The Middle James River between Howardsville and Bremo Bluff winds through Virginia's Piedmont, offering an 25-mile overnight trip, fun Class I-II paddling, fascinating glimpses into the history of navigation on the river, a great river town, solid fishing, and reliable outfitter service.
The Middle James' great winding arc through the Piedmont lies in the rural heartland of the Commonwealth. Unmolested by modern-day interstates to the north, west, and east, this segment of the river carries the paddler through agricultural and forest land and offers a glimpse of the way things were. The historic river town of Scottsville, VA sits at the mid-point of this trip, anchoring the section with good outfitters, a grocery store, an historic park interpreting batteau and canal history, and an opportunity for a hot burger and a cold beer.
Beginning at the mouth of the Rockfish River, which serves as the boundary between Nelson and Albemarle county, put -in at Howardsville (Rt. 6) and enjoy a few miles of relative solitude before passing the Warren river access and, on weekends, find yourself accompanied by revelers in tubes, often students from Mr. Jefferson's University just to the north in Charlottesville. Enjoy their antics but please refrain from following their example at the dramatic 40' jump rock you soon see downriver. Soon enough, at Hatton Ferry, a historically-operated cable ferry carrying cars across the river, you will say goodbye to these casual visitors and again find the river peaceful for the slow paddle toward Scottsville.
You can camp at private campgrounds on either side of the river in Scottsville, or push through about 4 miles of a slow pool into the "Thousand Islands" stretch and find yourself a wilder campsite on your own island. If in Scottsville, walk into town, enjoy a classic American main street, and support some local businesses.
Day 2 of your trip has much in store. Downriver of Scottsville the James braids out into many channels around scores of small islands. This "choose your own adventure" stretch offers fantastic smallmouth bass fishing, interesting rapids, and is a great place to spot a bald eagle or river otter. Make sure to stick close as a group or you may not see your friends for nearly 6 miles of paddling if they end up on the far side of an island from you. There is an alternative take-out at Hardware River Wildlife Management Area (Rt. 646) if you want to shorten the trip. Either way consider hanging river left and finding the mouth of the Hardware River. Hike or paddle up the Hardware about a mile and find the amazing stonework of a double-arched culvert that once supported the James River and Kanawha Canal and today still holds up under coal trains.
The end of the "Thousand Islands" stretch is marked by a nice Class II rapid and some great lunch spots. The rest of the paddle is relatively flat in a deep pool. Look down or use goggles and snorkel to look for large schools of carp and catfish that are know to hold in this pool. One more ledge rapid and Rt. 15 passing overhead mark your takeout, which is just downriver of the bridge on river right.
James River Trip Resources
Guide to Trip Planning: http://www.jamesriverassociation.org/enjoy-the-james/overnight-camping
Find River Maps from JRA: http://www.jamesriverassociation.org/enjoy-the-james/james-river-maps
VDGIF Guide to Access Points: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/waterbodies/display.asp?id=158&
Buy River Atlases of Historic Sites from VA Canals and Navigation Society: http://vacanals.org/store/
NOAA Hydrologic Prediction Service (River Levels): http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=akq#
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