Sunday, September 25, 2022

Where to Paddleboard in Virginia

This was my first summer paddleboarding. Here are the places I checked out.


Ragged Mountain Reservoir

Ragged Mountain Reservoir, Charlottesville
- This lake is beautiful and pristine. What I imagine paddling in the Adirondacks to be like. The water is very clear and the surroundings are stunning, with no houses on the water. Perhaps the most zen-inducing place I went to this year. No motorized boats are allowed so it's just you and a few other paddlers on the lake. Despite the clearness of the water I saw almost no fish but I did see a few turtles. Round trip is about five miles. The small gravel parking lot is shared with people hiking and mountain biking so it does fill up quickly.

Swift Creek Lake, Pocahontas State Park - There is peace and tranquility at this popular local state park. To find that peace and tranquility, as well as solitude, it helps to get there early. The 225-acre Swift Creek Lake is narrow and long, resembling a river with no current. You probably won't beat the early morning kayak fishermen, but once you paddle beyond where they are it can feel like you have it all to yourself. A dam prevents you from paddling extremely far, although at approximately 4.5 miles round trip this is an almost perfect out-and-back length. It is common to see herons, kingfishers, and other birds on Swift Creek Lake. There is a fee to enter the park. As of this writing it is $10 on weekends, less on weekdays.

Northeast Creek Reservoir, Louisa - I like this little lake, which is a pleasant 45-minute country drive away for me. Fishermen know about this place but recreational paddlers not-so-much. No gas motors are allowed, just electric, and like most places with this policy the folks out fishing cause little or no disturbance to anyone just out for a paddle. It's about 3.5 miles round trip, perfect for a quick 90-minute summer evening workout. There is plenty of room for parking. Warning: geese and ducks hang out at the parking lot and will come right up to you expecting food. 

Hunting Run Reservoir, Spotsylvania - Not all of the public lakes in Spotsylvania allow SUPs, but this one does. Hunting Run Reservoir is quite big. When I paddle a lake I like to stick to the perimeter and the perimeter of this one must be well over six miles. On my first and only time there I cut it short and still managed to get in 4.8 miles. There are some houses, some very nice houses, on this lake but the no gas motors and no swimming rule helps keep things placid. I enjoyed my visit to Hunting Run and can't wait to go back. There is a fee and you pay at the check-in station near the boat launch - up to $11 for non-Spotsylvania residents.

Hunting Run Reservoir

Rivers (slow-ish moving flatwater rivers)

City Dock, Fredericksburg (Rappahannock River) - I was surprised to discover that there is great flatwater river paddling right in the heart of Fredericksburg! If you enter the water from City Dock Park off Sophia Street and paddle up the river, you can go almost 2.1 miles before hitting rapids. Along the way it is a very pleasant river paddle against a mild current that goes under a couple scenic bridges with the town on your left. The town gives way to a collection of parks on either side of the river where Hispanic families tend to hang out on weekends. There are some great spots for jumping in the water to cool off. Once you turn around, expect your return trip to be about twenty-percent faster than your upstream paddling time. There are several restaurants to choose from in downtown Fredericksburg after you're done. This was my overall favorite river destination. I recommend going during high tide.

Chain Ferry Road, West Point (Mattaponi River) - West Point is where the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers meet to form the York River. There are many places to enter the water around the town of West Point but I chose the primitive and discreet Mattaponi River launch site at the end of Chain Ferry Road. There is a small public parking lot and a sandy/beachy place to get in the river. I headed right onto the big wide and slightly turbulent river, paddling away from the bridge off in the distance and went about a third-of-a-mile until I saw a large creek on the right that looked like it was worth exploring. It was. I don't know if this creek has a name or is just another section of the Mattaponi but it was heaven on earth! I went about 2.4 miles up this creek before turning around and I only turned around because I wanted to, not because the creek was ending. I saw an impressive amount of fish jumping, lots of birds, and a couple nutria! Paddling on a creek like this was a new experience for me and it makes me want to find more places like this. Bonus: ice cream and coffee at The Lazy Cow.

Deep Bottom Park

Deep Bottom and Four Mile Creek (James River)
- At just 35 minutes away, this park in Henrico is one of the quickest drives from my home to a place where I can get on the water. It somehow feels both well known and a well kept secret. You have a couple choices at this spot - either stay on a flat section of the James River or explore Four Mile Creek. Or do both. I am not sure how far you can go down Four Mile Creek because I haven't gone that far down it yet. In my two visits to this location I mostly went up or down the river portion and only did the creek as an afterthought. The James River is tidal here. I went once during high tide and once during low tide and there was quite a difference between the two. There are gas motor boats on this part of the river but the park tends to be less crowded than you'd think it would be. Lots of birds, such as osprey, diving into the water for fish.

Wake Beach, Wake, VA (Rappahannock River) - This small, picturesque beach is popular with families. The swimming is good, when there are no jellyfish that is. Being near the Chesapeake Bay, the water is starting to be salty here. The river is very wide and a little choppy so it can feel like beach or bay type paddling. This would be more of a recreational choice. I like to paddle a bit, hang on the beach some, and then work in a visit to a favorite outdoor-dining waterside restaurant called Merroir. 

Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing (James River) - Trailers put in on the Powhatan side of the river, but there is a kayak launch on the Goochland side at Tucker Park. From here, you can paddle up stream toward Powhatan State Park. It's a little challenging for paddle boarding because you kind of have to navigate around some things but that makes it fun. You might encounter people tubing from Powhatan State Park down to the boat launch. This is not a place I would go all the time, but at less-than 40 minutes away I will be keeping it in mind as an option.

Old City Point Waterfront Park, Hopewell (Appomattox River/James River) - Hopewell is where the Appomattox River meets the James. Whatever you do, don't go right onto the James River portion toward the chemical plant. That should be a "no duh", but I thought I could paddle past all that ugliness to Bailey Creek but it totally wasn't worth it. And the water was strangely hot. I don't even want to think about it. After two miles I cut my losses and backtracked. The only good thing was I saw a bald eagle up close. The Appomattox River portion is much, much nicer.  There are some homes around the bend on the Appomattox with impressive little private beaches. Since I had already paddled two miles down and two miles back on the James, I only did one mile up and one mile back on the Appomattox. When I go back I will check out the Appomattox more and maybe put-in at a different location. There is a coffeeshop with excellent food in the heart of downtown Hopewell called Guncotton Coffee for when you are done. One of the great things about river paddling is there's usually a small town nearby with an interesting story.

Randolph's on the River, Port Royal (Rappahannock River) - Randolph's on the River is an enjoyable restaurant overlooking the banks of the Rappahannock River in Port Royal, VA. You can park at the restaurant and get in the water at the boat launch on-site. The restaurant features a covered deck for outdoor seating where a loved one can hang out while you are paddling or for a meal afterwards. This is certainly a calm section of the river, no rapids anywhere nearby and the current is slow. What I don't love about it is all the vegetation in the water. Definitely go during high tide. When I went I saw a bald eagle nest in the middle of the river inhabited by an adult and a couple juvenile eagles.

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