5 Best Places To Go Kayaking in Virginia in 2021

Last Updated on April 25, 2021 by KayakPro

No doubt Virginia is best known for its long stretches of sandy beaches and historical landmarks, but did you know that the coastal state has over 30 National parks brimming with lakes and rivers nestled within lush forests?

Kayakers big and small will find something to tickle their fancy, as there are countless places to kayak in Virginia from beginner to advanced.

If you’re like me, planning these trips ends with a thousand open tabs and too many places I want to visit. And trust me, Virginia has lots, so it’s best to start planning your Kayak escape early.

To get you started, here are 5 of the best places for kayaking in Virginia that have a little something for everyone.

We will explore: 

  • The Great Dismal Swamp
  • The First Landing State Park
  • Flannigan’s Reservoir Dam 
  • Claytor’s Lake State Park
  • Tangier Island

Top 5 Launching Spots for Kayaking in Virginia

1. The Great Dismal Swamp

Source: Ditchingsuburbia.com

Don’t let the name deter you from this National Wildlife Refuge. This incredible landmark is home to bobcats, river otters, beavers, and even black bears. Now imagine seeing them forage from the comfort of your kayak, practically at eye-level. 

Although the 8.6 mile round trip is recommended for the more seasoned kayaker, the trek is easy enough to paddle, but can be long for less experienced day trippers, especially beginners that haven’t developed the range to achieve such distances. 

  • Situated on Lake Drummond (Chesapeake area in Suffolk)
  • Intermediate to expert Level (8.6 miles round trip) 
  • Rent your Kayak at The Dismal Swamp Canal
  • Get a Guided Tour with Adventure Kayak Tours
  • Feed a black bear! No, I don’t recommend doing that. Ever!

In a hurry? Use the interactive map below to find the best kayaking destinations in Virginia!

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2. First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach: Kayaking with Dolphins

Source: Viator.com

How many of us can say we’ve kayaked on the ocean and mingled with the local stars: dolphins? Not many, I bet.

As a coastal city, Virginia borders the Atlantic Ocean. This is a popular destination for tourists, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some local tours worth our time, and if you have kids, they’ll love you forever. Well… at least for the duration of the tour.

Check out these guided tours offering this amazing experience. I added them because navigating the ocean can be tricky and security, especially with your kids, is paramount.

First Landing State Park is more than just a tourist trap

Although the dolphin attraction might steal the spotlight, First Landing State Park offers so much more, and if guided tours aren’t your thing, then no sweat.

The Narrows, which funnels into the Broadbay, and Linkhorn Bay, hence the name, are local waterways that you can explore at your leisure either with your own equipment or rent through local suppliers like Chesapean Outdoors as previously mentioned. 

The tranquil peace often associated with kayaking is certainly the flavour of the hour, and the locals are all about the sunset. So make sure to catch those beautiful orange and golden sun rays as you paddle home.

While you’re in the area, don’t miss out on these two locations.

Virginia’s Back Bay Wildlife Refuge

You might be thinking, ‘the list already has a wildlife refuge’, but there can never be too many conservation parks in my humble opinion. Nothing quite compares to the quiet paddle hitting the calm waters as you witness firsthand and up close animals in their natural habitat. 

Chesapeake Bay 

Another popular destination, and perhaps geared towards the more practiced kayaker is the Atlantic Ocean. Just make safety your number one priority and wear your vest.

  • First Landing State Park is situated in Virginia Beach
  • Intermediate to expert level (The ocean can be very choppy and difficult to navigate)
  • Rent a kayak with Chesapean Outdoors

Flatwater Kayaking

Imagine dipping your paddle in peaceful, translucent river streams, so smooth it’s like cutting through butter with a knife. Southwest Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, is a renowned hotspot for thrill seeking kayakers.

Wait a minute! Thrill seekers? Isn’t this about kayaking in flatwater paradise? The serene waters of stillness and tranquility? Keep reading.

3. Flannigan Reservoir Dam

During the month of October, Flannigan Reservoir Dam opens the floodgates for 4 weeks out of the year and causes a surge of white water, perfect for rafting and kayaking. This yearly occurrence attracts the more adventurous kayakers from around the world.

The rest of the time the dam is closed and you can enjoy the tranquil waters nestled deep within the pristine coniferous forest. There are plenty of twists and turns, nooks and coves to suit every taste and accommodate the entire family. There are even campgrounds and picnic areas all along the river stream, making it the perfect weekend getaway. 

Oh! And, don’t forget your fishing rods! They keep the stream well-stocked.

  • Located near the town of Clintwood in Southwest Virginia
  • Beginner and expert level during the October season when the dam opens the floodgates)
  • There are no Kayak rentals for this location

4. Claytor Lake State Park

If you’re looking for another fun-filled, flatwater no fuss escape with a big wow factor, then this is the place for you. Based in the Blue Ridge Highland State park, this reservoir is the ‘drive-through’ of kayak parks. 

Motor boats and weekend activities give this park a resort flair, but the 21 mile long lake won’t make you feel crowded as you kayak through the mountain ridge.

It’s the best of both worlds. Easy access with that intimate feeling of seclusion. And the best part, you can rent kayaks on site. Flanked by the mountain, you can easily paddle your day away. 

5. Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay

guy kayaking in virginia
Source: TripAdvisor

Finally, this last section is for those kayakers looking for that special gem. That exotic little place no one knows about that will keep you talking for years to come, and make lifelong memories.

Tangier is 12 miles off the coast of Virginia, and can only be accessed by boat or air. It’s an archipelago of many small islands made up of marshland and tidal streams, meaning it’s heavily influenced by the tide. A kayaker’s dream haven. 

During the summer, you can visit the island by boat and spend the day exploring and kayaking this place’s unique flora and fauna. The amount of critters that live here is astounding.

The island offers 5 different kayaking trails each tailored to better understand life in the area. 

The Orange Trail 

This leads around the entire island and has you exploring the city outskirts and the working crab boats. If you’re lucky you might catch the oyster boat in the harbour, or the giant stingrays in the water. If you’re a bird lover then the cormorants and herons won’t disappoint.

The Yellow Trail 

Here you will paddle towards the lagoon, where you can cast ashore and walk along the beach to find nesting grounds for terns (it’s a type of bird) and black skimmers. Don’t miss the pelicans and the gulls as they line up against the shore.

The Green Trail 

This easy stream leads towards the main channel to explore Port Isobel.

The Blue Trail 

Go deeper into the marshes where you can catch snails and fiddler crabs as well as admire the periwinkles.

The Pink Trail

You will circle through the Uppards, and revisit a captivating remnant city that harbored 600 people, but is no longer in use today. It winds through the marshes up towards a sandy beach, which the locals say is a perfect spot for a picnic.

No matter which trail you pick you’re sure to discover a plethora of amazing sites, sounds, and smells.

In the end, no matter where you choose to go on your kayaking Virginian adventure, there are no wrong turns. Either as a beginner or full on expert, from solo trips to family excursions, you’re sure to get the most out of this amazing coastal state.


Do you need a permit to kayak in VA?

No, you do not need a permit to navigate non-motorized vehicles in Virginia

Where can I kayak in Northern Virginia?

There are many places to kayak, but one top park is the Algonkian Regional Park on the Potomac River.

Can you kayak at Burke Lake?

Unfortunately, Kayaks are prohibited on Burke Lake, unless used for fishing.

Where can I kayak in Charlottesville VA?

James River is well-known to locals for kayaking.

Can I kayak in Virginia?

Yes! There are many places to kayak in Virginia for all levels of kayakers.

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Ryan Stoltz

Ryan Stoltz

Avid kayaker and lover of the outdoors. Having been kayaking for over 7 years, I love sharing my experiences and learnings along the way. Currently kayaking in upstate New York and always open to new adventures!

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