About the James

The James River is Virginia’s largest river, flowing across the entire state from its beginning at the headwaters of the Cowpasture and Jackson Rivers in Bath and Highland Counties, to its mouth at the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton Roads. The James is Virginia’s largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. The river is 340 miles long, 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 on the landscape.

The Watershed is comprised of three sections. The Upper James Watershed begins in Allegheny 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!

  • Drainage Area: 6,551,345 acres, 10,236.4 square miles*
  • 2000 Population: 2,604,246*
  • Larger Tributaries: Appomattox River, Chickahominy River, Cowpasture River, Hardware River, Jackson River, Maury River, Rivanna River, Tye River*
  • Percent Land Use: 5% Urban, 7% agriculture, 71% forest, 4% open water, 3% wetland*
  • The fall zone around Richmond drop the James 105 feet in seven miles.
  • The James was home to the first permanent settlement of the British Empire at Jamestown.
  • The James was home to the first colonial capitol at Williamsburg and is home of the modern capitol at Richmond.
  • The James boasts the largest roosting area on the Eastern Seaboard for Bald Eagles.
  • The James is home to one of the largest and busiest harbors in the world at Norfolk.

*Taken from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Tributary Strategy for the James River, Lynnhaven and Poquoson Coastal Basins, March 2005.


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