Difficulty II+(III)
Length 5 Miles
Gauge JAMES RIVER AT BUCHANAN, VA
Flow Range 500 - 25000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 2 days ago 561 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 01/30/2019 9:09 pm

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.

Rapid Descriptions

Put-In

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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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 - 0.02

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.

Confluence of the James and Maury Rivers

Class - Mile - 0.05
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First Ledge

Class - I Mile - 0.2

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

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
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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

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
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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
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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
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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
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

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
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
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Before the flatwater starts paddlers will encounter one final ledge. Most run right of center.

USFS Boat Ramp

Class - N/A Mile - 5
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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.

Comments

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Justin E Abel
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7 years ago

There also a great little launch boof line at Balcony Falls on far river left. I've seen it there at 4.3ft. It's great at 5ft! Shallow on the landing, so watch yourself.

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n/a
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7 years ago

the falls is a really good run it is really fun for kids to MY KIDS LOVE IT!! but just like any river you run it has its dangers so keep an eye out for the kids and please DO NOT LITTER IN THE RIVER!!!! that is ruining the beauty of it all the point is to go on a thrilling ride as well as enjoy the view of the river but you cant do that with empty beer cans and wrappers flaoting around!!! so try to you know.... keep it clean and when you go please if you see somthing that is lying there PICK IT UP!!!

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n/a
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7 years ago

Thanks to all who do the Balcony Falls run and help keep it clean. I saw some open boaters getting trash out of the water to

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Barb Franko
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8 years ago

Ran this section on Saturday. There are now two downed trees over the river right Confluence rapid (where the Maury meets the James). Suggest NOT running this rapid - use the alternative middle of the river route, a little bumpy, but much safer. Above all, Scout this rapid!

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n/a
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8 years ago

a group of boy scouts recently did a river cleanup. whew who knew. bet ya thought they were only good for losing gjngjhggear and building ampletheaters.

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Russell Bailey
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9 years ago

Ran 9/18/2010. In family canoe with 2 kids. Level 2.1 ft. Low but runnable - a few scrapes but adequate water all places except for the runout of the initial drop from the Maury into the James. Beautiful run - we'll go back. Saw probably 20 other boats on water.

Gage Descriptions

This gauge is well upstream of the actual run, but is still a great indicator for levels on this run. The Minimum and Maximum levels are rough guidelines because the Maury is adding quite a bit to the volume at the put-in. It is such a large river it really is never too low to run, but for whitewater paddlers it is much more fun at levels over 4 feet. The local canoe livery will not put trips on over 6 feet, but for many folks thats when the run is the most fun.

Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2016-06-05 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2006-06-30 High Fatality One Boat Trip Read More

Alerts

   

News

article main photo

Attention Virginia Boaters!

4/24/2003
Jason Robertson

During the high waters of Spring 2003, there has been a noticeable increase in reported confrontations between boaters and property owners in Virginia. Please remember to be respectful and courteous to property owners; do not trespass; and avoid confrontation in order to preserve access in the future.
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Adam Goshorn

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Rob

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1191743 11/18/05 Adam Goshorn n/a
1201466 07/10/12 Rob Removed two dead links.
1211043 01/30/19 Rob updated image position