5 Places To Paddle In Virginia's River Realm
Virginia’s River Realm’s 465 miles of shoreline make it a great destination for paddlers to launch a kayak, canoe or paddleboard! With many unique coves, creeks, and ecological treasures around every bend, you can create your own outdoor experience. Spot some wildlife, find a secluded spot, and enjoy a memorable outdoor adventure at some of our favorite paddling locations in the River Realm.
The Dragon Run - Saluda
This unique ecosystem is widely considered to be Virginia’s most pristine blackwater stream. The Dragon Run winds & twists for about 40 miles through some of the most remote areas of the River Realm, and its neighbors. In Saluda, the run eventually widens to form the Piankatank River which is tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.
The Dragon Run is filled with many obstacles that experienced paddlers will love to take on, and the beauty of the cypress tree roots that rise from the waters, and the abundant wildlife that can be spotted on every turn make this unique paddling spot one for the books.
While the Dragon Run itself is open to paddlers, the Dragon Flats Preserve is restricted to visitors, in order to keep this amazing ecosystem at its healthiest and untouched state.
A favorite launch area can be found just on the outskirts of Saluda just over 1.5 miles north of the 17/33 intersection. A small bridge carries you over the Dragon Run, and an opening in the guardrail leads to the launch. Use caution during your paddling excursion, and always remember to respect the beautiful surroundings of this unique location.
If you’re new to paddling, the Friends of The Dragon Run hold guided group paddling trips in the summer and fall. Their Fall trip registration opens on September 1st. Learn more at www.dragonrun.org
Pro Tip: It can be a long haul from a local outfitter for this spot, and you may want to come equipped with your own gear. There is not a lot of parking, so if you’re going as a group, you may want to drop off a member of your group and your gear and carpool from the nearby park & ride in Saluda.
Launch Area Map:
Whiting Creek - Topping
Whiting Creek located just outside of Topping is a great place for novice and expert-level paddlers. Though the waterway starts wide at the launch area from the Rappahannock River, it begins to narrow about a mile in and becomes much more remote making a perfect spot to observe beautiful wildlife and shorelines.
Just before the sharp turn right into the narrows of Whiting Creek, you will find a point that has been a favorite spot for many native Bald Eagles for years. The eagles nest in the trees of this point and swoop down for a catch from the waters, and if you’re lucky, you may get to witness this act of nature on your journey.
Pro Tip: You can drive your gear straight to this launch site and make use of the parking areas to the side, just remember to be courteous to those that may need to launch their boats and leave plenty of room for them to back in and turn around.
Launch Area Map:
Parrot Island/Mill Creek - Topping
🚣🚣🚣 (Intermediate to Advanced)
Launching from the Mill Creek Boat Landing outside of Topping, you’ll find two small islands just off the point that make for a great 2.5 mile paddle, and an incredible birding opportunity. The island is privately owned, so stick to your vessel on this trip while you circumnavigate the quarter-mile long haven.
Because the island is uninhabited, your likelihood of spotting a new bird species are great! Sandpipers, Rails, and Seaside Sparrows have often been spotted along the shorelines.
You’ll want to save this trip for a calm day on the Rappahannock, because it can quickly become a workout depending on the tide.
Launch Area Map:
Carter's Creek - Irvington
Carter’s Creek is a serene location with beautiful shorelines, and wildlife and is home to the famous Tides Inn in Irvington. It’s filled with coves and nooks begging to be explored. If you’re new to paddling, the Tides Inn offers a Creek Kayaking excursion with their resident ecologist, Will Smiley where you can paddle the waters while learning what lives beneath them. During the excursion, you can even create a temporary aquarium for a closer look at the species with Will, as you wade through the waters with a seine net.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to go out on your own, but you didn’t bring your own board/kayak, Windswept Experience & Supply Co. offers Paddleboard & Kayak rentals for the area.
Carter’s Creek Location:
Fleet's Island - White Stone
For advanced paddlers, circumnavigating Fleet’s Island offers an incredible experience. The loop traverses both sides of the island, and offers even more exploration by Little Oyster Creek which navigates through the interior. Boat wakes, waves and wind can make paddling the outer edge of Fleet’s Island a little tricky, so we recommend this spot to only experienced paddlers on calm days.
Because of its location on the Rappahannock River, you are more likely to spot a dolphin during your travels, and you may also find a white sandy beach to sit and catch your breath.
Pro Tip: Paddle On Kayak & Paddleboard rentals is located right beside this launch site. They can provide you with everything you need to explore this fun spot if you didn’t bring your own.
Launch Area Map:
If you’re new to kayaking or paddle boarding, check out some of our local outfitters who provide rentals, and can help you find the right location for your skillset! There are plenty of other great paddling options nearby, and they have the inside scoop on what’s closest to them.
Capture & Share Your Favorite Moments!
With every river bend and wind in the road, we’re sure you and your travel buddies captured memories of the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of the River Realm. After your adventures are done, check out your photos and share the best with us! We hope more people like you can enjoy the calming and enchanting spirit of the River Realm. Tag us using @virginiasriverrealm and we’ll share your photos.