Rivanna River

The beautiful and gentle Rivanna River flows through Albemarle and Fluvanna counties as well as the City of Charlottesville. Named for Queen Anne of England, the Rivanna is home to countless birds, fish, turtles and other creatures, as well as providing a wonderful place for human residents to fish, canoe, swim and boat.

The river begins about six miles northeast of Charlottesville where the North and South forks of the river are joined, and flows about 42 miles to Columbia where it joins the mighty James River.

The Rivanna is considered safe for canoes in winter, spring and early summer, with few hazards, and some easy-to-read Class I rapids. Paddlers are treated to a surprisingly peaceful float trip with little development or litter along the way.

The beginning of the trip is at the Route 29 bridge at the South Fork Reservoir Dam; the first takeout is at Darden Towe Park. There is no easy takeout beyond Darden Towe, but the City of Charlottesville is considering one and the Rivanna Conservation Society is working to remove the dangerous 10-foot Woolen Mills Dam. After either portaging around the dam or putting in at theend of East Market St. just below the dam, the traveler is due for a long trip to Palmyra, on a mostly calm and placid river. Between Woolen Mills and Milton Landing (just off North Milton Road) there are three river-wide ledges that provide Class II rapids; after that the visitor can expect quiet floating all the way. From Palmyra to Columbia the river is very slow, the riffles are less frequent, and the terrain is comprised of rolling hills, large farms and high banks. Only long-distance paddlers should attempt this trip, as it will take many hours to reach Columbia.”

The Rivanna Conservation Society publishes a waterproof map and guide to the Rivanna River. Please contact Laurie Miller at aed@rivannariver.org or call 434-971-1553 for information about how to obtain this helpful guide.

The Rivanna has a long and fascinating role in the history of the region. Exclusively used for recreation today, the careful and imaginative visitor can recreate a time and place that are no more as they look at the ruins of dams and locks and imagine bateaux bringing goods and travelers; eliminate modern-day bridges and imagine only rudimentary fords, roads and footpaths instead of the modern-day paved streets we rely upon today.

In Charlottesville, “Free Bridge”, which crosses the river at the eastern end of town, was given that name because it is on the site of the first “free”, i.e., non-toll crossing into Charlottesville. Prior to the bridge a ford was located on the site, and travelers waded across the river into town, or paid to use a small ferry provided by the owner of the ford. The Rivanna Navigation Company played an important role in the human use of the river. Responsible for building and maintaining a series of locks and dams beginning in the early 1800’s, the company hoped to make the Rivanna navigable between Charlottesville and the James River.

Work continued on the project well into the 1850’s, but by 1880 the railroad superseded the river as the primary transportation corridor, and the river slowly became the quiet place it is today as roads eventually began to dominate transportation in the region.

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