5 Excellent Places for Beginners to Kayak in Virginia

5 Excellent Places for Beginners to Kayak in Virginia

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Virginia’s natural splendor is well known throughout the country. With natural wonders like the Great Dismal Swamp in our backyard, it’s no wonder that people come from all over to get closer to nature. Kayaking allows visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal and see nature from a different, often more intimate vantage point. If you have limited experience, its recommended to take a few lessons before your first adventure. Below you’ll find five great spots for beginners to pick up kayaking and discover Virginia’s beauty for themselves.  

1. Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Beginners may not want to attempt to cross the entire Great Dismal Swamp on their first outing, as it requires a three-mile trip through a Feeder Ditch before getting into the Swamp proper. The Swamp contains black bear, bobcats, beavers, river otters, hundreds of different bird species, and over 70 different butterfly species. The water itself is flat, which means you won’t have to contend with crazy waves or rocking back and forth. As long as your endurance is up, the Great Dismal Swamp is perfect to introduce a beginner to the wonders of nature as seen from a kayak.

2. Smith River

The Smith River in Henry County is a perfect spot for beginner to intermediate kayakers. The flow of the water can be quite variable, ranging from relatively easy paddling to more challenging waters, so be sure you know exactly what you're in for before you go. Either way, paddlers will enjoy the natural wonders that surround the Smith River. Smith River Outfitters provide kayak and canoe rentals, as well as guides to help beginners along. 

3. Shenandoah River

With its incredible scenic views, access to wildlife, and mostly calm water, the Shenandoah River couldn’t be better for novice kayakers. The trail from the South Fork is manageable and it is recommended you go during spring or risk shallow water, requiring you to tube a portion of the route instead of kayak. Even so, the Shenandoah River provides breathtaking views of the valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, making for a memorable trip.

4. James River

The James River provides a family-friendly, safe location to introduce kayaking to the kids. While you could theoretically kayak at any number of points along the river, starting in Scottsville and possibly joining a Reeling and Rafting class might be the best way to ensure a successful first outing. Consider the scenic route from Hatton Ferry to Scottsville, which takes around four hours and provides new kayakers with easy water to get their sea legs.

5. Back Bay, Virginia Beach, VA

When visitors come to Virginia Beach, they might not immediately think of kayaking as an outdoor activity. But kayaking in Back Bay Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful way to acquaint oneself with the diversity of Virginia Beach’s ecosystem and natural beauty. Take a day away from the beach to paddle along this beginner-friendly route. If you’re lucky, you might spot any number of owls, great blue herons, turtles, snakes, and whitetail deer along the path.