James - 2. Balcony Falls Run

James, Virginia, US


2. Balcony Falls Run (Glasgow to Snowdon)

Usual Difficulty II+(III) (for normal flows)
Length 5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 11 fpm

Balcony Falls

Balcony Falls
Photo @ 5500

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02019500 2.50 - 12.00 ft II+(III) 00h22m 2.67 ft (running)

River Description

With a huge watershed providing year round boatable levels this is THE run for beginner and intermediate paddlers in VA. While people come from all over to paddle this run, during the week you could have the river to yourself. On the weekends it can get pretty crowded, but when the level is good (over 4') or after the weather turns cold most of the recreational canoers and fisherman clear out. All in all, this very fun run is mostly class 2 with an easy class three at Balcony Falls. It is a great run for instructing beginners and has enough play (at levels over 4 feet) to keep intermediate paddlers interested as well.

Directions to Put-in: From Roanoke: Take I-81 North to the exit 175, Natural Bridge, VA exit. Take a right off of the ramp and take a left on Rt 11. Follow Rt 11 a couple of miles until you get to the Natural Bridge Hotel. Take that Right (follow signs to Glasgow, Rt 130). Once you arrive in Glasgow look for a BP Convenience Store on Rt 130. The put-in is across the street from that store which is at the mouth of the Maury River. Look for the Boat Landing signs

Directions to take-out: From the BP station stay on Rt 130 (over the Maury River) until you come to a fork in the road, take a right at the fork (Rt 501). Go over the mountain (several roadside spots to see down the gorge) until you see the James at road level. There are several takeout options here, but the politically correct takeout is at the public boat ramp in Snowden (before the dam) on the left side of the road.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-07-10 11:21:14


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0ConfluenceII+Putin Access Portage Photo
0.1Confluence of the James and Maury RiversAccess
0.2First LedgeIPlayspot Photo
0.9White RocksIIPlayspot Photo
1.6Big Cove LedgesIIPlayspot
1.9Balcony FallsIIIPlayspot Photo
2.0Rock GardenII
2.4The Garden HoleIIPlayspot
2.6Long Shore Ledge (a.k.a. The Party Wave)IIPlayspot
2.7Little BalconyII+Photo
2.8Jump RockIIPlayspot Photo Video
2.9The DogIIPlayspot Photo
3.1Last LedgeII
5.0USFS Boat RampN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Put-In (Class N/A)

The road to the put-in dead-ends at a gravel parking area on the Maury River, just upstream of a railroad trestle which lies between the put-in and the confluence of the James and Maury Rivers. There is a gravel boat ramp that can be used to access the river. Some choose to seal launch off the grassy bank to the left of the ramp.

Confluence (Class II+, Mile 0.0)

Adam Goshorn exits Confluence and enters a fog covered James River

Adam Goshorn exits Confluence and enters a fog covered James River
Photo of Adam Goshorn by Hank Goshorn taken 2002 @ Medium-Low

The first rapid after the put-in is actually on the Maury River just prior to joining the James. The typical line is down a tight slot right of center. Due to its reputation for flipping many beginners, some choose to walk down the right bank past this rapid to put-in directly onto the James River.

First Ledge (Class I, Mile 0.2)

First Wave

First Wave
Photo of Wave below Confluence by S.King @ 5500

After the confluence of the James and Maury Rivers, the first ledge forms a small glassy wave in channel left of center. At some higher levels the ledge can form surfable waves just right of center as well.

White Rocks (Class II, Mile 0.9)


Photo by S.King @ 5500

An island composed of light colored sandstone boulders gives this rapid its name. The island splitting the river provids various routes and playspots on either side. At levels over 4 feet the river right contains a hole that is great for left spins and low angle cartwheels. This spot gets better as the water rises until it washes out somewhere over 7 feet.

Big Cove Ledges (Class II, Mile 1.6)

After White Rocks and prior to reaching Balcony Falls, the small tributary Big Cove Branch enters on the river right. Paddlers encounter a river wide series of ledges named for this creek. While this ledge series had endless possible routes, the best play features are located on far river left.

Balcony Falls (Class III, Mile 1.9)

Typical summer scene and level at Balcony Falls, James River, VA

Typical summer scene and level at Balcony Falls, James River, VA
Photo by Hank Goshorn taken ~1998 @ Low

The mountains come together forming the largest constriction on the run with a large sandstone island in the center of the river. The normal line is down the larger channel, left of the island, starting center, driving left, and ending in the large eddy on river left. Other more technical lines exist through the rocks further left or going right of the island. There is also a channel against the river right bank to sneak the whole rapid.

Rock Garden (Class II, Mile 2.0)

After Balcony Falls paddlers enter The Rock Garden, which is exactly what it's name indicates. There is no exact line, but to access the play spots near the end, start left at the top then work all the way to river right.

The Garden Hole (Class II, Mile 2.4)

After working from left to right in the Rock Garden, paddlers can catch a ride on a nice green wave with two distinct breaks. A play feature that is easiest to catch on the fly, it is also possible to get multiple rides using the river right eddy for access. This feature is good at levels of 4-6 feet.

Long Shore Ledge (a.k.a. The Party Wave) (Class II, Mile 2.6)

Just above Little Balcony, when the river is up in the 5-7 foot range, a great surf wave spans about 40 feet on the right. When it is in it's lots of fun, providing good surfing for as many people as want to join in.

Little Balcony (Class II+, Mile 2.7)

Jump Rock

Jump Rock
Photo of Jump Rock by S.King @ 5500

Little Balcony is a ledge series that marks the end of the rock gardens found between Balcony Falls and Jump Rock. Many lines exist through this rapid, but the most popular is to go just right or just left of a large boulder in the center of the river.

Jump Rock (Class II, Mile 2.8)
Click Here For Video

Panarama of Jump Rock and Seal Launching Rock on the James River, VA

Panarama of Jump Rock and Seal Launching Rock on the James River, VA

Just below Little Balcony is a popular swimming area on far river right. At higher flows a good wave forms just left of the largest boulders. Check out the video to see some sweet looping action from 8.5'.

The Dog (Class II, Mile 2.9)

Adam Goshorn surfs the Dog on the James River, VA

Adam Goshorn surfs the Dog on the James River, VA
Photo of Adam Goshorn by Herb Crimp taken 04/15/03 @ unknown

This playspot is found next to an island on river right shortly after Jump Rock. At the right levels it's great for right and left spins and low angle cartwheels. It starts to come in over 4' and is best between 4.5' and 7'.

Last Ledge (Class II, Mile 3.1)
Before the flatwater starts paddlers will encounter one final ledge. Most run right of center.

USFS Boat Ramp (Class N/A, Mile 5.0)

The official take-out is a boat ramp located in the mouth of Rocky Row Run, a small creek that flows in above Snowden Dam. To access the take-out paddlers must paddle into the mouth of the creek and pass under US 501/130.

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