Camping and Paddling the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway

Three serene, unspoiled rivers and two picturesque lakes in southern Virginia are the path to take for days of paddling on the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. Mix in attractive RV campgrounds all along your route and this Virginia camping and paddling trip can become one of your best vacations yet.

If you’ve never paddled a kayak or canoe here, it’s high time you did! Pack the RV and your favorite watercraft and use these tips to plan your own trip down the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. Don’t own an RV? Be sure to get in touch for an RV rental—we’ve got you covered.

Mapping Your Adventure 

With more than one hundred miles of waterways to explore on this Blueway, you have plenty of choices for where to put in, how far to paddle and where to camp. The Staunton (Roanoke), Dan and Banister Rivers tempt paddlers with wooded shores, man-made and natural features and plenty of wildlife. These rivers all flow into John H Kerr Reservoir, also known as Buggs Island Lake, which straddles the Virginia/North Carolina border.

State park campgrounds all along the lakeshore make it possible to stay and explore Virginia’s largest lake awhile. But you’ll want to float the Blueway farther south along the state line, as well, to where Lake Gaston offers its own special charm.

Suggested Trips along the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway

To explore the Staunton River leg of the Blueway, put in at Long Island Park in Long Island, VA, slip around the Hale Islands and paddle downstream eleven miles to the Brookneal boat launch. You’ll find Class I and II rapids during peak flow and a nicely wooded shoreline. Primitive campsites are available in Long Island Park.

The Dan River, on the other hand, converges with the Staunton River at Staunton River State Park on the north shore of John H Kerr Reservoir. Enter the water at the boat launch off US-360 in South Boston, VA and slip around a series of islands for about thirteen miles until you reach the lake’s backwaters. The modern campground at Staunton River State Park

Canoeing in Virginia

Canoeing in Virginia

is surrounded by wooded trails and features standard electric campsites.

One more suggested river trip—the Bannister River from the King’s Bridge access point on the outskirts of Halifax, VA about seven miles downstream to the Terry’s Bridge takeout point at US-360. The route’s made more interesting by man-made rapids created by wing dams, and the scenery is surprisingly unspoiled, despite nearby towns. You’re close enough to camp at Staunton River State Park on this route, as well.

The two lakes on the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway give paddling enthusiasts even more opportunities to explore. Occoneechee State Park on Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) features standard electric campsites right on the lakeshore, close enough to Clarksville to make a quick trip for supplies. The reservoir’s eight-hundred-fifty-miles of shoreline includes secluded coves accessible at points like Longwood Park (a nice campground here, too) and Island Creek Park. Fish, paddle or hike until you’re ready to move on; it’s an outdoor playground worth getting to know.

Kerr Tailrace Park is your access to the waters of the Roanoke (Staunton) River as they flow once again toward Lake Gaston. The area is rich with wildlife, in particular bald eagles, osprey and great blue herons who come to feed below the dam. Camping is available just down the shoreline within the large campground at North Bend Park.

And we can’t leave the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway without offering a peek at Lake Gaston. After you’ve explored the Kerr Tailrace/Bugg Island waters, venture downstream at least as far as the Steel Bridge or Flat Creek access points for a taste of the Blueway’s southern limits. Lake Gaston is more highly-developed than Kerr Reservoir, but you’ll still find plenty of places to paddle.

As you do, you’ll be close enough to camp at North Bend Park again, or you can enjoy all the amenities of a full-service RV campground at Lake Gaston Americamps.

If you love to explore scenic waterways by kayak or canoe, you can’t beat the more than one-hundred-miles of adventure on the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. With convenient, friendly campgrounds the entire way, there’s no reason not to add this trip to your ‘gotta do it’ camping and paddling vacation list.

Photo attribution:  By Virginia State Parks staff (DSCN0595  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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