Upper James River Trail / Camping??????

I am looking to do a trip on the Upper James, but am not sure where you can camp on it.

I know there is State Forest Land below the town of Buchanan where you can camp. How about above that?

I would really like to start at Iron Gate or Eagle Rock and go down to about Glasgow, but have been told there is not anyplace to camp until you get down below Buchanan…with the possible exception of a place called Last Lock Park where I think you are allowed to camp but am not sure.

thanks for your help


Is that true?

Stealth camping.
There are always places, but you may sweat a bit until you find one. The smaller the party, the better the chance of fitting in somewhere.

I assume you’ve been over it from space at high magnification.

river islands, sandbars, Natl Forest
check some maps, I think you’ll find much of the land on one bank or the other that isn’t developed, is part of the GW or Jefferson National Forest, where dispersed camping is allowed pretty much anywhere. so I think you’d be OK camping anywhere that’s not posted. heck I’d love to make that trip myself, when you going?

That is what I thought as well and that is what the map looks like.

I called an outfitter about shuttling and he told me that all the land was private, which is definitely not what the map makes it appear to be.

I will do some looking at on google earth and see what it looks like.



Last Lock Park

I’m away at the moment (putting plenty of scratches on the SRT ), so I can’t check my notes. But I’ve done that trip. And Andy Lee did the whole James and has extensive notes on line that you may be able to search up.

Regardless, about Last Lock, we found it repulsive. There is road access, so you are very likely to find Bubba there with his fishing family and RV parked right on the river. Secondly, thee are major highways and a train trestle right across the river, so the noise level is loud.

We’d planned on camping at Last Lock but after stopping there we proceeded down river to find a gravel bar on river left and camped there.

That outfitter made it plain he would not provide us info unless we were doing business with them. They have some property along the river where they rent campsites and will tell you that’s the only place on the river where you can camp. Obviously, that’s BS.


Hey Chip!
Glad you are out putting the SRT to good use!

Yes, you must have spoken to the same outfitter I did!

I called about a shuttle and he was nice but then got a little rude when I asked him too many questions about the river and where to camp, etc. He told me the same thing that you did about camp sites and that the only real places to camp were on the private land where he had an agreement set up for his customers, etc.

Good info on the park…sounds about how I would should have already expected it.

I am going with Kelli so hopefully she won’t be too let down if we have to paddle a lot to find a good campsite.

I think we will just put in at Irongate and take our chances finding a spot below Eagle Rock.

We will spend the second nigh below Buchanan where there are lots of places to camp from what I understand…but hopefully there will not be a ton of other campers out there. That was what did me in on the West Branch of the Susky.


We’re leaving tomorrow (Friday) and plan to paddle from Irongate down to Glascow. We plan to camp the first night someplace below Eagle Rock and the second night below Alpine.

I am a bit worried that Saturday night could be crowded…we’ll see…I will report on what I find!


Private land
Lots of private land until you are well below buchannan. However the take out at Alpine has lots of room for camping and thanks to recent improvements no more in bubba trailers being parked along the river bank. I plan to camp this spot next summer.

campsite below Eagle Rock
on a gravel bar on a bend in the river.


Trip Results
So we did our trip this weekend. We started at Iron Gate and paddled down to Glasgow for a total of 58 miles.

Overall I have to say the river was not thrilling and the camping was disappointing at best.

We had intended to camp 2 nights, but only ended up camping one night and paddling for a day and a half.

The availability of suitable camping locations was very limited along the entire length of the river. Even on the portion of the river below Acadia where there were supposed to be numerous established sites in the national forest area….there really weren’t.

There were only a few suitable camping spots along the entire 58 miles, and they were lacking at best. Many were filled with trash, such as old lawn chairs, folding tables and other debris that may have been pulled from the river. And all spots were right on the railroad tracks (and mind you trains ran all night long so don’t expect a good night’s sleep).

The river was also pretty scrapey in sections, despite being a bit higher than typical level.

I would be curious to see the section below Glasgow and above Snowden where there are more sizeable rapids. Maybe that section of river may offer more excitement and hopefully better camping spots.

Overall I think that this section of river is not the great tripping river as I would have thought and believe that it is built up by local outfitters and I should have figured that out.

It probably would be a great beer cooler trip if you’re looking to fish, and party, but it is not much of a wilderness trip unfortunately.


My neighborhood for paddling
We paddle and camp all along the James from Iron Gate to Snowden. I have never had any problems finding a camp site. We have even stealth camped at the VGIF ramps along that section. No one has ever run us off. Be sure and run the Glasgow to Snowden section and plan to camp just above Balcony Falls on river right. It is an awesome camping area and usually there are locals there who can show you the best lines to avoid dumping your gear when you run the falls.

Okay, thanks
I will try the Glasgow to Snowden section. I think I will probably like that section better. Good to know where there is a good spot to camp.


sorry to hear
I do recall now reading about the train traffic in a couple of trip reports, should have thought to mention it. a better overnighter might be had on the Rivanna River, from Charlottesville to its mouth at Columbia, water level allowing.

Not an exciting trip
That section of the James in pleasant rather than exciting. Do they even call it class II? There are a few ledges that might warrant that, but generally, it isn’t exciting, and not wilderness either.

As for the camping, we did okay on a gravel bar by the side of the river. The rocks were considerably bigger than gravel, and I felt lucky to find a tuft of grass that was just a wee bit smaller than my tent. Otherwise, it would have been very uncomfortable on my thermarest.

It is an okay stretch for a lazy paddle-camper, but I agree the Rap is much nicer. I’d like to go back for the Balcony Falls section, but that is a long drive from Maryland for what I think is a fairly short section.

You have now paddled more James River than I have, so I have no more advice to offer on this river.


my home float
I would be one of those locals, glad to help you through and explore that section. The upper James can be rather lackluster but I agree there is far too much trash left behind by lesser paddlers than us.

Don’t discount the James, its a great waterway.

Not sure how you scraped with the water being up so high from the passing storms we had Monday and Tuesday, perhaps my knowing those sections pretty well plays to my favor.

I hate the trains, in fact the RR company has recently eliminated a community take out that involved crossing the tracks, which added an extra 45 minutes of paddling boring backwater into a headwind.

The noise annoys. But what irked me–having spent time hauling trash out of rivers, was the amount or equipment and old roadbed that the railroad just pushed over the side to the river. That refuse lasts a lifetime. I assume they don’t shove junk in the river the way they used to, but we still get to look at it for the rest of our lives.


The junk that bothers me the most…and that seems to be a trend I have noticed on some rivers…is where people have taken an existing or feasible camping location and “improved it” by adding items that the picked up at the local junk yard such as junked chairs, tables, etc, and of course left trash of their own.

That makes what may be a nice wilderness site into a junkyard and a creepy and crappy place to camp despite their efforts to leave the place in a better condition than when they found it.

I find that to be really puzzing myself and have noticed this on the last three rivers I have paddled. I am not sure who would actually go out of their way to do such a thing and I find it really disappointing.

Many of the sites on the James were like this. Perhaps this is why I found there to be so few viable sites since I did not consider those sites to be “viable”


Redneck renovations
It is depressing to see this stuff. Whats worse i think is when campers dont dispose of their personal waste in the proper manner. Nothing like taking a walk in the woods along a trail dotted with left behind tp.

Oh, hey, the p-net calendar says…
See the month of October, nice photo, and I will retype the text here for those mistaken enough to think this stretch of the James is less than lovely:

“The James River begins its majestic journey in Botetourt County, winding through the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains on its way to the Bay. The UNSPOILED beauty of the river is more accessible than ever through the Upper James River Water Trail. Paddlers, anglers and families can get back to nature and enjoy the sights and sounds of 45 miles of the Upper James, including 14 PRISTINE miles designated as a Virginia Scenic River.

…the major attraction of the Upper James River includes its scenery, world-class bass fishing, friendly small town atmosphere, and rich history and diverse character…”

Sounds to me like Bowler1 just can’t appreciate unspoiled beauty and pristine miles! Maybe paddled by those 14 miles too fast?

BTW, I find those “improved” fishing spots in many places in this part of the country, and yes they are generally disgusting. I guess that is what it takes to produce “world-class bass fishing.” You’d expect fishing people to know better, but in general, they don’t even see the trash.


camping on Upper James in Eagle Rock are

– Last Updated: Aug-19-13 9:29 PM EST –

Hello Matt,

This is John. From the Outfitter in your post. Sorry you are frustrated about lack of quality places to camp on the Upper James River. So are we. I absolutely wish we had miles, and miles of free national forest land where you could stop where you wanted. But we don't.

Feel free to contact the national forest ranger office and have them tell you where National forest borders the river. They will tell you same thing We did when you contacted our office.

I have personally researched this extensively and know what we told you was the truth. Since there is no national forest land in Botetourt County on the James River, that means rest of it is all private property.

So not sure what kind of answer you expected if you ask an outfitter where you can trespass. We certainly do not want to cause a problem with our neighbor river front land owners telling boaters they can stop where ever they want. How would you like it if some one camped in your back yard with out permission? So our staff will never tell private boaters where they can trespass.

Yes, we do lease some private land for camping. The spots are nice with no litter and maintained. You would be welcome to use them if you sign up for our paid services. That is the advantage of going with an outfitter. We make our living putting people on the river and giving up one of our camp sites does not pay our employees salaries. We will happily answer a few private boater questions where we can but we are usually very busy taking care of our paying customers. If you just want free trip advice please use our website and information found at Http://upperjamesriverwatertrail.com.

Again we welcome your input to the State, or National Forest agencies about developing river front camping. That is a worthy goal that we share. Feel free to lobby them for river front camping as we have.

Very Respectfully,

Twin River Outfitters