Whether you have a kayak or a canoe, paddling puts you in the center of the Valley, into places you can't access any other way. You might see beaver, bear, or deer unacclimated to human activity. Or you might be nearly startled out of your boat by a muskrat exiting his riverside den as you peer inside! The river is squeezed by vegetation on both sides. Beebalm, meadow rue, sweet Indian plantain, spiraea, Saint John wort, blue vervain, wood sage, monkshood, and a host of other reeds, sedges and grasses. With 14 miles of the Blackwater River flowing through the refuge there is much to explore. Continue below to learn about the different sections of the river.
Word of Caution: As you explore the river be on the look out for down trees and beaver dams that will need to be portaged over. It is advise to monitor the water gauge when preparing a float plan. Use the U.S. Geological Survey river gauge at the Town of Davis to help you prepare. When the river is below 3.7 feet, plan to portage over shallow areas. The higher the river gauge the swifter the river will move. Plan accordingly.
Timberline Road to Beall Bridge
Launch at Timberline Road launch site and paddle 3.8 miles to Beall Bridge, approximately 3 hours. When you launch from here you will find the river to be wild. As you progress down the river it flattens out and the bottom becomes rockier; at low water, you'll stick on a lot of rocks and/or need to portage. You might be able to see the log remains of the Eastham/Thompson splash dam just after a right-hand curve in the river. The take-out location is also called “Jason Harman” or “Beall” bridge. Leave a shuttle vehicle in the Beall Tract parking lot.
Beall Bridge to Laurel Landing
Launch at Beall Bridge launch site and paddle 10 miles to Laurel Landing, approximate 6 hours. This section of the Blackwater brings you into the heart of the Valley. Sand Run, North Branch of the Blackwater and the Little Blackwater all add to the volume. Flora and more flora!! Beavers, bear sign, ducks, and herons could be found. Expect to portage over beaver dams, rocks, one or two downed trees.
Laurel Landing Upstream
Take as much time as you want on this section. Launch from the ADA canoe/kayak launch and head upstream, you will find the river to be slow moving and easy to paddle against the current. You will find the river to begin to meander through large trees on the bank. Keep your eyes open because you may see a kingfisher with its rattle call, or a heron looking for fish. As you approach the Little Blackwater, your wide river becomes smaller and wider. This section can be done at lower river levels but expect to get out and portage over beaver dams and sandbars. This a great summer time adventure or for fall leaf peeping.
Laurel Landing Downstream
The character of the river changes below the Camp 70 Bridge. This section has more water, more rocks to negotiate, and stronger currents than the upper sections and therefore requires more attention and skill. About one mile above the town dam, there is Triple Drop, a Class III rapids. In the spring, please respect trout fishermen along the banks.