Maybe you grew up paddling a canoe either at summer camp with a buddy or perhaps with an adventurous parent, sibling or cousin. Or you may have discovered the joys of paddling as an adult. Perhaps you’ve never paddled at all but love water, nature and adventure and prefer to experience it from a distance — like reading about it.
I did not grow up paddling (kayaking or canoeing), but I did grow up playing in the creek and as I got older, going to the lake. Luckily, I eventually met folks with motorboats who taught me how to waterski. I was instantly captivated by that exhilarating thrill of the wind in my hair and water spray on my face. In North Carolina, we called it Kerr Lake, but Virginians just across the border from my hometown called it Buggs Island.
As an adult, I found another outlet for my love of cruising the waterways — kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding. These low key methods of enjoying the water have their advantages. You are more intimately connected to the water and nature, you definitely see more wildlife, and you get a great workout, using your own power to propel the vessel, stroke after stroke.
A Lake Bagging Trip
I recently spent four days river and lake bagging in the Hyco Lake region, paddling every waterway I could find in the time frame I had. This is what struck me as I drove through Caswell, Person and Halifax counties and the Danville area: there are far fewer housing developments, there are far more mostly white farmhouses from the 1900s on massive acres of farmland, more rolling fields and healthy crops, scenic highways, less office complex developments, less retail complexes. In short, it is gorgeous and still unspoiled by massive over development.
For this water journey, I set up my tent as base camp at Staunton River State Park and headed out to see and paddle as much as possible. Following are a few of my favorite finds. Perhaps you have already found them, or you know of some gems I did not mention. If so, please share them with us on our Facebook page. If you have not discovered the joy of paddling at any age (my mother has arthritis, bolts and screws in her arm, spinal stenosis and doesn’t know how to swim. She started paddling at 79-years-.young and is totally addicted. So, what are you waiting for?
I hope to SYOTWS! (See you on the water soon.)
I have driven over the Hyco Creeks on U.S. Highway 158 for the past 23 years on my way to my hometowns in Granville and Vance counties. Over the years, I developed a burning desire to paddle the Hyco River because . . . it’s water and I am a paddler.
I put in at Hyco Boat Ramp off of Highway 58 in Virgilina. I chose to paddle up the river to the next bridge and then back down, but you could easily, with a shuttle vehicle, paddle down to where it flows into the Dan River, or continue on to the Roanoke to Staunton River State Park. Another option is to paddle down to the Dan then back up Aaron’s Creek.
Check water flow. Under normal flows, there is not a lot of current. Watch for motorboat traffic and have a topo map/app and GPS unit to navigate. According to local sources, it can be a little hard to navigate the main channel. Better yet, touch base with a local and invite him or her to go with you to show you the way.
If you paddle from Hyco Boat Ramp to the Dan River, then back up Aaron’s Creek, that is a bonafide river bagging trip. Three rivers/creeks in one trip. I have a spreadsheet that chronicles every body of water I have paddled in the past 13 years. It’s fun to look back at my notes on special adventures with fondness, and as I get older, I have trouble remembering if I’ve paddled something or not. Maybe you can relate.
The Banister has been on my “to paddle” list for many years, but every time I made plans to paddle it, something came up. So, I was thrilled to finally paddle this river in Halifax, Va. I put in at King’s Bridge Landing and paddled to the lesser known take-out of Cowford. Most folks paddle on down to Terry’s Bridge but I only had four days to paddle as much water as I could.
I had the help of two wonderful locals. Carl Espy is the Halifax town manager and an avid canoeist and naturalist, as well as novice historian. Wayne Goode also helped. By the way, he has a property for sale on the river at King’s Landing in Halifax that would be a perfect place for a river outfitter. The two of them informed me that there was the Cow Ford (Cowford) take-out that cuts the mileage in half. Perfect! I could get a feel of the section without taking too long.
The put-in at King’s Bridge is gorgeous, with old bridge pilings. The Banister is a Virginia Scenic River and has old navigation sluices (man-made V’s in the river usually using rocks or wood) that the bateaus used to navigate the river.
Finding Places to Paddle
The Dan River Basin Association is a terrific resource for places to paddle, history, and future plans for accesses in this region. The association hosts monthly public outings (paddling in summer and hiking in winter) that are free and open to the public. Every so often, the association will lead a trip on the Banister (and the Dan and surrounding areas as well.) This is a great way to get introduced to nature loving local paddlers who are interested in safety and enhancing the rivers’ watersheds.
While you are in Halifax, check out paddling Banister Lake as well.
My husband is from Staunton, Va., and I used to get the river and the town mixed up, but I do know the correct pronunciation. The Staunton River, also known as The Roanoke, was a wonderful paddle. A local passionate paddler named Dennis with the group Renegade River Runners was instrumental in answering my many questions about paddling the Staunton and its creeks and tributaries.
The run I meant to do was from Long Island to Brookneal but that is over 10 miles, so Dennis told me about a sweet little put-in that cuts that section down to about 3.5 miles, from Seneca Creek to Long Island. It’s an easy Class I-II run that was perfect for my river bagging itinerary.
I do plan to return soon to paddle from Long Island to Brookneal and maybe even camp one night along the way. That section is a little livelier and you do need some skills maneuvering your vessel. It doesn’t hurt to have a local show you the lines.
When venturing past flat moving water to Class I and above, the best policy is to garner the advice and wisdom of those who have gone before you and know the safest routes. Also, a smart paddler will do research before embarking on an unknown river. They can be tricky.
Hyco Lake After Bay Reservoir
Hyco Lake proper can be pretty busy in summer with motorboat traffic, especially on weekends and holidays. But there exists a quieter spot that paddlers can use for a more relaxing venue. The After Bay has a Wildlife Resources Commission ramp with plenty of parking.
This area is known for its fishing and birds. Kayak fishing is a lot of fun, by the way. Located in Semora, the After Bay and its solitude are worth a little drive on back roads.
A popular section of the Dan in the Hyco Lake Region is from Angler’s Park in Danville down to Milton. This is an 11-mile, family and fishing friendly section that has mostly flat but moving water and is a great float and introduction to moving water for beginners.
Potential New Water to Paddle
Falkland Farm was purchased by the multi-millionaire who started the famous game Fortnite. He is protecting the 7,300-plus acre property from development. I spoke with the land manager and she said he plans to complete soil and tree testing and then permanently protect the property.
She also told me that the term Falkland in this case means the five bodies of water that are on the property; the significant ones are the Dan River, Banister River, Staunton River, Kerr Lake, and Peters Creek. It could mean it may become a part of Staunton River State Park, which connects to the property.
New water access as well as horse trails could potentially become available in the future. Let’s hope so and if you are a local, perhaps you could get involved and help that happen.
Located in Yanceyville, Farmer Lake has restrictions on jet skis, large motor boats and swimming, which makes it an ideal destination for paddlers. It’s quiet and wildlife abounds.
There are launch fees and rentals, but be sure to check the website as the lake is closed on Monday and Tuesday, and access is seasonal.
Tips Before Heading Out
The American Canoe Association guidelines are designed to help educate folks about getting on the water. The law states that you must have a life jacket on board. Wear a paddling specific — comfortable and not hot — life jacket, (personal flotation device) wear a pealess whistle on your PFD, and when paddling between dusk and dawn, carry a strong directional white light.
Know the dangers of cold water. In spring and fall, on a warm day, the cold water becomes deadly due to folks not realizing it is still cold. Cold-water gasp and hypothermia are risks.
Know your physical limitations and take some time to learn safe boating practices. This could save your life or someone you love. Also, when paddling rivers, please realize that moving water, even Class I, is a serious matter and should be approached with respect and knowledge.
Learn how to check the water gauges along the rivers to find out cubic feet per second (how fast the water is moving) and how high the water is. Do not paddle during a flood stage and learn how to maneuver your vessel to avoid deadly strainers.
It is a worthy endeavor to take some basic technique classes. You will enjoy your paddling experience much more and lessen your chances of injury. Teaming up with someone who knows the section of river and can show you the best lines down is important! Also remember to respect and honor all posted signs and private land access. Do not litter or deface property. When that happens, we all lose access rights.
I have compiled a significant list of resources that will be available at HycoLakeMagazine.com/paddling-the-hyco-lake-region.
JoAndra (Jo) Proia owns Outdoor Women by Jo Proia, LLC. Her mission is to educate, empower and excite women about the outdoors whether through kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, hiking, camping, horseback riding, target shooting and so much more! She is also the author of Piedmont Lakes; A Practical Guide for Boating in the Piedmont.
Click here for a bunch of resource links that Jo pulled together just for you!