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The James River is the southernmost major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, offering a wide range of recreational experiences. Flowing from the west, the James passes through Richmond and joins the Bay near Norfolk, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. With abundant natural fisheries and "breadbasket" marshes, the James River at the time of Captain John Smith's voyages supported eleven Algonquian-speaking groups, with some population estimates as high as 20,000. In May of 1607, the English arrived at a point up the river beyond Hog Island and established the first permanent English settlement: Jamestown. A hastily built palisade protected the English from both Spanish and Powhatan attacks. Four yeas later, another group of English colonists settled along the historic James River at Henricus.
Please note that boating, canoeing, kayaking and other activities on rivers can be dangerous. Obtain a local map in advance, plan your trip, and follow all safety precautions.
Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate such trails. The Chesapeake Conservancy, National Park Service, and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials.
The formal water trail access points are open seven days a week year round. Due to water and air temperatures associated with a pleasant river experience most paddlers only access the water trail from April to October.
There are no fees for launch site use.
Under the sponsorship of many organizations, activities along the James include: photography, fishing, whitewater kayaking classes, ecology field trips, music and art festivals, clean-ups, canal cruises, guided nature trips, Civil War history programs, sunset river tours, James River Batteau Festival, river camp for children, eagle and heron observation, wheelchair birding, and family rafting.
The Lower James River Water Trail extends from the City of Richmond to the mouth of the James River in Hampton Roads with many public access points on both sides of the river.
The English settlers who sailed up the James River in 1607 were employees of the London-based Virginia Company, chartered by King James I. Investors in the company financed the journey.
All of the Jamestown leaders, including Captain John Smith, were investors in and employees of the Virginia Company.
The colonists’ job was to find gold or silver and a water shortcut to Asia, which had a lucrative trading market. The colonists were also instructed to cultivate land for crops and establish friendly relations with the native people.
The Virginia Company sent supply ships to Jamestown and expected returning ships to be loaded with valuable commodities.