On the water in Richmond: Exploring the James River

By: Giverny Tattersfield

July 29, 2015

The James River, which flows through Richmond, Virginia, is a dream for anyone who loves getting out on the water. With conditions ranging from flat water to white, and scenery that changes from urban to wild as you wind your way along the river, there’s plenty for adrenaline junkies, nature lovers, and adventurous tourists to enjoy. Fancy testing your mettle on the white water runs? Take a look at our guide to the best on-the-water activities on the James River.

Exploring the James River
Enjoy the urban scenery as you float along the James River © Josh Rinehults/iStock/Thinkstock

White water rafting


Love an adrenaline rush? Then tackling the Falls of the James – a seven mile stretch of incredible white water – in the James River Park System is for you. The James River can be roughly divided into two sections when it comes to rafting: Upper and Lower. For beginners embarking on their first white water adventure, the calmer rapids (Class I and II) of the Upper River area will provide the perfect introduction (and great scenery, too). The Lower River offers Class I to IV rapids, making it a great spot for rafting pros and beginners alike. Many tour operators, like River City Adventure, can tailor the trip to suit your skills, as well as provide everything you’ll need, so all you need to do is strap yourself into a lifejacket and jump on board.

Exploring the James River

Richmond Canal Walk © Josh Rinehults/iStock/Thinkstock


Canal cruises


Taking in the James River and Richmond’s charming canals, a historic cruise with Richmond Canal Cruises is a great way to learn about the city. Here’s your first historical titbit: the canal system in Richmond was the brainchild of none other than founding father George Washington, who wanted to connect the city’s harbours and markets. Of course, if you’re feeling flush, you can also charter a private canal cruise with dining and cocktails for a stylish on-the-water adventure in “River City”.

Exploring the James River
Take a kayaking tour along the James River with Riverside Outfitters © Riverside Outfitters

Kayaking and canoeing


Tackling rapids against a city backdrop is a wonderfully unusual experience, best enjoyed in a kayak or canoe. When it comes to getting out on the water, Riverside Outfitters is a great choice – whether you want to rent a kayak or canoe and make your own way, or take one of their guided tours. You can even take an inflatable kayak trip (known as a “Ducky”) down the James River with River City Adventure; a great option when the water level is low, the Duckies can reach areas the rafts can’t.

Exploring the James River
Look out for Bald Eagles on a guided wildlife tour © mlharing/iStock/Thinkstock

Guided Tours


If your interest in the James River lies more in learning about it than hurtling down it, opt for a guided tour with Discover the James. Ranging from on-the-water excursions dedicated to spotting Bald Eagles or Ospreys to more general tours on the area’s wildlife (from Blue Herons to deer) and history, there’s sure to be something for every interest.

Exploring the James River
Tubing is one of the most popular activites on the James River © Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock



Social and scenic, tubing on the James River (an activity where you sit in a giant rubber ring and either float or bob down the gentler rapids) is a popular pastime among locals and visitors alike during the hot summer months. If you plan on grabbing your tube and going for a ride, the area around Pony Pasture – and the run of rapids downstream from there – is always a great place to start. Otherwise, you can join guided tubing trips with companies like River City Adventure and James River Reeling & Rafting, who will provide you with everything you’ll need.


Our partnership with Delta connects you with a range of destinations across the United States, making it easier to book flights to Richmond and see the James River for yourself.


Have you been on any adventures on the James River during your stay in Richmond? What did you do? Tell us in the comments below.


Written by Giverny Tattersfield


Giverny Tattersfield

A lover of food, fun, and following her feet, Giv is a travel and food writer currently living and working in London. More than likely to be found planning her next trip/meal or with her nose in a book… You can follow her on Twitter @GivernyT.

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