Best Kayaking in Virginia

Two kayakers paddling alone the shore in a lake in Virginia.
Shaman Mountain is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission on certain links, at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

Virginia, known for its rich history and stunning landscapes, offers an abundance of opportunities for kayaking enthusiasts. From the tranquil waters of Chesapeake Bay to the thrilling rapids of the James River, the state is a haven for kayakers seeking the best experiences. In this guide, we’ll explore the best kayaking destinations across Virginia, highlighting the diverse beauty and adventures awaiting those who are eager to paddle through its waterways. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, Virginia’s kayaking gems are sure to provide unforgettable moments in the heart of nature.



Chesapeake Bay

Situated along the eastern coast of Virginia, Chesapeake Bay stands as the largest estuary in the United States, enchanting kayakers with its tranquil waters and stunning vistas. This remarkable natural wonder offers a wealth of experiences, from serene paddling along its vast expanse to encounters with abundant marine life. Whether you’re drawn to its historical significance, scenic beauty, or culinary delights, Chesapeake Bay promises an unforgettable kayaking adventure.

Reasons to Kayak in the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Scenic Vistas: Paddle along the bay’s vast expanse, enjoying picturesque sunsets and sunrises over the water.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Kayakers have the opportunity to encounter dolphins, ospreys, and various fish species.
  • Historical Exploration: Explore historic sites like Fort Monroe and Jamestown Island from the unique vantage point of the water.
  • Waterfront Dining: Many charming waterfront restaurants line the bay, providing excellent pit stops during your kayaking adventure.
  • Diverse Ecosystems: Experience the transition from saltwater to freshwater ecosystems as you navigate the bay’s waters.

Recommended Gear: Spray Skirt, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


James River

Meandering through the heart of Virginia, the James River is a dynamic waterway that beckons kayakers with its diverse offerings. From exhilarating rapids to scenic urban stretches, it presents an array of experiences for paddlers of all skill levels. As you navigate the river’s waters, you’ll have the chance to witness stunning rock formations, encounter wildlife along the riverbanks, and delve into the historical tapestry of Richmond. The James River is a kayaker’s playground, where adventure and beauty converge.

Reasons to Kayak in James River:

  • Rapids and Thrills: Challenge yourself with Class III and IV rapids for an adrenaline rush.
  • Scenic Gorge: Navigate the stunning James River Gorge with its dramatic rock formations.
  • Urban Kayaking: Launch your kayak in Richmond for unique cityscape views.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Spot bald eagles, river otters, and herons along the riverbanks.
  • Historic Sites: Explore Civil War history at various points along the James River, adding a historical dimension to your adventure.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Shenandoah River

Winding its way through the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, the Shenandoah River offers kayakers a peaceful escape into the heart of Virginia’s natural beauty. With its gentle, slow-moving sections ideal for beginners and families, the river provides a serene paddling experience. For those seeking adventure, camping opportunities abound along its banks, and vibrant autumn foliage makes fall kayaking a visual delight. Fishing enthusiasts will appreciate the abundance of smallmouth bass and other fish species, making the Shenandoah a well-rounded destination for kayaking.

Reasons to Kayak in the Shenandoah River:

  • Tranquil Floats: Enjoy calm, slow-moving stretches perfect for beginners and family outings.
  • Camping Opportunities: Camp along the riverbanks and make it a multi-day kayaking adventure.
  • Spectacular Foliage: Witness the transition from saltwater to freshwater ecosystems as you navigate the bay’s waters.
  • Fishing: The Shenandoah River is a prime spot for smallmouth bass and other fish species.
  • Tubing Adventures: Combine kayaking with tubing for a fun and refreshing river experience.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


New River

Considered one of the oldest rivers globally, the New River captures the imagination of kayakers with its rugged landscapes and thrilling whitewater. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush on Class III and IV rapids or a tranquil paddle through the New River Gorge’s stunning cliffs and lush forests, this river has it all. The annual Bridge Day festival offers a unique opportunity to kayak beneath the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, while calmer stretches provide a relaxed kayaking experience. Exploring the New River promises a blend of natural beauty and adventure that’s hard to match.

Reasons to Kayak in New River:

  • Calm and Relaxing Stretches: Enjoy leisurely sections for a more relaxed kayaking experience.
  • Exploring West Virginia: Discover the natural beauty of West Virginia as the New River flows through the state.
  • Whitewater Excitement: Test your skills on world-class whitewater sections of the New River.
  • Scenic Marvels: Paddle through the rugged New River Gorge, surrounded by impressive cliffs and lush forests.
  • Connect with West Virginia: As the New River flows through the state, kayaking it allows you to explore the natural beauty of the state.

Recommended Gear: Kayak Wheels, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Assateague Island

Off the eastern coast of Virginia lies Assateague Island, an untouched paradise for kayakers. This barrier island, known for its pristine beaches and wild horses, offers a unique kayaking experience. Paddle along its serene shores, where the sounds of the ocean provide a soothing backdrop. As you explore secluded coves and inlets accessible only by kayak, you’ll encounter diverse wildlife and have the opportunity to witness stunning sunsets over the Atlantic. For those seeking tranquility and natural wonder, Assateague Island is an ideal destination.

Reasons to Kayak at Assateague Island:

  • Pristine Beaches: Explore the unspoiled and pristine stretches of beach that can only be accessed by kayak.
  • Wild Horses: Witness and photograph the famous wild horses that roam freely on the island’s shores.
  • Birdwatching Paradise: Assateague Island is a haven for birdwatchers, with numerous avian species to spot.
  • Secluded Coves: Discover hidden coves and inlets accessible only by kayak, offering tranquility and solitude.
  • Sunset Serenity: Enjoy the serene ambiance of a sunset paddle along the Atlantic coastline.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Smith Mountain Lake

In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Smith Mountain Lake presents kayakers with a serene and picturesque destination. This expansive reservoir, often referred to as the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge,” offers calm waters perfect for leisurely paddling. Explore its hidden coves and tranquil inlets, and take in the surrounding mountain scenery. With abundant opportunities for fishing and water-based recreation, Smith Mountain Lake is an oasis for kayakers seeking relaxation and connection with nature.

Reasons to Kayak at Smith Mountain Lake:

  • Scenic Mountain Views: Paddle through the lake while surrounded by the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Smith Mountain Lake is teeming with fish, making it an excellent spot for fishing.
  • Calm and Relaxing: The lake’s calm waters create an ideal environment for leisurely paddling and relaxation.
  • Waterfront Dining: Explore the lake’s shoreline and enjoy dining at charming waterfront restaurants.
  • Family Friendly Activities: Smith Mountain Lake offers a range of family-friendly activities, including picnicking and swimming.

Recommended Gear: Sun Hat, Insect Spray, Cup Holder, Water Bottle, Paddle Holder, Water Shoe, Snorkel


Dismal Swamp Canal

Steeped in history and mystique, the Dismal Swamp Canal offers kayakers a unique and enchanting journey through a swampy wilderness. This historical waterway, once navigated by George Washington, now invites paddlers to explore its tranquil, tree-lined waters. Kayak beneath the canopy of cypress and tupelo trees, observing the rich biodiversity that thrives in this unique ecosystem. The Dismal Swamp Canal is a place where history and nature converge, providing a kayaking experience like no other.

Reasons to Kayak in Dismal Swamp Canal:

  • Historical Mystique: Paddle through a historical waterway once navigated by George Washington, immersing yourself in the past.
  • Unique Ecosystem: Explore a one-of-a-kind swampy wilderness with cypress and tupelo trees, offering a serene and mysterious atmosphere.
  • Rich Biodiversity: Observe the diverse wildlife that thrives in this unique environment, from turtles and otters to a variety of bird species.
  • Tranquil Canopy: Kayak by a canopy of lush vegetation, providing shade and a sense of seclusion.
  • Nature and History Convergence: The Dismal Swamp Canal offers a blend of history and nature, creating an extraordinary kayaking experience.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Mason Neck State Park

Nestled along the Potomac River, Mason Neck State Park offers kayakers an escape to pristine natural beauty just a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital. Paddle through this tranquil wetland area, where you can spot a variety of bird species and other wildlife. The park’s peaceful ambiance and scenic waterways make it an ideal destination for kayaking and a place to reconnect with nature. Whether you’re exploring its water trails or simply enjoying a quiet day on the river, Mason Neck State Park is a hidden gem for kayakers in the Virginia region.

Reasons to Kayak at Mason Neck State Park:

  • Scenic Water Trails: Paddle through tranquil wetland areas along the Potomac River, surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty.
  • Birdwatching Opportunities: Mason Neck State Park is a haven for birdwatchers, with various bird species to spot, including bald eagles.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Experience close encounters with a variety of wildlife, such as river otters and waterfowl.
  • Historical Significance: Explore the historical significance of the area, which includes sites like Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason.
  • Nature Connection: Enjoy a peaceful day on the water, reconnecting with nature in this hidden gem near the nation’s capital.

Recommended Gear: Extra Water, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Lake Anna

In central Virginia, Lake Anna beckons kayakers with its clear waters and serene surroundings. This man-made reservoir offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Paddle along its tranquil shores, where you can soak in the natural beauty and perhaps even spot a great blue heron or osprey. With opportunities for swimming, fishing, and lakeside picnicking, Lake Anna provides a well-rounded kayaking experience suitable for families and nature enthusiasts.

Reasons to Kayak at Lake Anna:

  • Scenic Beauty: Paddle through the lake’s clear waters while taking in the scenic beauty of its surroundings.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Lake Anna is a prime spot for fishing, with various fish species available for anglers.
  • Calm and Relaxation: The lake’s tranquil environment provides an ideal setting for leisurely paddling and relaxation.
  • Waterfront Activities: Explore the lake’s shoreline and engage in a variety of waterfront activities, such as picnicking and swimming.
  • Family Friendly: Lake Anna offers family-friendly fun, making it a great destination for kayaking with loved ones.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Blackwater River

The Blackwater River, flowing through the southeastern part of Virginia, offers kayakers a chance to immerse themselves in a pristine and secluded environment. This Blackwater River is known for its tannin-stained waters, cypress trees, and tranquil surroundings. Paddle through a unique landscape as you encounter diverse wildlife, including turtles, otters, and a variety of bird species. The Blackwater River provides a tranquil and picturesque setting for kayakers seeking a peaceful retreat into nature’s wonders.

Reasons to Kayak in the Blackwater River:

  • Scenic Beauty: Paddle through the picturesque landscapes of Blackwater River, surrounded by lush forests and pristine waters.
  • Wildlife Observation: Encounter a variety of wildlife, including turtles, otters, and numerous bird species while kayaking along the river.
  • Peaceful and Serene: Enjoy the tranquility of this relatively uncrowded river, making it an ideal spot for a peaceful kayaking experience.
  • Tannin Stained Waters: Experience the unique charm of the river’s tannin-stained waters, which add to its distinctive character.
  • Secluded Paddling: Explore secluded coves and quiet stretches of the river, providing solitude and connection with nature.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Related Posts:

Pier in Virginia with the sunsetting in the background.

Best Pier Fishing in Virginia

Virginia offers a rich tapestry of pier fishing experiences that appeal to both novice anglers and seasoned fishermen. With its extensive coastline and variety of

A serene river flows through the lush Virginia countryside, surrounded by tall trees and vibrant greenery. A fisherman stands on the bank, casting a line into the clear water, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance

Best Fly Fishing in Virginia

Virginia offers a vibrant and diverse fly fishing scene that beckons anglers to its picturesque landscapes. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced fisher, the

Kayaker floating in one of Montana's many lakes, inside a blue kayak.

Best Kayaking in Montana

Montana, often referred to as the “Treasure State,” is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and kayaking here is nothing short of spectacular. With its rugged