The 2016 River Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss

Does your idea of the perfect weekend include jumping on a paddleboard and traversing your nearby waterway? Or do you prefer lounging in the shade next to the steady sounds of the rushing current? Whether you are extremely active or just looking for a chance to gather with friends or family along a beautiful Virginia waterway, these eight river festivals give you a chance to add a little excitement into your weekends.

Dominion Riverrock—Richmond

May 20-22

Dominion RiverRock

Held annually at Brown’s Island, the outdoor event location that sits right beside the James River, Dominion Riverrock is the nation’s largest outdoor sports and music festival. These three days are filled to the brim with kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, biking, slacklining, paddleboarding, live music, and so much more. Thousands of athletes, spectators, musicians, and even dogs come together to share their interests in the great outdoors. The musical entertainment for 2016 includes G. Love & Special Sauce, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, and Futurebirds. This free outdoor event is not just for professional athletes. Anyone can sign up to participate in the Trail Runs, Group Hikes, 5K Mud Run, and other outdoor races and contests.

Lower Appomattox Riverfest—Petersburg

April 30

Lower Appomattox Riverfest is a free festival that celebrates the history and significance of this Virginia river. Visitors can attend freshwater fishing workshops, paddle sports workshops, and environmental learning activities like “Reptiles & Amphibians Show & Tell” and “Bugs are Beneficial”. If these free events aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other activities available at the festival. Take a boat ride down the canal to learn about the history of the Appomattox River. Listen to live music and try some culinary delights created by local vendors. Sign up for the naturalist trail hike and perhaps you can catch a glimpse of the river’s abundant wildlife. No matter what your interests, this festival has it all!

Clinch River Days Festival—St. Paul

June 2-4

The 18th annual Clinch River Days Festival is a mishmash of exciting events over three summer days. For the active adult festival-goers, the nature walks, birding, kayaking, canoeing and caving keep you on your feet until sundown each day. A more laid-back festival attendee may be interested in the classic car shows, live music, and civil war reenactment. Top these events with Virginia wine and beer samples and this festival officially has it all! Bring the kids along for the carnival rides and if they want to get more involved, they can sign up for the kid’s fishing tournament. Hike through eight miles of trails along the Clinch River. While there is no entrance fee for the festival, some of the participating events may charge admission.

Smith River Fest—Axton

August 13

Smith River Fest

This river festival celebrates almost any activity you could do on the Smith River. Participants paddle canoes and kayaks along the cast, while those that prefer fishing cast their lines in the current. The landlubbers hike and bike the trails that wind the terrain along the river for almost 20 miles. Walk them casually with friends, or sign up for one of the competitive races, like the 5K Mud Run. An annual festival at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton, Smith River Fest provides a free event for the outdoor enthusiasts in Virginia and visitors looking to discover the beautiful wilderness prevalent throughout the state.

James Riverfest—Williamsburg

April 30

The fourth annual James Riverfest is held at the James City County Marina in Williamsburg. Combining history, ecology, and entertainment, this festival offers boat rides, kayaking trips, bike tours, environmental presentations, and live music, all in one day! Ecology enthusiasts can learn how to calculate your water footprint, while history buffs discover what the original Jamestown settlement looked like. And all of this is made even better with absolutely free admission.

Waynesboro Riverfest—Waynesboro

April 30

waynesboro river fest

Looking for the kid-friendliest river event? This very well may be it. Waynesboro Riverfest lets kids learn about a variety of Virginia wildlife during presentations and interactive events, like the “Fish ‘n Fun Rodeo”, where children test their fishing skills with live trout that are caught and released into the South River. If the fish and wildlife aren’t an appeal for the little ones, they can explore their creativity at the kid’s arts and crafts booths. Purchase trinkets, treats, and snacks at the farmer’s market and get out onto the water with one of the free canoe rides. Wrap up the day of outdoor entertainment with the Great South River Duck Race, where participants can purchase or just cheer on the duck entries that float down to the finish line, signifying the closing of another successful Waynesboro Riverfest.


Festival by the River—Fries. September 17

Festival by the River is held each year at the Fries Town Park by the New River. Guests bring canoes, kayaks, and tubes to spend the day out on the river, while vendors serve up local foods and products. For the kids, visit the arts and crafts tents, sign them up for some friendly competition at the games stations, or teach them how to “saddle up” for a pony ride. Want some real competition? The festival hosts a two mile kayak race and the second annual “Bass Brawl”, a fishing faceoff. This Virginia festival highlights the culture and beauty of Southwest Virginia, featuring live mountain heritage music and goods, all set against the scenic backdrop of the New River.

Wild Blue River Festival—Halifax. September 17

Although the specific details of this year’s Wild Blue River Festival have not yet been announced, the events of last year’s river festival have us excited! These included a rock climbing wall, kayak and canoe rentals (and river races in these two categories), and scenic paddles down the Dan River. Kids can make their own t-shirts, learn how to build a boat, and practice casting on the water. This river festival brings together outdoors enthusiasts with nature conservationists to create a fun and educational annual event.


The cool steady currents of Virginia’s rivers make for ideal festival locations in the spring and summer. Get outside and attend a river festival to discover an event that is both action-packed and relaxingly scenic.

© pkeppel for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2016. |

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Patricia Keppel

We are FUN! We are RVA! We support local business and charities! Life is good!