We wanted to get one more fall canoe trip in before cold weather set in . I had been reading about different trips in Southwest Virginia in the book CLASSIC VIRGINIA RIVERS by Ed Grove (which I highly recommend). After looking at the river flow charts, we decided on a stretch or the Clinch River between St. Paul and Carfax . USGS water flow tables showed a water level at the closest gauge which is Cleveland Va. at 1.3 feet and a flow of 70 cfs which is low, but at least it was better than most rivers in the area due to the severe drought we have been going through.
I would recommend a gauge height of 1.8 feet or higher to minimize the rocky hangups we incurred in a few places. The rocks in this river are very sharp and can really put some digs into a canoe. Ed Grove in his book rates all the rapids at class 1 and 2 with one class 3 that has a 4 foot drop. Ed lists this class 3 at one mile down from the St Paul launch, but it is more like 3 miles below St Paul. The river does a big hair pin turn and the class 3 is right in the middle of the turn and yes, during high water it can be a 4 to a 5 foot drop.
There were 5 or more one or two foot drops and rock ledges before you get to the big one and about 4 or 5 after you get though that one before you get to the take out on Rt 657 off of Hwy 58 a few miles west of St Paul. This is a nice 8 mile trip on the river and other than the one Class 3 there is one more bad rapid about 4 miles on down the river and it is one of the last rapids before the takeout. This last bad one if there is enough water might not be so bad, but we portaged it as the water flow was not enough to run the left side, and the right side had a possible pinning rock that you had to go in under. I didn't like the looks of it at all. Both of the bad rapids you have plenty of warning as you can hear the roar of the water. Get out and walk down the side of the river and scout these two rapids.
This stretch of river is very remote with the only sign of civilization that you see along is the railroad track and a couple of houses. The scenery is very nice especially in the fall. Plenty of ducks and herons and other wildlife to be seen, along with several nice size fish!
The takeout point at Carfax is a point where the road 657 comes close to the railroad tracks and the river. We parked at a wide place beside the tracks which worked out fine, but we had trouble getting the canoe carried up the steep railroad grade to get back to the car, but other than this, it was a fair takeout point. There is other takeout points a few miles on down near Dungannon Va or Fort Blackamore Va to make this a much longer trip.
A good place to launch at the St Paul industrial park boat launch.
US 58 to St Paul, Virginia to the industrial park boat launch
"Classic Virginia River" by Ed Grove
Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer - Delorme