Deep Southwestern Virginia might be known for its mountains, but there is a network of rivers, lakes, and creeks just waiting to be explored. So, grab your paddles and head out on the headwaters of the best of Appalachia’s lazy rivers, flatwater and whitewater fun.
Whether you’re looking for an adrenalin fix or some easy river floats to learn on, check out these diverse river runs in the Heart of Appalachia:
Several small Southwestern Virginia towns make their home along the Clinch, making it the ideal river to get lost on while always being easy to find. Endless launching off points, easy-to-access food and lodging stops, and a wealth of outfitters make this mild-currented waterway a local favorite. Plus, it’s one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the nation and carries the distinction of being traveled by some of the area’s earliest and most well-known explorers, like Daniel Boone. With mild, Class II waters that stretch on for 17 miles, make this float your new favorite. And for a little added thrill, slip in a run on Big Cedar Creek.
From the wild mountain laurel creeping down from the cliffs to the historic stonework along the town of Appalachia, the Powell River does not disappoint. A small gorge offers a couple of miles of Class II to III rapids and eases out into a nice, moving flatwater – ideal for an easy-going innertube ride with the family. As you make your way from Appalachia to Big Stone, there are around three miles of Class III rapids to get your heart pumping, particularly when the water is up. Marked drops include Railroad Ledge, Big Ledge, Roaring Branch, Table Rock, and Slam Dunk.
From near Coeburn to Dungannon, solid whitewater awaits along the Guest River Gorge. While the Russell Fork might be one of the region’s most well-known hotspots for whitewater fun, the Guest features more rapids along a nearly 14-mile trek. A noted build-up from Class II to III progressively grows into a series of Class IV whitewater, followed by a notable Class V. Just like any good exercise, this river offers you a nice cooldown at the end, dropping it back down to Class II and III before spilling out into the lazy Clinch.
Need some experience? The Pound River is a great option for those still learning the ropes or tubers looking to enjoy a nice float. Paddlers have the option of putting in directly below the Flannagan Dam outflow for some mild Class I to II whitewater or dropping in below a nearby picnic area to paddle around on some moving flatwater. Bartlick Bridge offers another take-out opportunity for the inexperienced boater, looking to avoid whitewater. Controlled releases from the dam make this a calm, leisurely float you won’t want to miss. Yet, more exciting froth is just around the bend on the Russell Fork.
Russell Fork River
If you’re seeking heart-pounding technical rapids, you might already know of the seasonal dam releases that have drawn expert kayakers from around the world to the Russell Fork near Breaks Interstate Park. Particularly in the fall, weekend releases make this one not for the faint of heart or those lacking in experience. But don’t take our word for it. This ride might start off with some intermediate Class II to III rapids from Bartlick to Garden Hole, but Class IV to V are just a short distance away. The best part: the Russell Fork Gorge is located along the Grand Canyon of the South – Breaks Interstate Park. Lower it back down to Class III for the final three-mile push, hitting up rapids like the Meatgrinder and the Pinball.
A tributary of the Big Sandy, the Levisa River was an integral part of the earliest beginnings of the small town of Grundy. Like many communities in deep Southwestern Virginia, the waters of the Levisa provided the perfect avenue for the transportation of the town’s first major industry – logging. Today, you can follow the gentle flow of the Levisa toward Kentucky along that same flatwater path, taking in the beautiful scenes of wooden shorelines, native birds and other wildlife.