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Kayaking the Upper James River ... and Happy Summer Solstice!

Updated: May 25, 2018

Today, I went on a daytime kayak trip through Twin River Outfitters (TRO) located in downtown Buchanan, Virginia on the Upper James River. Paddling this trip was got me interested in taking a trip to the area.

This was a self-guided trip. TRO provides rental of all the equipment (kayak, paddle, river map, PFD) plus shuttle service to the put in location and then the paddle trip itself is on your own.

This trip started at the Horseshoe Bend boat ramp which is about 9 miles upriver from the TRO shop. And then the paddle was all downstream back to Buchanan. Several other people got shuttled and launched at the same time, but I adjusted so I could enjoy the river on my own.

Along the way, I saw tons of great mountain and river scenery and went through/over LOTS of fun rapids. The trip has one moderately challenging Class II rapid** (called "Richie's Falls") located near the beginning of the trip and numerous Class I rapids* scattered throughout the trip. The Upper James River has flow (or discharge) compared to the flatwater tidal rivers we paddle in Hampton Roads. But the section I traveled was well, well short of being "whitewater". There were lots of flat (but flowing) sections, too. I ended the paddle right at the TRO shop in Buchanan which is where my car was parked.

Along the river, I saw an active railroad bridge (which was right below the cabin the where I stayed) along with the remnants of several other old bridges. The stone bridge piers remain in the river in several places. Near the end of the trip, I passed under interstate 81.

I had a special visitor for a while. A beautiful butterfly stayed in the kayak and on me for a long time. 

The river was super clear. I could see the bottom at all times. Most of the river is very shallow, but there are some deeper sections. I don't think any of it was deeper than about 5 or 6 feet. The whole river bottom is rocky, so yes, I skipped some rocks!  :)

During the trip, the river flow (or discharge) was at about 965 cubic feet per second and about 2.9 feet height on the river gauge (which is right across the river from the TRO shop). The normal "good/safe" flow is between 500 - 2000 cfs (2 - 4 feet). When the river gets above around 5000 cfs (6 feet on the gauge), it's is not safe (too fast) for average paddlers. So, the flow was perfect. And definitely fun. The water temp was about 75 degrees, so it was great, too.

Such a great day! Perfect thing to do on the Summer Solstice! Sorry to those who had to be at work. #sorrynotsorry  ;)

  *Class I - Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training.

**Class II - Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed.


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