I�ve wanted to bike the New River Trail in SW Virginia and paddle that section of the New River for some time now. It took some planning, but I accomplished my goal in October 2008.
Oct. 12th was spent driving and doing logistics. I had arranged to drop my kayak and paddling gear off at the Fries New River RV park in Fries, VA. Tom Guy and his wife were gracious enough to provide a safe haven for all my paddling while I rode the bike portion.
I drove on to Claytor Lake State Park, stopping by Blue Cat on the New to talk to Donnie Turner about the river conditions, portages, take-outs and the like. He was very knowledgeable about rapids, time estimates from one put in to another, etc. There is just so much you can get from the internet resources, maps and books. I always like to talk to people that live near the river and experience it to get a better feel for the trip.
I also stopped at the New River Trail State Park headquarters near Foster Falls to make camping arrangements. They have canoe / kayak livery services available and staff knowledgeable about the river as well.
I ended up at Claytor Lake State Park where I planned to spend the first night. I arranged with the park rangers to leave my car in one of that parking lots for the next few days. There is a minimal parking fee each day. The weather looked very promising for the next few days. Plenty of sunshine with very low possibility of rain. Highs in the upper 60�s to low 70�s with overnight lows in the mid to upper 50�s.
Oct. 13th I biked from the park to Dora Junction which is near the beginning of the New River Trail State Park near Pulaski, VA. I then proceeded on the New River Trail to Fries, a total of about 55 miles. The 10 miles from Claytor Lake State Park to Dora Junction is on paved back roads. The 45 miles from Dora Junction to Fries is a Rails-to-Trails, with crushed gravel and cinders. Quite nice to ride with river vistas, bridge crossings and tunnels to experience. I stopped a quite few times, especially once the trail started running along the New River. I could scout rapids, look for landmarks, and generally get an idea of river conditions.
After 8 hours on the bike (including stops) I arrived in Fries. I spent the night at the Fries New River RV park, a guest of Guy�s. Tom had a copy of The New River Atlas that showed exquisite detail about the shoals, portages and other river situations I would experience the next few days. I spent the evening hours perusing the atlas.
Oct 14th I traded my bike for my kayak. Tom Guy let me store the bike with him while I paddled back to Claytor Lake. I put in at the low water bridge where SR721 crosses the river which is river mile 54. Tom dropped me off just after 8AM and wished me luck.
The weather promised to be very good the next few days, but that early in the morning, the fog had settled in on the river making visibility very low. I only had a few miles before I hit Double Shoals, a class II rapids that looked challenging from the bike the day before. I paddled slowly on through the fog, listening to the Canadian geese honk greetings as I passed. I wanted to fog to lift before I hit Double Shoals at mile 57.
Double Shoals, as the name implies, is two sets of rapids about a half mile apart. The first set is about 300 yards long and the second set is just a little shorter. From The New River Atlas and scouting from the bike the day before, I knew I needed to keep to the right hand bank of the river. It would offer the best passage through the shoals. I scrapped a few rocks and got stuck a couple of times but only filled the cockpit completely with water one time. The water temperature was in mid 60�s, so it wasn�t too cold. I had to exit the kayak and manhandle it off the rocks. It took a few minutes of pumping before I could move the kayak to a large rock to drain the rest of the water. I only lost my seat cushion and my boat towel. I saw the seat cushion float downstream but never saw the boat towel. Everything else was intact, but one dry bag soaked. Some of the cook gear was wet and some spare clothes soaked, but nothing beyond that.
After Double Shoals there are a few more rapids to navigate, but nothing as strenuous or long before entering the Byllesby Dam reservoir. The next challenge was the Byllesby Dam portage near mile 60.5. There are clear signs marking the portage take out. I had to exit the kayak and pull it over a downed tree getting to the portage takeout, but the water wasn�t but thigh deep. The portage is about 600 yards along a service road. The put in was clearly marked, too.
After Byllesby Dam comes Buck Dam and its portage at mile 63.5. Again, a clearly marked portage takeout and put in, but a little more difficult that Byllesby. The portage is shorter, but the takeout and put in are quite steep. I had to slide the re-loaded kayak down 6 � 8ft of rock at nearly a 45 degree angle to get it back in the water. A few tense moments, but I had enough line tied on to the kayak that if I had lost control of it, I could just let it go instead of letting it pull me into the water. I was past Buck Dam just after 1PM.
The next 10 miles of river is some of the best paddling. Enough rapids and shoals to make it interesting but with enough flat water to accomplish some distance. The river is very scenic along this stretch. The trees had started to turn and the farmland was pastoral. There were also quite a bit of gray, bare rock exposed as the river cuts through the ridges of Iron Mountains of the Jefferson National Forest.
I carried over Shot Tower Falls near mile 73. It was close to the end of my paddling day and just couldn�t seem to find a way over them. I got to the right hand river bank and simply eased the kayak over what seemed to be a 2+ ft drop. Just over another mile and I took out before Foster Falls.
I arrived at Foster Falls Recreation Area (the New River Trail State Park HQ) at 5:15 just after the office closed. There were plenty of campsites available, and I had talked with the office staff on the bike portion about what to do if I arrived late. I unloaded the boat and set up camp. I still had plenty of daylight left, so I paddled over Foster Falls with an unloaded kayak. No worries about losing any gear or getting everything wet. It was a pretty wild ride.
Oct 15th I got a little later start than I wanted, but still on the river before 9AM. I was going to be ambitious and try to get back to Claytor Lake State Park before dark, which is 30 river miles. I knew from reviewing the Blueway map and scouting on the bike portion that I had nothing but flat water once I cleared Allisonia at river mile 86.
Another set of class II rapids just after Foster Falls and before Baker Island were a challenging start to the day. But I was a lot more confident in handling the kayak after navigating Double Shoals, Foster Falls and the rest of the class II water the day before.
I passed Blue Cat on the New, mile 81, around 11AM. I had made excellent time though Bertha Shoals which was nearly the last of the class II rapids. I stopped at Allisonia around 1PM for lunch and I was thinking I could make Claytor Lake State Park by dusk.
As Allisonia is the headwaters of Claytor Lake and the lake has many public and private boat ramps, I started to see power boats and fishermen. I cruised the last 20 river miles from Allisonia to Claytor Lake State Park, river mile 104.5 in just under 5 hours. I was taking all the river tangents, so I�m sure I cut a couple of miles off that total.
It took a while to load the kayak and gear back in the car. It wasn�t so much it was a lot of things to load, but after 50 river miles to two days, I was content to take it slow. I finished loading just as a beautiful full harvest moon rose over Claytor Lake. I sat on the dock and watched it for almost an hour before heading to the camp site for the night.
Oct 16th was another day of logistics and travel. I re-traced my journey from the 13th to pay my camping fees and get my bike from Fries. I even had enough time to stop in Galax and ride to Fries Junction, the part of the New River Trail that I didn�t get to ride on the trip down. I was home just after dark, but I was planning the next trip as I was driving.
Perception Catalyst 12.8
Camping Fees $15 to $20 per nightParking Fees of $3 per day
Close to the I-77 junction with I-81 in SW Virginia
National Geographic New River Blueway map"The New River Atlas" by Wm. E. Trout, III
River/Creek (Up to Class II)
Number of Portages: