South Fork of the New River

Date of Adventure:  4/25-26/2014
Type of Adventure: Kayaking/Camping
Total Distance Kayaked: 22 miles
Location:  New River (Near Jefferson), NC
Those in Attendance: Daniel Shue, Daniel Luther, Ashley Luther

If you are looking for a fun and relaxing kayaking trip in the mountains, it is hard to beat the New River.  This is an excellent slow -pace but scenic trip for beginner paddlers.

The River
Supposedly, the New River is the 3rd oldest river in the world. How do you determine the age of a river you might ask? I have no idea, just take Wikipedia’s word for it.

This is one of the few rivers around that flows south to north. However, knowing this information is not pertinent to the success of this trip, unless of course you tell someone to pick you up “downstream” which is really “up” on the map. Which might cause problems…anyway…

Picture of New River from the New River State Park

The Trip
This particular trip was to be a 22-mile run over two days, with camping overnight in the New River State Park. I will call the two sections we completed Trip A and Trip B.

Trips A and B on the South Fork of the New River

As I mentioned, the New River is a slow, shallow, and relaxing river. Depending on the water height (the river was flowing at 2.3 ft on our trip), we averaged about 3-4 miles per hour. Anything lower than 2ft, I would expect some moderate dragging, which means you are going to have to get out of your boat and walk through the shallow parts.

We decided to break this this trip into two sections. Since we got a late start on Friday (around 3:00PM), we opted for the shorter (Trip B) first.

Trip B
After securing our campsite (more on the camping section below) and running shuttle vehicles around we put in the river around 3:30PM from New River State Park.  We knew, mathematically, we would need to average at least 2.5mph to get to the takeout by the time the gate closed at 7:00PM. (Here is where a GPS comes in handy, as you can judge your pace much more accurately).

Editors note: Oh, and by the way, you will see a bunch of signs around telling you how long the estimated float times are from location to location. Well, in my opinion, unless you are just truly floating and/or don’t know how to use a paddle to propel yourself, those estimates are way over done (i.e. the sign in the visitors center at the state park estimates 4 hours for this trip. We completed it in about 2 hours and 45 minutes.)

This section was a fun one to get the trip started, despite a few rain showers that we ran through and a decent headwind that made forward progress a little more difficult.

This section probably had the best rapids of the entire 22 miles, but not by much. In other forums they say this section has a Class II rapid, but that is objective in my opinion. I will call this a Class I+. I managed to capture what I thought was the best rapid of this section with the GoPro. My level of excitement in this clip is in no way an accurate representation of difficulty. I was just excited to finally be kayaking again in the mountains, and sometimes I get excited about stuff like that…anyway…don’t judge.

The bridge at the takeout is a low one, but unless the water is high, you should be able to float right under it. The takeout is on the right, and there is a nice concrete landing pad, restrooms, and parking area.

Trip A
From the campground, we shuttled vehicles down to the NC Hwy 16/88 put in, which is just north of Zaloo’s Canoes (if you are looking for some equipment to rent).

Again, this is a nice put in with a paved launching ramp.

If you have all day to kill on this section, take your time and relax, especially if the weather is nice like it was on this day (sunscreen)! This is a very curvey section of the river, that can get pretty shallow. We ran into a few problems spots and had to get out walk. If you are thinking about doing this section in a canoe, be prepared for that also (water shoes make this so much easier).

There is a lot of nice scenery through this section. One of my favorite encounter was this little grain mill, with a nice rock to pull over and stretch your legs.


There are a few small rapids on this stretch, and they are spread out nicely to keep the trip interesting. If you packed a meal (and I would recommend doing so), there are plenty of places to pull over and eat.

There is one low water bridge over this section that portage would normally be recommended. We were feeling brave and floated under, but if the water is much higher than 3ft, I would not have done it. It is easy to get trapped under bridges like this, and you never know what kind of critters or trolls may be hiding under there. So do as I say, not as I do.

We finished this 14 mile paddle in about 4.5 hours. We probably could have taken a little more time to relax, but we headed home that afternoon. All things considered it was timed fairly well.

Between the state park and several privately owned campgrounds, there is no shortage of places to stay on the river. We chose to stay in the state park (one of my goals is to visit all NC state parks) so I was able to cross this one off of the list.

I’ll have to hand it to the folks at this establishment. It was one of the nicest and cleanest state parks I have ever camped in. And evidently, this place is no secret, as I have heard the sites fill up pretty quick, and rightfully so.

I recommend booking online about a week early if you want to guarantee a spot. I didn’t explore the campground, but I will say with bias that I felt like we struck gold with campsite #22.

All of the sites in this area are “walk-in”, which means you park in a parking lot, grab a spare wheel-barrow and push your stuff in. Number 22 was not to far from our vehicle, was in close proximity to the bath house (but not close enough to smell it), and of course, most importantly, right on the river.

I’ll rate this trip an 8 on the 10 scale. I kind of wish it would have been a little bit warmer to take a few swim breaks, but then you get close to crossing the line of being hot. So I’m not complaining.

If you are looking for a fairly inexpensive adventure, you can’t go wrong with the New River.

If you decide to do this trip, comment and let me know how it went!

Garmin Adventure

Posted in Adventures, Kayaking, Mountains and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Great post on the new river. I am new to the state but guided on rivers in utah for a few years. I am looking to do a rafting trip with an 18ft oar boat (rubber) and preferably stay the night on the river. This was one river i have been looking into. would you say an oar boat could do this river? If not do you know what river in or near north carolina could do a 1-2 night trip? thanks for your help.

    • As long as the river was up, that should be fine. New River can get pretty shallow otherwise. Have you looked into the French Broad or Nantahala?

  2. Good information. Hard to zoom in to see landmarks on this map. I’m guessing that lower takeout was near the VA/NC line? I too am looking into floating this area in a 13′ NRS raft but don’t want to snag rocks the whole way. I hadn’t considered low bridges. Might be tough to get under or portage. Maybe I should scout it in my 1 man cataraft first.

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