James River Expeditions


COVID-19 Update: We take the safety of our students and staff and their families very seriously. With the uncertainty of the time, and changes being made daily, we are monitoring and abiding by national, state, and local safety guidelines and procedures.  We have decided to move forward with the planning and registration for our James River Expedition program and will be in constant communication with the applicants with any changes to our program. Payment is not needed at the time of your application

​This program is limited to 30 students, so please do not wait to apply. If you have any questions, please reach out to our Environmental Educator, Julia Carson at jcarson@thejamesriver.org.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime while learning about the environmental and social benefits the James River provides Virginia!

Since 2011, the James River Association has led James River Expeditions to engage high school students with the environment and provide an up-close and personal experience with the James River. Expeditions play a crucial role in fulfilling JRA’s vision to educate, empower, and raise awareness among Virginians to the James River’s abundant natural resources, rich aquatic habitats, and vast options for outdoor recreation.

The week-long adventure, combining canoeing, camping and environmental education, offers a unique opportunity for students to connect with the James as a resource and brings together diverse audiences and skill sets which are advocating for the same cause: a thriving James River. There is no other program for high school students that provides this unique combination of environmental literacy and recreation, at little expense to the student.

Expeditions help high school students develop an appreciation for the James River, its ecological health, the joy of outdoor recreation, and the virtues of time spent outside. This new-found appreciation includes a recognition of the need to advocate for the protection and conservation of our common natural resources and helps fulfill JRA’s strategic goal: to help communities realize the benefits from a healthy James and support protecting it. Additionally, Expeditions inspire teachers to help foster a culture of sustainable outdoor stewardship, as they go on to become influential outdoor advocates and educators within their own classrooms.

The 2020 Expedition will include thirty students from all over the James River basin. This amazing journey all begins in Richmond as ten students and a team of experienced James River Association staff and educators begin their paddle to the Chesapeake Bay. The Expeditions will continue with two more five-day trips on the Upper and Middle James. Together, the three Expedition teams will have collectively paddled the 340 miles of America’s Founding River.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of this amazing adventure and is sure to be an experience that you will never forget. Over the past nine years, The James River Expeditions have taken 260 students, 29 adults and 48 schools in the James River watershed on the summer paddling trip of a lifetime. 


For more information

For more information about the James River Expeditions contact JRA Environmental Educator, Julia Carson at jcarson@thejamesriver.org or at 804.788.8811 ext. 207.

Environmental Opportunities for High School Students

One of the James River Association’s primary strategies for a healthy James River is to help communities realize the benefits of a healthy river. Environmental education is a key way we do this. We work to inspire the next generation of river stewards and...

2019 Middle James River Expedition

The James River Middle Expedition is the adventure that all high school kids should experience during their summer break. This year, we spent the first couple of days getting over the hurdle of rainy days and wet gear. Overcoming these obstacles was key to...

James River Expedition Perspective

by Jordan Cramer, James River Association Intern Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join the Upper James River Expedition. With several JRA staff, we visited the Expedition Team for the last section of their trip, through the James River Gorge to Snowden, VA. I...

2019 Upper James River Expedition

Three James River Expedition trips are offered during the summer as three different week-long experiences for a total of 30 students and 3 teachers.  With a focus on nature and being outdoors, students are “unplugged” for the week and are not permitted to...

2019 Lower James River Expedition

The first leg of the James River Association’s James River Expedition program is complete! The James River Expedition program is a 6-day on-the-water journey giving students the first-hand experience of James River wildlife, how the river benefits...

2020 Trip Dates by River Section

  • Lower James: Richmond to Hampton, June 22nd-26th
  • Upper James: Iron Gate to Snowden,  July 13th-17th
  • Middle James: Lynchburg to Cartersville, July 20th-24th

Join the Adventure! - Applications Due March 31, 2020

What are the James River Expeditions?

Expeditions are offered during the summer as three different week-long experiences for a total of 30 rising 10th and 11th grade high school students and 3 teachers.

Expeditions launch from a different region of the James River (upper, middle, and lower) each week and enable each participant to spend approx. 120 hours on the James. Students travel by canoe during the day, with scheduled stops for educational sessions such as water quality testing, nature walks or conservation talks, times for team building activities, tours of local sites, and/or outdoor recreation options such as swimming and rafting. Each evening students set-up camp, perform their assigned camp roles (given the first day of the week), prepare and gather for a communal dinner, and attend the evening events which typically include a program component with a guest speaker, along with time for team camaraderie and fun around the campfire.

With a focus on nature and being outdoors, students are “unplugged” for the week and are not permitted to bring cell phones or any other electronics. JRA staff helps to tell the story of the Expeditions through social media and blog features on our website. Students are encouraged to write trips blogs, which enable family and friends to follow the trip. Safety is a priority for every member of the Expedition, with attention concentrated on the prevention of accidents through careful planning and open communication. JRA staff are trained in Wilderness First Responder, CPR, American Canoe Association certification, and have vast experience conducting educational trips of this kind. Weather is monitored carefully during Expeditions with consideration paid to severe thunderstorms, excessive rain, heat indexes, etc. and staff members are trained in safety precautions and evacuation routes.

Through James River Expeditions a firm, well-developed appreciation for the James River, its ecological health, the joy of outdoor recreation, and the virtues of time spent outside are all realized. JRA believes this new-found appreciation will include a recognition of the need to advocate for the protection and conservation of our common natural resources and will fulfill our designated strategic goal: to help communities realize benefits from a healthy James and support protecting it.

James River Expeditions FAQ

1. Do we stay overnight on the Expeditions?
Yes, the Expedition is continuous, and we camp each night at various campgrounds, private properties, and parks. We will be sleeping in tents, in sleeping bags, on sleeping pads each night.

2. How many miles of the James River will we be paddling?
The Expeditions are broken into three trips, with each trip varying in number of miles:

  • Upper James River Expedition = 70 miles
  • Middle James River Expedition = 100 miles
  • Lower James River Expedition = 110 miles.

3. Who will be on the trip with me?
Students from different cities, towns, and schools throughout the watershed will be participating in each trip. You will meet your Expedition Team and leaders during a pre-trip informational meeting.

4. When is the $200 fee due?
We generally collect this fee during one of our pre-trip informational meetings. However, if this fee limits any student’s participation, it can be reduced or waived completely.

5. What will we eat?
We will prepare our own food in camp using propane stoves, a fire, and the food we pack with us.

6. Where do we take showers?
We will have very limited access to showers. To get clean, we will use a bucket of water and biodegradable soap.

7. How do I communicate with my friends and family? Will I be allowed to bring my phone?
Students will not be taking personal cell phones or any other electronics on the trip. We will be telling the story of our trip through the media and internet. Students will be able to write blogs and families and friends will be able to follow our progress closely by viewing the trip blog.

8. Where do we get our drinking water?
We fill large jugs with water at strategic points along the way. We will learn to conserve the water we have.

9. Where do we go to the bathroom?
For Number 1, it will be convenient for all trip participants to use the woods. For Number 2, we will use either the restroom facilities at campgrounds or a portable toilet that we will set up in a private place at each of our wilderness camps.

10. How safe is this trip?
Safety is absolutely the first priority for every member of the team, with our focus on prevention of accidents through careful planning and open communications. Staff members are trained in Wilderness First Aid, CPR, and Canoe Instruction and have experience running trips of this kind.

11. What happens during bad weather?
We are always mindful of the weather during Expeditions (severe thunderstorms, rain, excessive heat, etc.) Staff members are trained to take immediate safety precautions and evacuation routes are generally accessible within a few miles of any point on the river.

12. What sort of pre-trip preparation is provided for me?
Participants and their parents/guardians are required to attend a pre-trip informational meeting. This will be a great time to get into the nitty-gritty detail questions about the trip. Before this time, the James River Association will provide a detailed packing list, a trip itinerary, and a suggested reading list. We will always be standing by to answer all questions.