities like whitewater rafting and kayaking. The gorge has rapids ranging from Class I to IV, making it perfect for paddlers who want an adventure filled with adrenaline in a stunning environment.

The New River Gorge is a National River, and it attracts all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or someone new to kayaking, this place has something special for everyone.

#5. Rappahannock River

The Rappahannock River in Virginia is a unique place for kayaking. It stretches from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay and offers a kayaking experience that’s different from any other in Virginia. It has both calm and exciting parts, making it suitable for kayakers of all skill levels.

This river is quite long, about 195 miles, and it’s famous not only for its natural beauty but also for its historical importance. Native Americans, traders during Colonial times, and even events from the Civil War are connected to this river. So, when you’re kayaking here, you can feel like you’re part of this rich history.

One cool thing about kayaking on the Rappahannock River is that it has a variety of landscapes. You can find peaceful stretches where you can calmly paddle on calm waters. There are also thrilling class II rapids that can get your heart racing, perfect for more experienced kayakers.

If you start at the upper part of the river, you’ll have a relaxing paddle with amazing mountain views. As you go downstream towards Fredericksburg, you’ll come across sections with class II rapids that provide an exciting challenge for experienced kayakers.

Fredericksburg is an interesting historic city along the river, adding even more to your kayaking adventure.

#6. Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake Virginia

Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia is a fantastic place for kayaking. It’s tucked away in the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains and is a hidden treasure for kayakers who want peace and natural beauty. This lake is pretty big, covering about 20,600 acres, and it’s known for its clear waters, making it perfect for a calm and relaxing paddle.

The lake is surrounded by breathtaking mountain views, creating a perfect setting for kayakers to explore different coves and inlets. It’s not just great for kayaking; it’s also a good spot for fishing and other water-based activities.

One of the best things about kayaking here is that you get to be in the middle of all this pristine nature. As you glide over the crystal-clear waters, you’ll be surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s an amazing experience that helps you connect with nature on a deeper level.

If you’re into wildlife, Smith Mountain Lake has lots to offer. Keep your binoculars handy because you might see ospreys and bald eagles flying around the lake. These magnificent birds are a common sight and make the lake even more attractive.

Smith Mountain Lake is perfect whether you’re a serious angler or enjoy fishing occasionally. The clear waters are home to various fish, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch something while enjoying the peacefulness of kayaking.

#7. Lake Anna

Lake Anna, a freshwater lake in Virginia’s Louisa and Spotsylvania counties, is great for easy kayaking, swimming, and picnicking. It’s conveniently located between Richmond and Fredericksburg, making it a perfect spot for family-friendly kayaking and relaxation.

It was originally made as a cooling pond for a nearby nuclear power plant, but now it’s become a popular recreational area. The lake is surrounded by calm and beautiful nature, making it a great place to explore by kayak. Whether you want a peaceful paddle or an exciting fishing trip, Lake Anna has something for everyone.

One of the cool things about kayaking at Lake Anna is that there’s a state park nearby called Lake Anna State Park. It has useful stuff like boat launches, well-kept picnic areas, and interesting hiking trails. This park is all about family fun, so it’s a safe and peaceful place to spend time with your loved ones while enjoying water activities.

If you’re into fishing, Lake Anna is famous for being a great place to catch fish, especially largemouth bass. It’s a top spot for both kayakers and anglers. Just imagine casting your fishing line from your kayak surrounded by clear water and beautiful scenery – it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss.

#8. Occoquan Reservoir

Just outside of Washington, D.C., there’s a place called Occoquan Reservoir that’s perfect for peaceful kayaking. It’s got calm water and beautiful forests around it. This 2,100-acre reservoir provides drinking water for the area but is also a great spot for outdoor fun. Whether you’re a serious kayaker or want a quiet escape, kayaking at Occoquan Reservoir is something you shouldn’t miss.

This reservoir is surrounded by lush forests, making it a lovely place for kayaking. When you paddle on its calm water, you’ll feel like you’re in a peaceful world where nature’s beauty is all around you. Plus, because there aren’t any motorized boats, it’s super quiet, and you can enjoy nature without disruptions.

One of the best things about kayaking at Occoquan Reservoir is that you can see all kinds of birds and animals during your trip. If you’re into birdwatching, you’ll love seeing waterfowl and songbirds that live here. You might even spot herons walking by the water or woodpeckers pecking at trees. With every stroke of your paddle, you’ll get closer to nature and discover its hidden treasures.

This reservoir is also near the historic town of Occoquan, which makes your kayaking adventure even more interesting.

#9. Clinch River

Clinch River Virginia

Set off on an amazing kayaking adventure down the Clinch River, famous for its diverse wildlife. This river in southwestern Virginia provides a special experience for nature lovers and people who care about protecting the environment.

As you paddle down the Clinch River, you’ll be amazed by its beauty. The water is really clear, and the river winds through lush forests and rolling hills. It’s like a peaceful backdrop for your kayaking trip; every time you dip your paddle, you’ll feel like you’re part of nature.

One really cool thing about the Clinch River is how many different kinds of animals and plants you can find there. It’s considered one of the most biodiverse rivers in North America, meaning it has many different species living in it. There are more kinds of freshwater mussels in this river than anywhere else in the world, and that makes it an important place for scientists who study and protect these animals.

While you’re paddling, keep an eye out for special plants growing along the riverbanks. The Clinch River is home to lots of different types of plants that thrive in this unique place. It’s a chance to see how nature can be strong and to find some hidden gems as you kayak.

And if you like fishing, the Clinch River is great for that, too. Bring your fishing rod and try to catch some of the special fish that live in this river.

#10. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Located right in the heart of Virginia, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic place for nature lovers to go kayaking. This refuge covers more than 9,000 acres of land and water, and it’s a safe place for lots of different animals and plants. When you go kayaking here, you’ll see incredible things and meet fascinating creatures.

One of the best things about the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is that you see many different kinds of birds. This refuge is an important stopover spot for birds that are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway. It’s like a rest stop for birds that come from really far away.

While you’re kayaking through the marshes and canals, look out for big birds like herons, strong birds like ospreys, and colorful birds called warblers. If you want to learn more about these birds, you can use a field guide or a bird identification app to figure out their names.

The refuge has lots of different places for animals and plants to live, and that’s why there are so many different kinds of them here. There are big, wet areas called freshwater marshes full of life, and beautiful forests near the water. Each place is unique, so when you’re kayaking, you’ll get to see all the different things that live in these special areas.

Besides birds, there are other animals you might spot while kayaking. Keep your eyes open for playful river otters swimming in the water or graceful plants at the forest’s edge.

#11. Dismal Swamp Canal

The Dismal Swamp Canal is one of the best places in Virginia for kayaking. It’s special because of its history, the unique ecosystem, and the calm waterways. When you go kayaking here, you’ll have a different and memorable experience that makes it even more exciting.

One of the coolest things about kayaking in the Dismal Swamp Canal is that you’re going through history. This canal was built in the early 19th century, and people dug it by hand. While you’re kayaking along the calm water, lots of green plants surround you, and you might even see some animals that live in this unique place.

The Dismal Swamp Canal goes from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. It’s a place with lots of swamps and forests, and it’s not like any other place you can go kayaking. It’s also really interesting because it has a long history, and even George Washington, a famous American leader, helped make it.

When you go kayaking here, you’re not just enjoying the beauty of nature. You’re also getting to know stories from hundreds of years ago that made this area what it is today. It’s a chance to see both the amazing natural world and the important history of the place at the same time. That makes it an awesome experience for kayakers who want more than just pretty views.

While kayaking in this paradise, you might also come across some special plants and animals.

Things not to miss in VA (while kayaking)

Virginia is a beautiful state with lots of outdoor activities, and kayaking is a fantastic way to experience its natural beauty. Whether you’re on serene rivers or stunning coastlines, there are endless opportunities for adventure.

Here are three things you shouldn’t miss when kayaking in Virginia:

Hidden Coves and Inlets

These are like hidden treasures you want to take advantage of. They’re quiet spots away from the usual places where you can see some of the most beautiful parts of nature. When you kayak here, you get to explore the waterways’ little corners and secret places. It’s like being in a world that people haven’t touched. You might find cool natural things, peaceful spots, or surprising moments with animals.

Scenic Views and Wildlife

Look out for amazing views like big mountains, calm riverbanks, and pretty shorelines. Keep your eyes open for animals like eagles, herons, and other creatures that live here. Virginia is a great place for kayakers who love nature and want to see awesome views and lots of different animals. As you paddle around, you’ll see beautiful things all around you, from huge mountains to peaceful riverbanks. Virginia’s nature is like a treat for your eyes.

Underwater Treasures

In some clear water, you can see things underwater that make your kayaking even more exciting. Look for stuff like rocks, shells, and things that live underwater. When you’re kayaking in Virginia, you might find things hidden under the water that tell cool stories about the past. Imagine paddling over an old sunken ship or finding parts of old times – it’s like going back in history.

Going underwater shows you a world full of life. Plants move in the water, fish swim, and little creatures live in the riverbed. Seeing this hidden world helps you understand how Virginia’s nature works and why taking care of it is important.

Virginia’s waterways also have ancient things like fossils that show us what life was like in the past. You might find teeth from really old sharks or shells that are still in good shape. These things remind us of the time when big creatures lived in our oceans. Keep an eye out for these cool things as you kayak around, and you’ll get a glimpse into Virginia’s history.

So, when you’re kayaking in Virginia, be ready for amazing adventures. You’ll find secret places, beautiful nature, lots of animals, and even things from a long time ago under the water. Enjoy the journey!

Final Words

As we finish our guide to the best kayaking spots in Virginia, we hope you’re excited to explore the many wonderful places to paddle in this beautiful state.

We’ve shared our top 11 places for an amazing kayaking adventure, from the impressive Chesapeake Bay to the peaceful Dismal Swamp Canal. Virginia has a lot to offer, and we hope you’ll find these locations inspiring.

But remember, kayaking in Virginia isn’t just about the places you go – it’s about the experiences and memories you create. So, why wait? Get your paddle, get in a kayak, and start your incredible journey on Virginia’s waters.

About Addison

Hark! Fellow seekers of adventure! 

I'm Addison, a passionate adventurer from Oregon's captivating Pacific Northwest. Alongside my brother Ronin, we founded PaddleWiggle, a kayaking website. On my page, you'll find thrilling stories of my kayaking expeditions.

So, join me as I explore wild rivers and hidden coves, sharing the raw beauty of nature through PaddleWiggle's expedition section.

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