Back Creek

Back Creek


Like its neighboring Jackson, Bullpasture, and Cowpasture rivers, Back Creek has some of the best water quality and healthiest fish populations in the state. Draining a valley with almost no development, its waters run clear with a turquoise hue to the confluence with the Jackson at McClintic Bridge, passing first through a high valley of pasture of forest before cutting through a cliff lined gorge with mature hardwood forest.

Back Creek is an exceptional trout fishery, and the surrounding National Forest and private lands support outstanding populations of black bear, deer, and other game.  It has two public campgrounds along it, including the convenient and beautiful Blowing Springs facility located off Route 39 just west of Back Creek Mountain.  Located in northwestern Bath County, Back Creek has been spared the ravages of civilization like almost no other stream in the state, and has even avoided the more refined clutter of nearby Hot Springs.  This stream is one of the best runs in Virginia, and should not be missed by any canoeist.

Please note that written permission is required to pass through the two and a half miles or so of Back Creek gorge that is owned by Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club.  Game wardens in Bath will not hesitate to arrest those who do not have permission, and the Club is generally gracious enough to grant it, even on relatively short notice.

Recommended trips:

  • (daytrip) Mountain Grove to McClintic bridge:  If water levels are high enough and the weather isn’t too cold I would recommend putting in along Route 39 near Mountain Grove and paddling the 7 miles to McClintic bridge.
  • (daytrip) Gauging station or Blowing Springs to McClintic Bridge: If water levels aren’t high enough or the weather is cold then the paddler can savor the highlights of Back Creek by putting in at either the gauging station or Blowing Springs for a four to four and a half mile trip.

Directions to Put ins and Take Outs:

View Back Creek in a larger map

Mountain Grove: Put in anywhere that isn’t posted along Route 39 just south of Mountain Grove; Back Creek runs next to the road.

Gauging Station: The gauging station, visible from Route 39 just east of the intersection with Route 600, has a small gravel pull off.

Blowing Springs: This campground is located at the foot of Back Creek Mountain about a half mile east of the gauging station.

McClintic bridge: Park in the large gravel lot on the east side of the river next to the one lane Route 603 bridge, called McClintic bridge.  This bridge is at the top ofLake Moomaw; the lake will be visible to the south while the Jackson and the Back Creek/Jackson River confluence will be visible to the north.

Sections of River to Run:

Mountain Grove to Gauging Station: These two miles or so consist of continual riffles and small ledges, except for a slightly larger cobble bar drop at the confluence with Little Back Creek.  Note that it is often possible to put in at the confluence of these two creeks along Route 39 but not higher because Little Back Creek adds significant volume to Back Creek (which is also known as Big Back Creek, particularly above the confluence with Little Back Creek).  Probably 250 cfs or so would be a good minimum for this section.

Gauging Station to Blowing Springs: This short (approximately ½ mile) stretch has a number of small ledges and cobble bars, and should be run unless some folks in the group want to hang around camp at Blowing Springs while others run shuttle.  Putting in at Blowing Springs is convenient if one is already camping there (particularly site number 11, which has a short path straight to the creek), but one misses a half mile of enjoyable rapids.

Blowing Springs to McClintic bridge (Route 603): For the first mile and a third Back Creek passes through mature hardwood National Forest, cutting through several dramatic cliffs where ridges descend toward the river.  In addition to innumerable cobble bars, the creek falls over three ledges, the first two of which are small.  Two caves are located in the rock face on river right next to the second ledge.  The third ledge is more challenging, with one route on the left and one in the center.  The left route requires a right turn after the small initial drop, and the center route requires dodging boulders at lower water levels.  This ten foot long ledge is perhaps two and a half to three feet high, with the gradient separated into two or three drops.

Immediately below this ledge one will see several yellow signs denoting the property boundary of the Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club (BSRGC).  Due to the nature of conveyance of Bath (and Highland) County properties from the King of England, modern property owners maintain ownership of the riverbed of parts of the Jackson RiverBullpasture River, and Back Creek.  Unlike in the rest of Virginia (with some exceptions like Johns Creek in Craig County), paddlers do not have the right to paddle through private property here. Fortunately, the Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club has traditionally granted permission to paddlers to float through their property.  Contact Zack Fields at zackfields[at] for contact information for the club.  Without written permission paddlers risk arrest, and risk losing access for folks who have sought and received permission.  For those individuals who receive permission, fishing and hunting is prohibited.

After entering BSRGC property, Back Creek slows down for a couple miles, passing through scenic bottomland over small cobble bars.  Large mountains are still visible on all sides.  Near the confluence with the Jackson, large boulders fill the bed of Back Creek, creating interesting but easy rapids.  The takeout is less than a quarter mile below the confluence with the Jackson, on the left, above McClintic bridge.

A minimum of 200 cfs is required to run Back Creek gorge.  At this level no rapids are harder than an easy class 2, and there are no hazards other than trees that may have fallen in the current.  If there is enough water to run through the ledges near the gauging station or the cobbles near Blowing Springs then there will be enough water for the whole trip with only minimal scraping.  A good pair of weekend trips is Hidden Valley to McClintic bridge on the Jackson and Back Creek gorge, since both require permission from Boiling Springs Rod and Gun Club and similar water levels.  Richardson Gorge may need a little more volume than Back Creek to be run comfortably, but generally if one is running then so is the other.

Additional information