Traveling interstate 81, you get a quick look at the Maury River just north of Lexington as it passes beneath a bridge underneath your wheels. If you’re traveling U. S. 11 instead of the interstate, you get a more intimate look at the river. But neither perspective gives you a true picture of this fast mountain stream that offers so much to so many outdoorsmen. Nor would the traveler who looks upstream or down know that the river gathers it headwaters miles to the north beyond U. S. Highway 250 which snakes through the rugged mountains between the western Virginia towns of Churchville and Monterey.
Small mountain streams, many of which hold native brook trout join to form the Calfpasture River which merges with the Little Calfpasture River just west of Goshen Pass. There the Maury River is born. The water of the two major tributaries barely have time to mingle before the Maury enters the famous Goshen Pass and begins a turbulent run downstream, dropping as much as 20 feet in one 100 yard stretch of the river. Once through the Pass the river drops into the valley, continuing toward Lexington at a fast pace. It maintains that rate of flow, except where man intervened, until it enters the James River at Glasgow.
Unlike most Virginia rivers the Maury is contained entirely within Rockbridge County. It does not cross any county lines. While nature designed the Maury as a fast flowing stream from its headwaters to the confluence with the James, several dams have changed its personality. A 20-foot tall dam near Buena Vista impounds the fast water forming a stretch of calm water upstream.
The Maury River is fairly short by most standards. From the confluence of the Calfpasture and the Little Calfpasture Rivers, it’s approximately 30 miles to its confluence with the James River. En route it brushes the charming cities of Lexington and Buena Vista. While there is challenging whitewater such as Devil’s Kitchen and other rapids too difficult for the novice to tackle, the river offers plenty of Class I and II water that the average canoeist or kayaker can handle. In addition to the fast water at Goshen Pass, there are the remains of Goose Neck Dam downstream from Buena Vista that require care. This is Class II+ water.
The names of rivers often raise questions from serious river lovers. How did the river get that name? Sometimes there’s an explanation, sometimes none. There is, however, an explanation for this one. The Maury River was first called the North River of the James. It enters the James River from the north. But then came Matthew Fontaine Maury, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in the years following the Civil War during which he had served in the Confederate forces. In those postwar years he fell in love with Goshen Pass and requested that at his death his remains be carried through the pass and on to Richmond for burial. An honor guard of Virginia Military Institute cadets carried out his wish. A monument in his honor now rest on the side of Virginia Primary Highway 39 where it passed through Goshen Pass. And the river was named for him.
Obviously the Maury River gets a lot of attention from whitewater canoeists and kayakers, primarily because of the Goshen Pass wild water. Most of this kind of river recreational use occurs during the colder months when the river is high. During the dry months of summer the river in this section is too low to canoe or even use a kayak. The only exception comes when heavy rainfall in the watershed of the river raise its level significantly – even if for only a day or so. Thanks to the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area, there is public access to the river through most of Goshen Pass. Virginia Primary Highway 39 follows the river and provides access in places. Downstream the river is considered a public waterway from Lexington to its mouth. While part of that section of the river brushes the George Washington National Forest, it is well to keep in mind that most of it flows through private land. Leaving the river to go ashore on private property is trespassing unless you have prior approval.
Maps & Directions
Maury River Float Trip Guide
Printable Maps and Guides
Goshen WMA to VDOT Wayside
Distance: 2.5 miles — This trip begins at the DWR access at the “swinging” bridge that crosses the river. There is a gravel parking area and gently sloping bank to access the river. CAUTION: This reach of river through the Goshen Pass contains multiple Class II–IV white water rapids and should only be navigated by experienced whitewater paddlers. One (100 yard) stretch of Class IV rapids is known as the “Devil’s Kitchen”. Take out on river right at the VDOT wayside on Route 39. There is ample parking, picnic tables, a pavilion and portable restrooms at this location. This float offers beautiful scenery of the Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve. Much of this section of river is stocked with hatchery trout by DWR, October–May.
Bean’s Bottom / Route 631 (Furrs Mill Road) to Jordan Point Park (Lexington)
Distance: 2.5 miles — Put in on river left on the upstream side of the bridge. You will have to carry your kayak or canoe down a fairly- steep gravel path to get to the river. Parking is limited at this site and vehicles should be parked off the shoulder of Route 631 on the east side of the bridge. The one “obstacle” that paddlers should be aware of on this section is the 3 foot high Lexington Water Department Dam located just downstream of the confluence of Whistle Creek. Take out on river right at Jordan Point Park upstream of the Route 11 Bridge. There is ample parking and restrooms at the park. The park is only open sunrise to sunset.
Jordan Point Park to Ben Salem Wayside
Distance: 6 miles — This is one of the more popular stretches to paddle on the Maury River. Put in at the north end of the park on river right. There is ample parking and a gentle-sloped bank to launch your boat. Remember the park closes after dark. There are also restrooms located at the entrance to the park. This section of river contains several Class I–II rapids and the remnants of a few old locks and dams left over from the historic batteau navigation days in the mid-1800s. At the takeout (on river right) you will have to carry your boat up a steep, grassy hill about 100 yards to the road.
Ben Salem Wayside to Route 60 DWR Access
Distance: 1.5 miles — Put in at the Ben Salem Wayside along Route 60. Park your vehicle in one of two small lots or off the shoulder of Route 60. You will have to carry your boat down a steep, grassy hill about 100 yards to the river. This is a relatively short float, but the last half mile is flatwater created by Moomaw Dam 200 yards downstream of the take out point. Take out is on river left just upstream of the Route 60 Bridge. This is also a trailhead for the Chessie Nature Trail, which runs north from the parking area.
Glen Maury Park (Buena Vista) to Miller’s Dam (River Road)
Distance: 7 miles — This is a great float with lots of awesome fish habitat. There is ample parking and a grassy bank to launch canoes, kayaks, or rafts just on the upstream side (river right) of the Route 745 Bridge. There is also a handicapped-accessible concrete landing at this site. Paddlers will encounter several Class I–II+ rapids on this reach and the remains of several old dams. These old “broken” dams (Edmondson’s Dam, Goose Neck Dam, Devil’s Step Dam) contain large chunks of concrete and swift currents. Paddlers should scout the areas before running these rapids or “walk” their boats around these hazards. Take out is on river left at the remnants of Miller’s Dam (the take out is immediately upstream of the old lock). This is not an easy place to launch a canoe or kayak as the bank is steep and undeveloped. Parking is adjacent to River Road (SR 663) and limited space can only accommodate 6–8 vehicles. Due to the limited parking at Miller’s Dam, you may want to use this access primarily on weekdays.
Miller’s Dam (River Road) to Locher Landing (Glasgow)
Distance: 5 miles — This is a very mild and straightforward float. Paddlers will only encounter a few “riffles” and 2-3 Class I rapids in this reach of the lower river. Put in on river left at the remnants of Miller’s Dam (immediately upstream of the old lock). This is not an easy place to launch a canoe or kayak as the bank is steep and undeveloped. Parking is adjacent to River Road (SR 663) and limited space can only accommodate 6-8 vehicles. Take out on river right just downstream of the Route 130 Bridge. There is ample parking and a concrete ramp at Locher Landing. Due to the limited parking at Miller’s Dam, you may want to use this access primarily on weekdays.
Glen Maury Park (Buena Vista) to Locher Landing (Glasgow)
Distance: 12 miles — This is a long float and could take 6+ hours to complete, depending on the flow of the river. The first half of the trip is where you will find the best fish habitat and paddling challenges. There is ample parking and a grassy bank to launch canoes, kayaks, or rafts just on the upstream side (river right) of the Route 745 Bridge. There is also a handicapped-accessible concrete landing at this site. Paddlers will encounter several Class I–II+ rapids on this reach and the remains of several old dams. These old “broken” dams (Edmondson’s Dam, Goose Neck Dam, Devil’s Step Dam) contain large chunks of concrete and swift currents. Paddlers should scout the areas before running these rapids or “walk” their boats around these hazards. Take out on river right just downstream of the Route 130 Bridge. There is ample parking and a concrete ramp at Locher Landing.
Additional River Access Points / Private Property
Respect Private Property. From the bottom of Goshen Pass near Rockbridge Baths downstream to the confluence with the James River (except for the public access points depicted on this map), both banks of the river are private property, above the average high water mark. Always ask permission from the landowner before traversing across these properties. Obtaining permission from private landowners could provide access to other reaches of the river for paddling or fishing.
Safety / River Conditions
- High water can be dangerous. Know your limitations based on your experience level.
- Low water: The Maury River becomes difficult to navigate when the stream flow is less than 2.0 feet at the Buena Vista USGS Gage.
- Float time will depend on river flow and/or how much you paddle. At “normal” stream flow, the average paddler floats about 2 miles per hour.
Stream Flow and Real-Time River Conditions:
The Maury River does not enjoy a reputation for its fishing as do other Virginia rivers such as the James, New, Shenandoah, South Holston and others, but it does offer some interesting angling opportunities. The fishing might well be broken down into a trio of approaches; Goshen Pass, the fast water from Goshen Pass to the James River, and the still water behind the impoundments, primarily the 30-foot high dam at Buena Vista.
Let’s take the rowdy water of Goshen Pass first. This section of the river is top trout fishing water, Category A. That means that it is stocked once in October, November–December, and January-February. But it is stocked twice monthly in March, April, and May, the top trout fishing months in Virginia. Like so many Virginia trout waters, the water becomes too low and warm to hold trout through the summer. No doubt a few trout hide in dark, deep holes, and make it through the summer, but not many. Trout are not released in June, July, August, and September. The October releases are often contingent upon the quality of the water. If a long dry summer spell extends well into the fall, the October stocking might be delayed.
Another trout fishing opportunity is Guy’s Run, which enters the Maury River from the Goshen tract of the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This little stream has been identified by the Department of Wildlife Resources as a wild trout stream. This means native brook trout find its sparkling waters.
While the trout fishing is popular, the bass and sunfish in the river hold more appeal for many anglers. By bass, I mean smallmouth bass, the fish that has made the James River famous. You might catch a smallmouth bass anywhere from the headwaters where the Calfpasture and Little Calfpasture join to form the Maury, to the mouth of the river where it enters the James. Anglers frequently catch smallmouth bass while fishing the Goshen Pass waters for trout, but the best fishing begins downstream where the Pass waters become more gentle.
An ideal bass and sunfish trip might begin at the Glen Maury Park launching area in Buena Vista and end at the Department of Wildlife Resources’ Locher Landing near Glasgow. This is a 12-mile run and even a long summer day won’t give you enough time to fish all of it. Just pace yourself and fish only the most productive water. If you are interested in shorter trips where you can cover the water more thoroughly, talk to Glenn Rose of James River Basin Canoe Livery, Ltd., R.F.D. 6, Box 125, Lexington, Va. 24450, telephone: 540-261-7334. He has spent over 20 years on the Maury and knows it like the back of his hand. He can probably give you some suggestions regarding entering and leaving the river. He also has a website full of good information and useful links at CanoeVirginia.com.
As is true of most fast smallmouth bass streams, the Maury River is loaded with scrappy and tasty yellowbreast sunfish. Many anglers release their bass and string a good catch of sunfish for the table.
In addition to the bass and sunnies the Maury holds populations of rock bass, another stream mate of smallmouth bass in the western part of the state. Other angling possibilities include the likes of carp, catfish, and suckers.
For the best of the Maury River fishing, I would recommend going fairly light. My preference is a light spinning outfit featuring 4-pound test line – particularly when the water is gin clear. At other times you might want to move up to 6-pound test. Nothing heavier.
A number of years ago I found myself with a little time on my hands while visiting in Buena Vista. In those days I usually kept some fishing tackle in my car. I drove out to the impounded water behind the 30-foot dam in Buena Vista and began casting from the shore. It wasn’t long before I had landed a couple of nice largemouth bass. I’m sure that the likes of largemouth bass and bluegills find a home to their liking in that still water. It’s always worth a try.
I consider all fast-flowing inland rivers a possible have for wood ducks, and just this past February, while viewing the river from East Lexington park, I watched a trio of mallards leave the water and head upstream. I’m not sure how popular jump shooting for ducks is, but jump shooters on the James and a number of its tributaries enjoy good hunting. That could be still another charm of the Maury River. It’s easy to understand why Professor Maury fell in love with Goshen Pass and the river that flows through it.
Black Bass (Smallmouth and Largemouth)
5 per day in aggregate
No length limits
Rock Bass and Crappie
25 per day
No length limits
50 per day in aggregate
No length limits
2 per day
No length limit
20 per day (each species)
No length limits
Consult fishing regulation booklet for more information.
Facilities, Amenities, and Nearby Attractions
Please see Float Fishing Trips/Ramps under Maps.
Please contact the DWR Verona office for more information on the Maury River.