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Elizabeth River in Virginia

Trip Overview

The Tidewater, Virginia area has abundance of water. There are rivers and sounds, the Chesapeake Bay and of course the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately access to these waters for kayaking is not always as easy as one might think. Kudos to the City of Portsmouth though for developing a great launch site at the Portsmouth City Park.

I paddle the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River on a frequent basis, however this was my first trip to this park with the kayak. Situated in the heart of the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River, the Portsmouth City Park has a great kayak put in. The park features a regular concrete boat ramp and dock, but they also feature a small watercraft launch area. There is an asphalt ramp leading down to a sandy, pebble beach. Once you have off loaded your kayak, the portage to the beach and water is a mere twenty feet or so. Fantastic! The beach is sand with gravel though so you need to be cautious about scratching the hull unless you have a thermoform or polypro hull.

I set out just before noon and paddled due east towards Norfolk. The water was clearer and cleaner in this part of the river (less tannin) than the further western portions I normally paddle. One thing you do have to be cognizant of is watercraft. There was a fair amount of motorboats on this October day. During the summertime there are even more. Still the river is wide and you can quickly steer clear of the channel and still have plenty of water around you.

My first objective was the High Street (U.S. Rt. 17) bridge, approximately 1 mile from the put in. After that the river widens more and you begin to get a mix of residential homes along the banks with the first signs of industry. On the horizon is my next objective, the Western Freeway bridge, approximately 1 miles further east. As I paddled along I admired the mix of large and small homes lining the banks. I also saw some small marinas and other boat related industries.

I arrived at the Western Freeway bridge. Beyond this marks the divergence of the Elizabeth River between the Western Branch and main portion leading to the Southern Branch. To the north are the coal terminals of Lamberts Point and on the northern horizon the Norfolk International shipping terminal. To my east is the Portsmouth Marine Terminal with a large container ship offloading. Further east lays the City of Norfolk. This is a tremendously historic body of water with canoes, boats, barges, sailboats and warships having plied its waters since the 1650s. Despite the obvious signs of development, you feel that the water you are sitting on, mere inches below you, has hundreds of tales to tell. History is all around you. Nearby are the wooden hulks of old barges, perhaps a hundred years old sitting in the shallows.

It is here I turn around and head back to the park. The total distance of the trip was around 5 miles. There are lots of creeks and salt marshes on either side and are worth exploring for those looking to extend the distance. Next time I will likely venture further towards Norfolk with a keen eye towards the dramatic increase in boat traffic including large cargo container ships.

Overall I was incredibly pleased about the launch site and recommend it highly to anyone visiting the area. Portsmouth should be commended for their attention to detail in making this a very kayak friendly spot.


There is a small boat (i.e. kayak or sailboat) launch area with ramp to beach. There is also a concrete boat ramp and dock.


No. Entrance to the Portsmouth City Park is free. There are no launch fees or fees to use the ramp.


From Interstate 264 exit at Greenwood Drive (Exit 2 B). Take Greenwood Drive to Airline Blvd. Turn right on Airline Blvd and then left on to Elmhurst Ave. Turn right on to Portsmouth Blvd. Next light turn left on to City Park Ave. Follow road through the neighborhood and into the park. Follow road back along water and look for Small Boat launch site. There is plenty of free parking as well.

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip