The James River near Richmond, VA
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For outdoor and water enthusiasts in the Richmond area, the James River provides the opportunity to raft, fish, kayak, and canoe through the beautiful central Virginia. Richmond is the only urban location that boasts Class III and IV rapids; because of the range of intensity the river provides, the James is the perfect spot for experienced white water rafters and families alike.
The James River is a 410-mile long river that flows through Virginia’s heartland. Beginning in the Alleghany Mountains of western Virginia, the river meets the Chesapeake Bay at Hampton Roads. This river is used heavily to import and export Virginia products.
Originally, the river was named the Powhatan River, after the Native American Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, a collaboration of the Indian tribes of the Tidewater region of Virginia. After the English constructed the first permanent English colony in the Americas at Jamestown in 1607, they renamed the river on which they lived after King James I of England.
The James was the major highway of the Colony of Virginia, used extensively to transport the early cash crop, tobacco, and to explore Indian land to the west of Jamestown.
Traversing the city of Richmond, the James River offers a plethora of ways to enjoy its natural beauty. Local company Riverside Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting tours, kayak and canoe trips, and equipment rentals.
This picturesque river is a popular place for swimming, hiking, camping, and picnicking in the summer. The James is known for its blue catfish, which average 30 pounds, making the river a fishing hotspot.
The James has also been noted for “some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the USA.” Aside from these, the river has largemouth bass, bluegill and pumpkinseed, pickerel, long nose gar, and carp.
Between the river’s start in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Richmond, Virginia, numerous rapids and pools allow for whitewater rafting; this segment of the James is the only place in the country where extensive Class III whitewater conditions exist within sight of skyscrapers. Farther east, the river is suited for waterskiing and other large boat recreation.
The eastern-most portion of the James River, the Chesapeake watershed, is the home of the last of the Atlantic sturgeon, a number of which are over five feet long.
Rental companies are normally open only as river levels and weather conditions permit. Some companies, including the popular James River Runners, maintain campsites for those who wish to make their river excursion an overnight adventure.
Other recreational activities are provided by the James River State Park, comprised of three miles of riverfront property, 1,500 acres of lush meadows, three fishing ponds, and 15 miles of hiking trails.
The park offers protected opportunities to explore and experience firsthand the majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After about an hour of driving through Virginia’s scenic countryside, the James River State Park provides amenities for staying overnight.
The park has a variety of levels of comfort, from primitive campsites, to cabins and lodges, which sleep up to sixteen people. Though this park doesn’t offer swimming, the trails can be used for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Lake swimming is available 25 miles further down, at Holliday Lake State Park. There are several sheltered picnic areas, and opportunities to rent canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, or bikes.