Look at a map. Virginia boasts a significant amount of shoreline bordering tidal rivers, salty bays, and open ocean. These coastal waters provide a wealth of destinations for paddling Virginia, whether you are exploring immense and regal Chesapeake Bay, lower tidal Rappahannock River, or Parkers Creek winding through the Eastern Shore. In addition, there’s Back Bay, wild water near Virginia Beach.
Virginia’s coast offers paddling destinations of all levels of difficulties, whether you are traversing open waters, rivers or small creeks. Wildlife is a constant presence, as is scenic beauty. And if you don’t have your own watercraft, outfitters operate in much of Virginia’s coastal region, making rentals and shuttles easy. Furthermore, if you want to explore but need a little help, guided trips are offered throughout the region.
Read on and find your Virginia coastal paddling destination.
–BLACKWATER CREEK –
Nearest Town: Chesapeake
The Paddle: Blackwater Creek, North Landing River
Distance: 4-10 miles
Blackwater Creek is a tributary of North Landing River, in far southeast Virginia. Launch your craft at iconic Blackwater Trading Post, a general store serving BBQ and featuring occasional live music. Head downstream, pass a couple of houses then it’s nothing but you and nature on the marsh-bordered waterway. Small coves beckon. Paddle about 2.7 miles down to bigger North Landing River. If you head downstream it’s 1.5 more miles to Minden Park, on the east bank and a good stopping/turnaround point. Or you can head upstream from Blackwater Trading Post up a narrowing waterway bordered with cypress trees for a more intimate paddling experience. From the Blackwater Trading Post heading upstream you go about 2 miles one way before the Blackwater Creek gets really small, then have to turn around, making a 4 mile adventure.
Nearest Town: Owens
The Paddle: Accokeek Creek, Potomac Creek, Potomac River
Distance: 3-8 miles
Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve, on the banks of the tidal Potomac River, is becoming one of the more popular Virginia state natural areas (The hiking trail system was dedicated in April 2017). The park already had an ADA accessible dock and kayak ramp, allowing you to embark by canoe or kayak into the preserve. It’s a short carry from the parking area on Brooks Road to the dock and ramp on Accokeek Creek, a tributary of Potomac Creek, in turn a tributary of the Potomac River. Paddle through the marshes of the preserve downstream. After 3 miles open onto tidal Potomac Creek near Crow’s Nest Point. To your left it is about a half-mile to the big Potomac River. Or head upstream on Potomac Creek if the winds are howling. You could make an 8-mile one-way trip by heading out to the Potomac River then paddling upriver, ending at Aquia Landing Park, another paddler’s jumping off point.
Nearest Town:SandbridgeThe Paddle: North Bay, Shipps Bay, Back Bay
Distance: 4-10 miles
Explore greater Back Bay, bordered by maritime forests and marshes. Route choices are varied. However, Little Island Park, a Virginia Beach city park astride the Atlantic, is the best jumping off point. Leave the park and launch into Back Bay and explore the tidal estuary. Discover islands and channels while spy glassing for bird life. Circle Little Island or visit Long Island. Paddle to the Horn Point canoe/kayak launch at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and stretch your legs or explore some of the activities on land at Back Bay. Be apprised there is an entrance fee required to land at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You can head due west from Little Island and explore the nest of isles and channels over there. It’s about 5 miles one way to False Cape State Park, making for a longer there-and-back paddle unless you are planning to camp there overnight, reservations are required. Kayak rental from Back Bay Getaways.
Nearest Town: Jamestown
The Paddle: Powhatan Creek, Back River, James River
Distance: 2-12 miles
Powhatan Creek is located next to Jamestown, where the first official Thanksgiving took place in North America, reinforcing Virginia as the birthplace of our nation. And you can not only paddle nearby Jamestown, but you can actually circle the island where Jamestown Colony once stood. Powhatan Creek is a tributary of the James River in its lower tidal reaches. You can start your paddle at James City County Marina, then paddle up three miles to Powhatan Creek Park. Serpentine Powhatan Creek also has small coves begging exploration. This upper segment narrows then meets Jamestown Road and the ramp at Powhatan Creek Park. Alternatively, you can start at James City County Marina and paddle down through Sandy Bay, reaching the James River after a mile, from here circle historic Jamestown Island, an 8-mile loop paddle using Back River, even exploring the tidal creek winding into the island. This historical paddle is appropriately part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail.
Nearest Town: Chincoteague
The Paddle: Chincoteague Inlet, Toms Cove, Atlantic Ocean
The community of Chincoteague is nestled amid small tidal islands and creeks, along with larger bays and coves, with the Atlantic Oceana not far away. The cool thing about paddling around here is that most of the adjacent islands and shores are unpopulated and in a natural state, making for eye-appealing back to nature adventures. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore keep the beaches, marshes and shores havens for birds and other creatures. A fun paddle leaves Captain Bobs Marina on the south side of Chincoteague Island. Head south and then east, over toward Toms Cove. Stay along the shore then come to the backside of the beach at Assateague Island. Hop out and walk the shore, then stop by the historic Assateague Coast Guard Station before heading back for a 10-mile paddle. Numerous other routes are available in the Chincoteague area, as are guided paddles.
Chincoteague Natural History Association Wildlife Tours
–EASTERN SHORE OF VIRGINIA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE–
Nearest Town: Cape Charles
The Paddle: Virginia Inside Passage, Long Point Channel, creeks
Distance: 6 mile loop, can be longer or shorter
This paddle explores waters of the lowermost Eastern Shore where it meets Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. These waters around Cape Charles mark the beginning of the 100-mile Virginia Seaside Water Trail, a series of linked paddling routes heading up the east side of the Eastern Shore, linking Cape Charles to Chincoteague. A tidal area with currents, paddlers need to be on guard. However, the scenery is amazing as you circle islands just to your south, including Raccoon Island, Skidmore Island. Explore smaller creeks. You can peer south into the Atlantic Ocean and west to Chesapeake Bay. It is a 6 mile trip if you circle both Skidmore Island and Raccoon Island. Experienced paddlers could head for the opening into the Atlantic but consider the winds and tides.
Nearest Town: Mathews
The Paddle: Davis Creek, Mobjack Bay, Chesapeake Bay
Distance: 8 miles there and back
This partly open water paddling adventure uses part of the New Point Comfort Trail, one of 5 designated paddling routes covering over 90 miles of paddling pleasure throughout Mathews County, overlooking Chesapeake Bay, due east of Richmond and north of Hampton. Mathews County covers but 87 square miles of land yet has over 200 miles of shoreline. This paddling adventure explores big water at the mouth of Mobjack Bay on the New Point Comfort Trail, located in southernmost Mathews County. Start the paddle at Davis Creek Public Landing, then open onto Mobjack Bay (Watch the wind, especially in the afternoon) and head southeast along the irregular shoreline. Reach Chesapeake Bay and the New Point Comfort Lighthouse, a sight to behold just off sandy New Point Comfort. Built in 1804, the lighthouse is no longer active, yet still serves as a historic beacon of beauty for visitors to Mathews County. Makes an 8-mile there-and-back trip. Furthermore, you can visit New Point Comfort Natural Area Preserve, with its short nature trail and boardwalk, complementing the paddling trip.
Nearest Town: Parksley
The Paddle: Parkers Creek, Metompkin Bay, Wire Passage, Gargatha Bay
Distance: 10 miles, with shorter options
Part of the Virginia Water Seaside Trail, this paddle has options for you to head into open bays and land on the back side of a barrier island, circle through bays and connecting tidal creeks, or simply make a quiet and easy paddle up a small tidal creek – your option. Launch at quiet and remote Parkers Creek ramp, avoiding powerboat and commercial fisherman traffic. If you head upstream Parkers Creek divides, either way is fine. You’ll probably end up exploring both arms if looking for a quiet, simple paddle or avoiding the winds. Downstream paddlers will trace widening Parkers Creek, which quickly opens into Metompkin Bay, a shallow inlet lying between you and the Metompkin Islands, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Many paddlers head north into Metompkin Bay, entering tidal creeks connecting to Gargatha Bay. Loop back to Metompkin Bay through tidal marshes using the tidal creeks, making about a 10-mile circuit paddle.
Nearest Town: Toano
The Paddle: Taskinas Creek, York River
Distance: 2-12 miles
Paddlers will find York River State Park a jewel. You can tool around on the small park lake -- where canoes and kayaks are for rent -- for a warm up, but most paddlers hit tidal Taskinas Creek or the tidal York River. Taskinas Creek is a winding marsh-bordered tributary of the York River. Head up the creek about a mile from the state park visitor center then it divides into two smaller creeks, perfect for intimate exploration. Try to work the tides in your favor. Call ahead at the park office for tidal info. Or you can head downstream to enter the York River. You can make a short paddle on the big river from the visitor center to Croaker Landing, the park’s full-fledged boat ramp. However, most paddlers stroke their boats downstream to small beaches on the south shore where they hunt for fossils. It is 6 miles one way along the south shore to Riverview Overlook, a good place to stop, with a little beach, and you are still on York River State Park land. Give yourself ample time to backtrack.
Nearest Town: Warsaw
The Paddle: Mulberry Creek, Rappahannock River, Deep Creek
Distance: 6 miles
This paddle takes place on lower tidal Rappahannock and tidal streams feeding it. Start at Belle Isle State Park, a fine Virginia destination on the north shore of the Rappahannock. They have a fine little canoe/kayak launch, where they also conveniently rent canoes and kayaks. From here you can explore Mulberry Creek, following it out to the wide Rappahannock, which seems more lake than river when you gaze across its shores. Stop at the small beach on Brewers Point, where you can overnight camp at a hike-in/boat-in camp, part of the state park. Continue along the Rappahannock, where you’ll find forests, wetlands and wildlife on the state park shoreline. It’s about 3 miles one way to the park boat ramp on Deep Creek, making a 6-mile there-and-back trip. Extend your trip by exploring additional inlets such as Porpoise Creek.