An On-line Journal of My Kayak Adventures in Eastern Virginia

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lafayette River - Basics

     The Lafayette River runs through the heart of Norfolk and joins the larger Elizabeth River just south of Hampton Roads harbor. I have paddled here more than anywhere else, primarily because I can walk to it from my house.  Unlike the very industrial and more heavily trafficked Elizabeth, the Lafayette's shores are almost entirely residential with a few scattered pockets of more natural areas here and there. Despite its urban location, there is a surprising amount of wildlife in and around the river, especially from shore birds and waterfowl.  Great blue herons, great egrets, yellow crowned night herons, gulls, cormorants  osprey and kingfishers are all common sights.  There is a fair number of fish in the water, and in recent years this has attracted pods of dolphins and the occasional river otter.  Numerous crabpots floating on the surface are evidence that a few watermen are still trying to make a living here, and the Elizabeth River Project has made strides in restoring the river's once famous oyster population.  This is usually a slow moving tidal river, but if the wind is up it can get pretty choppy and a challenge to paddle.  Even at the lowest tide there is plenty of water, but exploration of all the many side creeks, marshes and cut-throughs is limited then. Because the river is generally oriented east to west, it is a great place to watch the sun rise and set. On summer weekends there can be traffic from jet skis and boats, some pulling water skiers. However, most of the motorized crowd are considerate, but I would still advise keeping closer to shore when things are busy. During the pre-dawn and early morning hours you are likely to see several rowing crews taking advantage of these quieter times.

Tidewater Morning (2)

     There are not many public places to launch along the Lafayette, most kayakers put in from their own back yards.  Not being so lucky to own a waterfront home, I usually put in from one of several set of concrete steps that are built into the seawall that surrounds my neighborhood of Colonial Place along Mayflower Rd.  Getting in and out on the steps took some getting use to, but I now prefer it, just make sure there are no boat wakes headed your way while you are in transition. There are three boat ramps with access to the Lafayette. The best of the lot is Haven Creek on Delaware Ave. It has a concrete ramp, a dock and plenty of parking, just mind the spots reserved for vehicles with trailers. It can get frustratingly busy on summer weekends, but it is not so bad in the morning.  Once you are in the water it is a short paddle out to the Lafayette. My second ramp choice would be at the dead end of W. 45th St. off of Colley Ave. near the Tidewater Boat Club on Knitting Mill Creek. There are only a few on-street parking spaces here, but this site is rarely used by boaters. The ramp is concrete, but off to the left side is a patch of firm creek bottom. From the ramp head left (north) towards the Lafayette. The last option is (not really an option at all) the boat ramp next to the Virginia Zoo and Lafayette Park at the end of LaVallette Ave.  For the last few years the area around the ramp has been a staging area for major drainage improvements and street repair work. Even when all the work is done, I am not sure I would be comfortable leaving my car unattended here, though it is the closest most of us will ever get to an elephant with our kayaks.

View Lafayette River Launch Sites in a larger map


  1. I, too, live in Colonial Place and just bought a kayak. Your site is most helpful to starting out kayaking as I am new to the sport. Your pictures are incredible! What camara are you using? Hope to see you on the water.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I use a Nikon D5000 and usually run my photos through Photoshop. Some of the pics in my Lafayette posts were taken with a little Samsung point and shoot, before I had a watertight case for my good camera. I hope to see you on the water too.

  3. Thanks for the quick reply. I'll have to get a waterproof case for my Nikon.

  4. I too came on paddling late in life. just got a kayak and have been trying my hand on the Elizabeth river, southern and eastern ends for now. I will need to follow some of your Norfolk meanderings.

    Mike S. Chesapeake

    1. I hope what I have posted will be of help to you, and thanks for taking the time to comment. I am taking my son tomorrow on either the Blackwater or Nottoway; one last paddle before he starts college.