A scenic 4-mile stretch of the South River awaits visitors to Waynesboro’s Water Trail. The trail, which is part of the greater South River Blueway, flows through five different city parks and offers a different perspective of the River City.
During a July morning — around 10 a.m. — we headed out to try the Water Trail first hand. Both of us have kayaked before, but never on the South River.
The city advertises the Water Trail as a stretch of river “perfect for beginners or those looking for an easy paddle.” It sure sounded easy — and other paddlers make it look easy — so we decided to see for ourselves what the Water Trail is all about.
Waynesboro typically offers kayak rentals in the summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is not offering kayak rentals for 2020.
Without being able to rent a kayak from the city, our journey started at Rockfish Gap Outfitters, which located on East Main Street in Waynesboro. Rockfish Gap offers single-person kayak rentals for $35. Two-person kayak rentals are $60. The rental period is good for 24 hours, more than enough time to tackle the Water Trail in the recommended 2-3 hours time.
We opted for the single-person kayak. While a life jacket and paddle were included in the rental, renters must have their own way to transport the equipment. Rockfish Gap does not offer delivery or guide services, but they do have straps you can purchase.
The pick-up and rental process was pretty painless. We did not reserve a kayak in advance, and simply walked in to pick one up. After scanning an ID and credit card, some employees helped load the kayak into our 8-foot bed pickup truck, and off we went.
Before leaving Rockfish Gap, we checked the South River’s water level by visiting http://waterdata.usgs.gov. At 10:15 a.m. on July 9, the gauge was reading at 2.66 feet in height, slightly below the recommended water level of 2.75 feet. According to the city, the best water levels for the Water Trail is between 2.75 feet and 4 feet.
The Water Trail: part one
Equipped with a map from the city’s website, we decided to split the trail in half. Logan tackled the first part, beginning at Ridgeview Park on South Magnolia Avenue and ending at Constitution Park on West Main Street.
Upon arriving at Ridgeview Park, the boat ramp was located close to the park’s bridge. The map printed on the signage was slightly different from the online map. Online, Rife Park is not specifically listed as it is on the printed version.
Getting the kayak down the boat ramp was relatively easy. Shortly into paddling, however, the kayak got stuck on river rocks, presumably because the water level was below the recommended height. Along this stretch of the trail, the kayak lodged on rocks about five total times.
The stretch from Ridgeview Park to Rife Park on Lyndhurst Road took approximately 30 to 40 minutes to paddle, accounting for stopping each time the kayak got stuck on rocks.
One con is there is no signage to see from the Water Trail. Signage only faces outward toward the parks. Paddlers will know they are passing through Rife Park by a portage opening on the right hand side.
The map labeled one portion of the Water Trail as “Danger: Dam Class II” between Rife Park and Constitution Park. After briefly chatting with a Rockfish Gap employee about this, he informed us that rapids go up to Class VI for “extraordinarily difficult,” so we probably didn’t have anything to worry about. Class II rapids are moderate.
The Rockfish Gap employee was right — we only came up on one portion where kayaking looked like it might turn into white water rafting for a second. But, even that part wasn’t as horrible as it looked while paddling.
This portion from Rife to Constitution Park — a little more than a mile long — also is walkable and known as the Greenway Trail. This the prettiest portion of the first half of the trip, offering scenic views the entire way. It took around 40 to 50 minutes to paddle this portion, so Logan finished the first part of the journey in about an hour-and-a-half.
We opted for the “use a friend” shuttling method. As one of us paddled downstream, the other picked them up when finished. Other options for getting back to your car include using one vehicle, paddling upstream and floating back to your put in; dropping a second vehicle at the take-out; or securing a bike at the take-out so you can bike back to your vehicle.
The Water Trail: part two
Signage on the bank lets you know this portion of the trail starts here. Paddlers will see when they’re at this location because of a bridge that passes overhead — the same bridge drivers cross on Main Street on their way into downtown Waynesboro.
Jaclyn took over here and finished the second half of the Water Trail from Constitution Park to Basic Park on Genicom Drive.
It was nearly impossible to paddle out from this point of entry because the water was so low. The kayak again kept getting stuck on river rocks, but after carrying it past the bridge into some deeper water, there were no issues getting started on the rest of the trail.
The portion from Constitution Park to North Park on Bridge Avenue also was quite rocky —the kayak got stuck on rocks four times. This part of the trail puts you right in the heart of the Waynesboro community. Houses line the riverbanks to your left until you paddle down further to North Park.
Currently, North Park is undergoing a bank remediation project to clean-up mercury in the river system. The project, the last of six riverbanks to undergo remediation, began in February and will last 12 to 18 months, depending on weather.
Because of the remediation project, there is no open point of entry available on this part of the trail. You can’t see paddlers from North Park because of construction fencing. Still, the water trail remains open, and kayakers can paddle on through.
Because of noise construction, those wanting to fish may want to pick a different spot to cast their reels.
In true saving-the-best-for-last fashion, the section from North Park to Basic Park park was the most scenic section of the second half of the trail. The water was calm and higher on this part of the trail. Trees line the banks on both sides of the river, and kayakers can take a leisurely paddle and enjoy the views.
The second part of the trail took about 50 minutes to complete. And although the Waynesboro Water Trail ends at Basic Park, you can continue down the South River Blueway. From Basic Park, another 7.5 miles will land paddler at Crimora Park. From Basic Park, another 17.5 miles leads to Grand Caverns Park, 19.5 miles to Grottoes town park and 21.5 miles to Port Republic and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.