The Rivanna River, a designated Commonwealth of Virginia Scenic River, flows through Albemarle and Fluvanna Counties to the James River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Beginning in Charlottesville, the 38 mile Rivanna River Water Trail gives you the chance to explore this historic landscape by canoe or kayak. In the land that Thomas Jefferson once roamed, you can still view sites along the river with which he was associated. A water trail map is available from the Rivanna Conservation Society.
Please note that boating, canoeing, kayaking and other activities on rivers can be dangerous. Obtain a water trail map and navigational maps in advance, plan your trip, and follow all safety precautions.
Launch sites are open all day, spring through fall. Do not go on the river during flooding or high water.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
There are no fees for launch site use. A Rivanna River Water Trail may be downloaded online from the Rivanna Conservation Society.
The Rivanna River, the largest tributary to the upper James River, was named for Queen Anne, as it was the custom in early Virginia history to name streams for royalty. Its headwaters originate in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia, in both Albemarle and Greene counties. The river meanders through the City of Charlottesville and stretches south through Fluvanna County, joining with the James River at Columbia. The confluence of the North and South forks, just upstream from Darden Towe, forms the Rivanna’s mainstem, a total of 50 miles in length. The 766 square miles of watershed is home to a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species, including the rare and endangered James Spinymussel (Pleurobema collina). Remarkably, sixty-five percent of the Rivanna Watershed is forested, which helps retard pollution.
Historically, the banks of the Rivanna River were home to the Monacan Indian Tribe. And, with the establishment of the European settlements, the Rivanna became an essential resource for early agricultural activity. Thomas Jefferson enhanced the river’s usefulness by improving navigation, in large measure to accommodate the transport of wheat and tobacco from Monticello and other regional farms. For more on the Rivanna River’s history, please read Mr. Jefferson’s River: The Rivanna by Minnie Lee McGehee and William E. Trout III. (2001)
Paddle a canoe or kayak to view historic sites dating to the 18th century, view wildlife, go fishing, or just relax.
Be sure to consult a water trail guide, detailed maps and local conditions prior to any river trip! Follow all safety precautions.
Primarily Class I, however there are some drops considered to be in the high Class II or low Class III range. (Read more about the different levels of River Classifications)
Download printable enlargements of the various sections of the Rivanna River Water Trail map from the Rivanna Conservation Society.
There are 6 existing launch sites along the route. Launch sites provide parking and access to the river. Obtain a water trail map for details. Restrooms are not available at all launch sites or along the river; plan to use services in local communities or carry appropriate sanitary containers. Primitive camping is available at some designated sites along the route. Do not use private land without prior permission. Services and accommodations are available in several communities in the area.