If there’s one thing that’s true about Virginians, it’s how much we love time on the “rivah.” So why not turn this love into day-long festivals? The whole concept of a river festival lends itself to so many possibilities: music, food, water activities, and most importantly, appreciation for the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for an excuse to kick back by some of Virginia’s most beautiful rivers, or engage in some fun-filled water sports, these are the festivals for you. And the best news of all? Most of these are free!
1. Dominion Riverrock
Held annually in Richmond, Dominion Riverrock is a 3-day event that celebrates sports, music, and just about everything river-related. The downtown community is brought together through group sporting events, friendly competitions, and a few days spent enjoying the James. Some popular events include mud runs, community yoga, and paddle boarding. And of course, it wouldn't be a true festival without delicious food and awesome music. This year's event takes place from May 20th - May 22nd.
2. Lower Appomattox RiverFest
This Petersburg riverfest is a celebration of all the activities for river enthusiasts: fishing, tubing, kayaking, and canoeing. Eco Trek Adventures offers lessons for younger or beginner adventure-seekers. There will also be Canal History Rides, and a good close look at all the river critters along the Appomattox. Those on dry land will enjoy music from two live bands, Bowld Sojer Band and Jimmy Jones & Friends, as well as plenty of food. This year's festival was on April 30th.
3. Smith River Fest
Located in Henry County, Virginia along the Smith River is the annual Smith River Fest. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and even fly fishing lessons can all be enjoyed on this celebratory day. The lovely Smith River meanders through 45 beautiful scenic miles, 20 of which are part of a shared trail system known as the Smith River Trail System. There's a 5k Mud Race known as the Helgramite Hustle and the prestigious Blue Ridge Duck Race (see photograph below). You can expect plenty of food and drink vendors so you can refuel for more river activities. The event will take place August 13th.
Here we have 8,000 ducks happily floating down the Smith River.
4. James RiverFest
The James RIverFest in Williamsburg is a day of fun for the whole family and takes place at the James City County Marina. There will be kids activities, kayaking tours (and also free kayaking paddles), bike rides and live music. Starting mid-day, there will also be pontoon guided tours of the river given by Jamestown Discovery Boat Tours, allowing festival-goers to truly soak in the beautiful and historic surroundings. Bike tours will also be given to showcase the newly restored Capital Bike Trail. Because the RiverFest is a celebration of the Chesapeake, all crafts for sale will be skillfully handmade. This fun event took place on April 30th this year.
5. Wild Blue River Festival
Wild Blue River Festival in Halifax is not one to be missed. Dates for this year's festivities have not been set yet, although it will take place sometime in September. The event spans over a few days, beginning with the important River Cleanup. Volunteers can cruise along in canoes or walk on foot to pick up trash from where it doesn't belong. This paves the way for many enjoyable days by the river, and draws attention to the importance of river protection. Those who registered will get a free t-shirt and lunch for their services.
The activities kick off with the Stargazing Paddle on Banister Lake. This memorable event is made possible by Staunton River State Park, which donates nine canoes for stargazers to paddle up from Banister Lake Landing to watch the Milky Way in all its glory. This particular evening event costs $25, and those who don't reserve a spot online will need to bring their own boats. Enjoy the tranquility, because things will speed up the next day with kayak races and canoe races. (Photographed above: Staunton River State Park.)
In addition to all the favorite water sports and activities the day portion of this festival will feature a 26-foot rock climbing wall.
Other family-fun activities include fish printing, boat building for kids, t-shirt making, and a kayak river. There will also be plenty of local vendors to visit.
6. Clinch River Days Festival
The annual Clinch River Days Festival takes place in Saint Paul and is a weekend long celebration of the river and mountains.The 3-day lineup is filled with activities, which include a tasting of local wine & craft beer, caving, a paddlefest, trail runs, a classic car show, and an impressive farmers market. Each day will be filled with music too -- at least 8 different bands are scheduled to play over the weekend. This year's festival takes place from June 2nd - June 4th. (Photograph taken from Oxbow Lake Trail).
RivahFest takes over Prince Street in Tappahannock every summer. This hometown festival has a little bit of everything, with boat races, classic car shows, a singing contest, boat displays, a beer garden, food vendors, a farmers market, and more. One of the more memorable activities is the crab race. Contestants can place crabs on a miniature downhill racing track and watch the little competitors scurry to the finish line. The rules clearly state that only amateur crabs can enter. It's all about friendly competition at RivahFest. This year's date will be June 18th.