If I could run one river in the state for several days or more it would be the Clinch, which is unparalleled for scenery, remoteness, fishing, camping, and culture.  The river cuts through very dramatic mountains, over exquisite ledges, through beautiful occasional farmland, alongside awe inspiring cliffs, and through some nice little towns.  Rapids are manageable, but (only near St. Paul) surprisingly large considering the overall river gradient: the river tends to be flat for a spell and then abruptly spill over a ledge.  Canoeists with some whitewater experience should be fine; tie in your gear and have flotation just in case.  The only downside to running the Clinch is an AEP coal plant at Carbo.  Note that Dominion Power is in the process of gaining approval to build a coal plant at St Paul, which will undoubtedly wreak havoc on the freshwater mussel population of the Clinch.  The Clinch has at least 5 times as many species of freshwater mussels as does the entire continent of Europe.  You can see these mussels particularly well in the vicinity of Pendleton Island and other areas downstream of Fort Blackmore.

Recommended Trips:

  • (7 days) Nash’s Ford to Kyles Ford.  Note that the only stores in this stretch are at St. Paul and Kyles Ford, so do not plan on restocking between St. Paul and Kyles Ford.
  • (3 or 4 day) Fort Blackmore to Kyles Ford
  • (3 or 4 day) Nash’s Ford to Dungannon
  • (overnighter) Cleveland to Dungannon: This is a long overnighter or a good 2 day 2 night trip, perhaps putting in Friday evening for a weekend trip.
  • (day trip) St Paul to Dungannon (full day)
  • (day trip) Carfax to Dungannon (2/3 day)
  • (day trip) Nash’s Ford to Cleveland
  • (day trip) Fort Blackmore to Hill Station
  • (day trip) Route 627 (VA) to Kyles Ford (TN)

Directions to Put Ins Take Outs:

View Clinch River in a larger map

Nash’s Ford: The public put in is on river left just north of Route 645.

Cleveland: Put in next to the baseball field between Rt 600 and the river, about 100 yards downstream of where Rt 600 intersects Rt 82.

St. Paul: Put in/take out in the public park along East Riverside Drive.  From Rt 58, turn onto 4th Avenue, then make a right onto East Riverside Drive.  The park is upstream of the Rt 58 crossing.

Carfax: From Route 58 take Route 657 south just over a mile.  Drive down a little gravel path, following the stream, where the stream goes under the rail bridge.  Parking is very limited, and 4 wheel drive is necessary to drive all the way to the river.  Folks without four wheel drive can easily park along the road and walk down to the river.

Dungannon: There is a public boat launch off of Rt 65 on the west side of the river.

Hill Station: There is a public boat launch at the bridge off Route 65 in Hill Station.

Clinchport: One can put in off of Route 65 about a half mile east of the Route 65/Route 23 intersection.  There is also roadside camping here.

Route 627: Route 627 is a small, low volume gravel road that runs from Route 23 all the way to Tennessee, following the river the whole way.  The put in is only about a mile from the state line; there is no bridge here.

Kyles Ford: There is a public canoe launch off Route 33 about 100 feet east of the Route 33/Route 72 intersection at Kyles Ford, where Route 72 crosses the river.  There is a store in Kyles Ford.

Sections of River to Run:

Nash’s Ford to Cleveland: From Nash’s Ford to Cleveland you’ll find beautiful scenery, countless campsites, and tons of fish.  There are no difficult rapids.  There is a bridge about halfway through this 9 mile or so trip.

Cleveland to St. Paul: This is a pretty stretch of river with great fishing and plenty of camping opportunities.  After putting in at the ball field the river is slow and peaceful for a ways with thick vegetation all around, just what heaven looks like.  Later on you’ll go through some little ledges with some underwater boulders, a good fishing spot.  Carbo power plant is about a third of the way through the trip, and is the one obscenity on an otherwise flawless stretch of river.  Revel in the remote valley after the power plant.  You could pick up some vittles in St. Paul if need be.

St. Paul to Carfax: It would be impossible for anywhere on earth to be more beautiful than this stretch of river, which flows past cliffs interspersed with fields.  There are beautiful boulder gardens and fun class 2 rapids.  The first significant rapid is immediately after the Route 58 bridge in St. Paul.  It is a slightly complex, sloping, river-wide ledge of three or four feet.  At lower water levels this rapid can be tricky because the current will tend to run diagonally from left to right in the main center drop.  If you flip in this rapid, get to shore on the left quickly because after an initial pool the river has vertical sides with no bank before another riffle.  Approximately three miles after the first ledge there is another abrupt, river wide ledge.  At lower water levels the best route is toward the left; at medium water levels run the sloping routes in the middle.  After three more miles or so you’ll notice the railroad on the left go into a tunnel.  Watch out and get over to the river right; you’re approaching a very dangerous rapid with numerous undercut rocks.  Do not run this rapid.  The left channel, which appears runnable from the river, turns out to be a sieve.  While it may not be deadly you’re liable to pin your boat.  The center channel also appears to be runnable from above but runs out of water in the drop because it goes under the big boulder in the middle of the river.  The right slot, which appears to have the most water, funnels under a nasty diagonal undercut that would appear to have the potential to trap unwary boats and people indefinitely.  After this rapid there are some nice campsites in the short, flat stretch of river before you reach Carfax.  You’re at Carfax when you see a small stream entering on the right, under a rail bridge, after which the river goes down a riffle next to a cliff on the left.  There is no bridge here.  There is no bridge at all between St. Paul and Dungannon, despite the alleged Route 611 crossing on the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.

Carfax to Dungannon: The prettiest cliffs on the Clinch are just downstream of Carfax, and many of them have great campsites near them. There is also a riverside cave across the way from a pretty beach campsite about halfway between Carfax and Dungannon.  The river flattens out and opens up, going over several gravel bars, before Dungannon.  This is one of the prettiest stretches of river in all of Virginia.

Dungannon to Fort Blackmore: This long, flat stretch of river is not recommended for canoeing except as part of a longer trip on the Clinch; the scenery does not compare to other sections of river.

Fort Blackmore to Hill Station: Immediately below Fort Blackmore is Pendleton Island, which is actually a series of islands owned by the Nature Conservancy.  You’ll see some of the best freshwater mussel populations in the state right here, so be careful not to disturb them.  Good scenery continues downstream.  There is a great rocky beach/grassy ledge campsite about 2/3 of the way from Fort Blackmore to Hill Station, located within view of the rail trestle.  Note that Hill Station is called “Hill” on the Atlas and Gazetteer.

Hill Station to Clinchport: Although Route 65 follows the river closely for this stretch the river is quite pretty, and traffic is generally not heavy or audible.  There is roadside camping in Clinchport, right off Route 65 about a half mile east of Route 23, in addition to plenty of other camping on river left.

Clinchport to Route 627: After Clinchport the river turns south and traverses a beautiful pass; unfortunately the high volume four lane Route 23 follows the river closely for two miles here.  After turning back to the southwest the scenery remains excellent without the roadnoise.  However, small roads on either side of the river, in addition to a paucity of islands, make camping difficult (there are just a few sites, many of them roadside on the south side of the river) from Route 23 to the Tennessee border.

Route 627 to Kyles Ford: There is a small roadside put in on the south side of the river, off Route 627, shortly before the state line.  Shortly after this put in the road on river right ends, offering many camping opportunities on the right.  Fishing near the state line and south is superb.  You’ll cross under a small bridge in Tennessee about 1/3 of the way to Kyles Ford.  About 3 miles above Kyles Ford is a series of beautiful ledges with cliffs on the left.  These easy class 1 rapids have some of the prettier scenery along the Clinch.  Campers should use the river right beach campsites before the ledges or the state-owned island half a mile below them because there is no camping next to the rapids, due to high cliffs on the right and a small road on the left.  Kyles Ford has the only store below St. Paul, located on Route 72 on river right.  The takeout can be recognized by a set of wide concrete stairs on the right, a hundred yards above the bridge.

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