Virginia Watertrails

Eastern Branch Elizabeth River Water Trail

The Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River flows from Virginia Beach through Norfolk before joining the main river and the Chesapeake Bay. This historic area combines natural wetlands and naval shipyards. The scenic Eastern Branch provides a glimpse of the environment as Captain John Smith would have seen it, with the river’s forested shorelines and wetland areas. In the spring of 1608, Smith explored the Elizabeth River, finding little evidence of human inhabitants. Once home to the Chesapeake Group, archaeological resources are most likely lost due to the industrial development in the area. Today, canoeists can paddle a short portion of the upper river by launching from Carolanne Farm Neigborhood Park, and following a mapped trail route.

For more information about Eastern Branch Elizabeth River Trail call (757) 427-4621.


Eastern Shore Water Trails

Two loop water trails are under development on Virginia’s Eastern Shore: the Onancock Creek Loop Trail and the Saxis Water Trail Loop. These trails will soon provide tremendous paddling opportunities


Lower James River Water Trail

The James River is the southernmost major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, offering a wide range of recreational experiences. Flowing from the west, the James passes through Richmond and joins the Bay near Norfolk, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. With abundant natural fisheries and “breadbasket” marshes, the James River at the time of Captain John Smith’s voyages supported eleven Algonquian-speaking groups, with some population estimates as high as 20,000. In May of 1607, the English arrived at a point up the river beyond Hog Island and established the first permanent English settlement: Jamestown. A hastily built palisade protected the English from both Spanish and Powhatan attacks. Four yeas later, another group of English colonists settled along the historic James River at Henricus.

For more information about James River Water Trail – Lower visit the following website:


Mattaponi, Pamunkey and York Rivers Water Trail

The developing York River Water Trail follows approximately 120 river miles along the tidal York, Mattaponi, and Pamunkey rivers. The route spans a diverse landscape through parts of Virginia described and mapped by Captain John Smith in the 1600s. From the tidal waters near the Chesapeake Bay to the rural, fresh water rivers of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, paddlers can explore natural estuaries and historic sites and lands still occupied by the descendants of native people who lived here for thousands of years before English settlement. Learn more at and be sure to check out Taskinas Creek, a beautiful place to paddle accessible from York River State Park.


Mathews Blueways

Mathews Blueways is an interconnected system of five separate water trails spanning Mathews County on the Middle Peninsula of Virginia. The 90 miles of trails are particularly suited for small hand-powered craft such as canoes and touring kayaks. Mathews County is located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and offers more than 200 miles of shoreline. There are three tidal rivers and 50 navigable creeks with dozens of access sites, offering a scenic network of water and land trails to explore. Captain John Smith’s shallop passed southward along the coastline of Matthews County in the darkness of the night, on July 18, 1608, staying close to the coastline to avoid the rough waters of the open Bay. Smith was injured. The previous day a cownose ray speared his wrist at the site he named Stingray Point (near Deltaville, Virginia) A few days later the shallop arrived in Jamestown, concluding Smith’s first voyage of exploration of the Chesapeake, but Smith returned in August to explore the Piankatank and other rivers he had missed.

For more information about Mathews Blueways Water Trails call (804) 725-4229 or visit the following website:


Maury River Water Trail

This water trail runs from Cedar Grove down to the James River along 34 of the Maury’s 42 mile length. One of the most beautiful whitewater rivers in Virginia, the Maury has rock walls along many stretches and boulder fields that are rearranged during high water flows. A number of wayside parks along the river offer views and access. The River is also bordered by a number of mills or mill ruins from the 1700s, well-preserved canal works from the 19th century, and one of the oldest surviving camelback bridges in the Shenandoah Valley.

For more information about Maury River Water Trail call (540) 463-3777 or visit the following website:


Occoquan Water Trail

Natural, cultural and recreational resources abound along the 40 mile route of the Occoquan Water Trail on its journey to the Chesapeake Bay. From its beginnings on narrow, tree-lined Bull Run to the open waters and tidal estuaries of the Potomac River, the Occoquan Water Trail offers paddlers the chance to experience a broad range of paddling adventures, scenic vistas, and historic landscapes on its route. This water trail meets the Potomac River Water Trail beyond the Mason Neck peninsula, accessing seven regional parks, a county, two state parks and two National Wildlife Refuges and nearby town of Occoquan on its way. It includes areas once visited by Captain John Smith and long occupied by Native Americans. Facilities, including boat rentals are available at several public parks.

For more information about Occoquan Water Trail call (703) 352-5900 or visit the following website:


Rappahannock River Water Trail

The Rappahannock River, the longest free flowing river in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, extends from its origin at Chester Gap in the Shenandoah National Park of western Virginia to Stingray Point in the Chesapeake Bay, a total of 184 miles. Development of a water trail along a portion of the Rappahannock is being coordinated by the Friends of the Rappahannock in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The water trail will cover historical paddling trips from Kelly’s Ford to the Fredericksburg City Docks – the middle section of the river.

The section of the Rappahannock River from just below the Route 95 bridge to just below the cut stone abutment remains of the former 1854 Crib Dam and former concrete Embry Dam is open for Public Use. The former flat water area now consists of class I to III white water rapids which should be carefully scouted. Several areas of dangerous strainers (trees, brush and undercut rocks) can be found on the river’s right side. River conditions can be expected to change due to the recent removal of the dams and related sediment.