About the James River

The James River is Virginia’s largest river, flowing across the entire state. It begins in the mountains at the confluence of the Cowpasture and Jackson Rivers in Bath and Highland Counties and ends at the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton Roads. The James is Virginia’s largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. It is 340 miles long and is fed by 15,000 miles of tributaries, which makes it one of the longest rivers in America that begins and ends in the same state.

The James River watershed encompasses approximately 10,000 square miles, which makes up almost 25% of the state. It is home to one-third of all Virginians who live in its 39 counties and 19 cities and towns, and touches the lives of more Virginians than any other feature in the landscape. Residents of the watershed rely on the James for drinking water, commerce and recreation.

The watershed is comprised of three sections. The Upper James Watershed begins in Alleghany County and travels through the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains until Lynchburg. The Middle James runs from Lynchburg to the Fall Line in Richmond, while the Lower James stretches from the fall line in Richmond to the Chesapeake Bay.

Fast Facts

• The James River is Virginia’s largest river and its largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay
• Approximately 3 million Virginians live in the 10,000 square mile James River watershed
• Largest tributaries: Appomattox River, Chickahominy River, Cowpasture River, Hardware River, Jackson River, Maury River, Rivanna River, Tye River.
• The James River was home to Virginia’s first colonial capital at Williamsburg and is home of the modern capitol at Richmond.
• The largest roosting area on the eastern seaboard for Bald eagles is the James River.
• The Falls of the James at Richmond drop 105 feet over seven miles. This offers a Class I to Class V rapids and represents the only white water that cuts through the heart of an urban area.
• Some of Virginia’s oldest plantations overlook the James including: Shirley, Berkeley, Westover, Evelynton, Edgewood, Piney Grove, Carter’s Grove, and Sherwood Forest.
• The James is home to one of the largest and busiest harbors in the world at Norfolk

Great Blue Heron

Go anywhere on the James River and you stand a fair chance of spotting a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Indeed, the heron’s commonness might beget boredom were it not for the bird’s fascinating habits and unusual grace. Awaiting its next minnow-meal, the great...
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Great Returns

Despite pollution and habitat loss, populations of some James River species have begun to rebound. Legislation beginning with the Clean Water Act of 1972 and restoration efforts by many organizations have contributed to these great returns.   Atlantic Sturgeon...
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The Virginia Big-Eared Bat

As Halloween grows near and people search out for ghosts and ghouls, one favorite fluttering treat is the occasional sight of a bat in the evening. Despite Hollywood’s attempt to create a fearsome façade there is nothing to fear from any of Virginia’s native bat...
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