Virginia is blessed with paddling waters aplenty -- slow moving blackwater streams drifting into the Atlantic coastal plain, tidal waters along the Atlantic Ocean, proud Piedmont waterways rolling through the heart of the Old Dominion and crystalline mountain streams happily splashing through the highlands.

When enjoying Virginia’s rivers and lakes, whether floating with the current or advancing by the stroke of a paddle, you fluidly move over water through eye pleasing surroundings, gliding atop waters far flung from our land-based lives.

CN10021803V_004.TIFphoto credit: Bill Crabtree, Jr.

Paddling a variety of waters is but one of the many joys for Virginia family floaters. Moreover, the pleasures of family floating can be as simple as taking your child on a small lake to spot dragonflies, or simply exercising the notion of propelling a canoe or kayak from here to there. Or to feel the sun’s warmth overhead while waving back at friends on shore. Simply stated, family floating gets you on the water to enjoy aquatic adventures as diverse as the waterways offered in Virginia.

Here are some fantastic Virginia family floats where you can create your own “Virginia is for Outdoor Lovers” paddling experience.


Where: Woodbridge

The Float: Greater Pohick Bay

Distance/Time: Varies, put-in and takeout are the same

Outfitter: Pohick Bay Regional Park

Pohick Bay is a great place for families to explore the greater tidal Potomac River. Rent canoes, kayaks or standup paddleboards and ply the south shore of Pohick Bay. Cruise along the shores of Pohick Bay Regional Park to the mouth of Pohick Creek, with its channel entering the bay. Circle around the north part of Pohick Bay before returning to the park, which has its own launch for non-motorized boats. Add other activities to your adventure, from hiking to picnicking to nature study at this 1,000 acre-preserve.

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Where: Martinsville

The Float: Philpott Dam to Bassett Access

Distance/Time: 6.5 miles, 2-4 hours

Outfitter: Smith River Outfitters

Cool down on the hottest summer day, paddling the Smith River as it flows 45 degrees cold from the base of Philpott Dam. A layer of fog forms above the river as a result. Trout fishermen will be floating the river along with family paddlers. Rent a kayak, canoe or even a raft. Rapids get a little more exciting when the river rises from generation at Philpott Dam. The float is much slower when Philpott Dam is not generating, when they are releasing much less water. Trout fishermen will be seen trying their hand on the Smith River.

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MR16040703V_020.TIFphoto credit: Sam Dean, @sdeanphotos

Where: Salem

The Float: Salem’s Rotary Park to Roanoke Mountain Adventures in Roanoke

Distance/Time: 5.5 miles, 3-4 hours

Outfitter: Roanoke Mountain Adventures

This quick and easy trip starts at Salem’s Rotary Park and ends at the outfitter’s base, where your vehicle awaits. Float the Roanoke River through part of its official Blueway section. Paddle through the town of Salem, bordered by small parks, and along the Roanoke River Greenway, which offers bicycling and walking opportunities. Float into the shadow of Mill Mountain on fun Class I riffles punctuated by meandering pools. Convenient to additional attractions in Salem and Roanoke.

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MR20051303P_165.JPGphoto credit: Shannon Terry

Where: Buchanan

The Float: Horseshoe Bend to Buchanan

Distance/Time: 9 miles, 3-4 hours

Outfitter: Twin River Outfitters

Start this trip up at Horseshoe Bend, then navigate almost all Class I rapids through a section of designated Virginia State Scenic River. The only moderately challenging water is Class II, Richie’s Falls, with a name that sounds scarier than it is in reality. Most of the float is a relaxing trip through mountain scenery and rural farm country.

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photo credit: Cameron Davidson

Where: Page County

The Float: Bixlers Bridge to Bealers Ferry

Distance/Time: 8 miles, 3-4 hours

Outfitters: Shenandoah River Outfitters, Front Royal Outdoors, Appalachian Adventures

The float from Bixler's Bridge to Bealer's Ferry is A Class I paddling experience doable by novice paddlers. Take your kayak, tube, or canoe and float a scenic stream through bucolic farm country framed by the Appalachians. Navigate gurgling but friendly rapids and little ledges. Look for wildlife in the morning and evening, and stop for a swim during the heat of the day.

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Photo Credit: Sean Carr

Where: Manassas

The Float: Occoquan Reservoir

Distance/Time: Varies

Outfitter: Fountainhead Regional Park

Looking for a fun paddle near D.C. that everyone in the family can do? Explore a long, serene lake, where the north shore is entirely parkland, carved with intimate wooded coves. Occoquan Reservoir, a 2,100-acre impoundment created to supply Fairfax County with water, doubles as a paddling spot close to all the D.C. has to offer. Your embarkation point is vast Fountainhead Regional Park, where you can rent canoes or kayaks; hike and picnic, too. The lake is part of the greater Occoquan Water Trail.

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CB15060407V_037.JPGWhere: Aylett

The Float: Zoar State Forest to Aylett

Distance/Time: 5 miles, 3 hours

Outfitter: Mattaponi Canoe & Kayak

Paddle the tree-lined Mattaponi River, convenient to Richmond, starting at preserved Zoar State Forest. Float downstream as the Mattaponi morphs from freshwater river to tidally influenced waterway, allowing you to observe the change in ecotones on the adjacent shoreline. Watch for wildlife. End your trip in historic Aylett. Along the way, take a swim or stop along an alluring sandbar.

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HR20110203V_044.TIFphoto credit: Kyle LaFerriere,

Where: Courtland

The Float: Courtland to Cypress Bridge Road

Distance/Time: 4.5 miles, 3.0 hours

Outfitter: Blackwater Outfitters

Float and paddle the gentle Nottoway River from Courtland to Cypress Bridge. Stop on sandbars at places like Devils Bend and look for wildlife tracks, or have a picnic, or swim. Cypress and tupelo trees line the natural shoreline from put-in to takeout. Part of the paddle abuts Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve.

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Where: Virginia Beach

The Float: Stumpy Lake

Distance/Time: Varies

Outfitter: Tula Paddle Sports

Take this excellent family floating opportunity at Stumpy Lake Natural Area, near the main attractions of Virginia Beach. Rent a canoe or kayak, gracefully entering the water on a specially designed dock, then explore the no-motors allowed lake, ringed in regal cypress trees. Wander the lake to your heart’s content, spying for wading birds, or feasting on this park’s nature accessible for both tourists and residents of Virginia Beach.

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HR16121303V_143.TIFphoto credit: Sam Dean, @sdeanphotos

Where: Sandbridge

The Float: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Distance/Time: Varies, put-in and takeout are the same

Outfitter: Tula Paddle Sports

Start at Little Island Park, a Virginia Beach city park astride the Atlantic. Leave the park and launch into Back Bay and explore this tidal estuary dotted with islands and channels. Wildlife is rich. Circle Little Island or visit Long Island. Paddle to the Horn Point canoe/kayak launch at Back Bay NWR and stretch your legs or explore some of the activities on land at Back Bay (entrance fee required to land at Back Bay NWR).

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