From its origin in northern Botetourt County at the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers, the James River flows through or near several quaint towns as it winds through the mountains and southern Shenandoah Valley. Each small town has its own history and personality. One thing they all share is an abundance of charm and hospitality.
If there were a headquarters for the Upper James River, it would be Buchanan. This historic town is located about 37 miles down river from the headwaters and roughly 22 miles up river from where the Maury flows into the James in Glasgow. Many great floats begin with a shuttle ride upstream and end in Buchanan, while just as many trips begin here and shuttle back later. There is excellent river access, ample parking and a full-service outfitter. Within walking distance of the river front park, visitors can find several locally-owned places for a post-adventure meal. No visit is complete without a photograph of the Instagram-famous swinging bridge.
The beautiful City of Buena Vista is an outdoor lovers delight. Located about 20 miles east of Lexington, it’s home to Glen Maury Park, with several miles of Maury River frontage. The James River is also nearby. Paddlers and anglers often spend a day on the James and camp at Glen Maury Park. Buena Vista is a designated AT Community. The famous footpath, along with other trails, is located just outside the city. Need more adventure? The Blue Ridge Parkway is only minutes away. A ride on America’s favorite scenic drive is an ideal way to take in some Blue Ridge Mountain views from your car, motorcycle or bicycle.
The James River is located well north of town, but many paddlers and anglers find themselves passing through on Route 220 headed to access points in Eagle Rock, Gala, Glen Wilton and all way to the river’s headwaters in Iron Gate. Thankfully, Daleville offers everything that is needed for a day or weekend of outdoor fun. There is an excellent outdoor gear store, a supermarket for supplies and more. When your outdoor adventure is complete, reward yourself with beverages and great food — from pizza to barbecue to tacos and more.
The county seat of Botetourt County is has always appealed to explorers. Lewis and Clark spent time here before their expedition across the continent. Later, William Clark returned and was married in Fincastle. Today, visitors stop in Fincastle on their way to the Eagle Rock, Gala, Glen Wilton and Iron Gate access points on the Upper James River. Then, return at the end of the day for great food and a celebratory drink at a hip rooftop bar overlooking the mountains.
The Town of Glasgow is where the Maury River flows into the James River. When conditions are right, experienced white water paddlers enjoy running the rapids that begin where the rivers merge. On the James River, just before the confluence, is a popular river access point where paddlers coming from Alpine or Arcadia often end their adventure. Those who take out at Glasgow, sometime enjoy watching from shore as kayakers run the rapids. Then, they get to go into town and grab refreshments or a pizza at Scottos, which is famous among paddlers and Appalachian Trail hikers. More food options are located a few miles down the road in Natural Bridge.
Once a frontier town, modern Lexington is a thriving community that is home to two great universities. The walkable downtown is filled with unique shops, historic architecture and, of course, outstanding restaurants and craft breweries. Lexington is a convenient stop for paddlers coming from the north. It’s near the Upper James, while the Maury River flows right through town.