With such amazing day forecasted this past Sunday, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing besides loading up the canoe and hitting the river.
There are some pretty good options close to Bedford, Virginia for low key whitewater and the James River is one of my top picks. From home, it's about 40 min. one way to a section of the James commonly referred to by the boating community as Balcony Falls - named after a class III rapid just two miles from the boat launch in Glasgow, Virginia. From the pictures we'll share, you'll see why this section of running water is such a great destination.
It's pretty tricky start once you put on the river and your options are limited. At most water levels, there's really only one line to run. I've seen people attempt other lines but I always aim for the dicey middle section; there's less room for error.
As the Maury and James Rivers converge, the canyon opens up to some amazing views. This is a pretty safe section to prop up your feet, toast to a beautiful day and let your pup take a swim.
Within the first mile, the river starts to drop slowly as you descend into the canyon. A few ledges and some fun wave trains lead up to a large pool of water just before Balcony Falls.
The Falls are pretty straight forward and there are several places to pull off to plan your line. About 3/4 of the river diverts to Balcony Falls and its often deep enough at low river levels to find a safe route.
There's a nice beach on river right that's often home to the Blue Ridge River Runners but I typically opt to run Balcony and eddy out on the rock beaches at the base of the Falls. Some of the better views are seen from the bottom of Balcony as tubers and beginners attempt their first descents.
After Balcony, there's several small ledges and a few fun rapids before reaching Jump Rock. As its name suggests, many river runners stop here to enjoy the 15' drop into the James.
As many times as I've floated Balcony Falls, I've typically packed up and paddled straight through to the take out without stopping; yesterday was an exception. Barley and I picked a rock island just before the last rapid to park and visit with the river's guest as they floated by.
The part of the river most don't look forward to is the last 2 miles. At this point, the river begins to back up and pool before Snowden Dam. This lengthy stretch of flat water is my closure; it's an opportunity to reflect on the day's adventures and plan future stops for my next float.
To learn more about this float and plan your next Appalachian float adventure, visit American Whitewater.
And special thanks to the Blue Ridge River Runners for helping me wrangle up my gear at the take-out. I look forward to seeing this MSO sticker on my next run down Balcony Falls.