We live in Tidewater, or call it Coastal Virginia if you like. Even the name Hampton Roads means stretches of deep water, not freeways. We all live within a few miles of some kind of water – the bay, a river, a tributary, a lake, a reservoir, a creek.
Kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards (SUP) are the vehicles to appreciate our waterways without breaking the bank.
Here’s some examples of places you can go to get out on the water, have a quiet ride, get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. Some are fresh water, some are tidewater, and some are perfect for beginners.
Chesapeake – Great Bridge Lock Park
Great Bridge Lock Park Is 19 acres surrounded on one side by the Elizabeth River and the other side by the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. This makes it a unique place to paddle, and a great place to spend the day.
There is plenty of parking, picnic shelters, restrooms, hiking trails and places to fish and crab. Great Bridge Lock Park is the city of Chesapeake’s first fully ADA-Accessible Canoe/Kayak pier and launch facility.
Great Bridge Lock Park is part of the National Park Service “Chesapeake Bay Gateway Network” for its “historic and ecological significance.” It is the southernmost point on the National Park Service’s Captain John Smith’s Historic Waterways Trail.
Hampton – Gosnold’s Hope Park
Gosnold’s Hope Park sits along a quiet canal, a short paddle to the Back River, with lots of coves and tributaries to explore. Langley Air Force Base is across the river, but you won’t be able to get too close. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can paddle up to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. On the south side is the Grandview Nature Preserve. On the north is the Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge.
There are 16 campsites for RV or tow-behind campers in the park. No tent camping is allowed. There are restrooms, picnic shelters, a walking trail, playground and parking.
Newport News – Newport News Park
Newport News Park is the behemoth of city parks in Hampton Roads. At the north end of Newport News and over 7,500 acres, Newport News Park has year-round camping, hiking, biking, fresh-water fishing and a place for all the paddle sports.
Launch into the freshwater, 230-acre Lee Hall Reservoir in the park. Fishing is popular here, using a kayak or canoe. The Reservoir is a good spot for beginning paddlers. The water is often calm and freshwater means no tides. Newport News Park also offers an 18-hole championship disc golf course and a 30-acre field to fly model airplanes and drones. It’s a good spot to bring the whole family for a mini-vacation not too far from home.
Norfolk – Lavallette Ave. Kayak/Canoe Launch
The Lavallette Ave. launch site and fishing pier opened last fall. The site is on the Lafayette River right next to the Virginia Zoo. Head down Lavallette Ave., which runs down to the river on the north side of Lafayette Park. There is limited parking at the end of Lavallette Ave and no restrooms, but Lafayette Park is right there with both.
It’s quiet and peaceful on the Lafayette River here, mostly residential with the Zoo property bordering the river. You might just hear some wild animals talking to each other. I kayaked this section of the river last week and saw a large ray flip up right in front of me.
Portsmouth – Paradise Creek Nature Park
Paradise Creek is a beautiful piece of Portsmouth. The city of Portsmouth and the Elizabeth River Project are working together to revitalize this section of the Elizabeth River and turn it into “an urban oasis.” Paradise Creek is a 40-acre waterfront park with 11 acres that are the largest restored wetlands in the area.
There is a handicapped accessible kayak launch to explore the wetlands. Paradise Creek also offers educational kayak tours with the area’s only fleet of clear-bottomed kayaks to see the “river life up close.”
Education is important at Paradise Creek Nature Park. Portsmouth and the Elizabeth River Project recently opened the Beazley River Academy in the park, “the greenest little building in Portsmouth.” The eco-friendly building has space for educational programs “to teach all ages the wonders of restoring an urban river to environmental health.”
Smithfield – Windsor Castle Park
Windsor Castle Park is “a little slice of heaven in downtown Smithfield, Virginia.” It’s in charming Smithfield, home of Smithfield Hams, a great little farmers market every Saturday and my favorite ice cream parlor, the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor.
Windsor Castle Park is over 200 acres of natural beauty. There is a kayak launch point with access to Cypress Creek and the Pagan River. You can stop for lunch at Smithfield Station along the way. You can paddle all the way to the James River from here.
The launch has rollers, making it easy to glide right in or out of the water. Windsor Castle Park has fishing, hiking, biking, a natural playscape and a dog park.
Honorable Mention NIKE Park:
FREE to the public and open during the park’s regular hours, the launch puts you out into the natural beauty and twists & turns of Jones Creek. Nike Park is located at 13036 Nike Park Road in Carrollton and is maintained by Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation. The Parks and Rec folks would like to reminds users to please take into consideration how long it will take to get back to the launch and load up because everyone must vacate the park by 8 p.m.
Suffolk – Lone Star Lakes Park
Lone Star Lakes Park has 11 freshwater lakes for fishing and boating. Six of these lakes have boat ramps for small boats or paddle sports. One of the best things about Lone Star Lakes Park is that there are no gas-powered engines allowed, electric motors or paddling only.
There is a floating dock on Cedar Creek, which flows along the southern border of the park. From there, you can paddle out to the saltwater of the Nansemond River.
Lone Star Lakes Park has all the amenities, including horse and hiking trails, a handicap accessible fishing pier, an archery range, a model airplane flying field, and picnic areas.
Virginia Beach – Stumpy Lake Natural Area
Virginia Beach has many paddle sports launch sites. Stumpy Lake Natural Area has a cool name and a location far from the busy beach areas. Stumpy Lake covers 278 acres with over 970 acres of undeveloped shoreline. Out on the lake, it feels like you are in the middle of the woods, in the middle of Virginia Beach.
The canoe/kayak launch site is just after the causeway from Indian River Road near the entrance to the Stumpy Lake Golf Course. The launch site is fully ADA compliant. There are only 12 parking spaces, but parking is allowed at the golf course. No motorboats are allowed, so it is a peaceful play to bring your paddleboard.
Many of these sites have rentals available. Some have guided tours. If you’re new to a paddle sport, try a tour first, with a trained guide.
If you’re paddling in tidewater, know the tides. Wear a flotation device and follow the safety rules.
Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are a peaceful and inexpensive way to get out and appreciate our water and the nature that surrounds it, even in the most urban areas.
Here are some additional launch locations.