The Albemarle Basin

The Meherrin is one of five rivers that drain the 
Piedmont and Coastal Plain of southern Virginia 
and northern North Carolina.  The Blackwater, 
Nottoway, Meherrin, Chowan and Roanoke rivers 
are all part of an ancient system draining into 
Albemarle Sound, itself an ancient river valley 
drowned by rising sea level. 

All five of these waterways belong to a river 
class known as blackwater rivers.  Blackwater 
rivers have a deep, slow-moving channel that 
meanders through lowland forests of the 
Piedmont and wetlands of the coastal plain. 
The dark color is derived from a group of 
chemical compounds known as tannins that are 
leached from plant debris in the river, resulting 
in a transparent, slightly acidic water that is 
darkly stained, resembling tea or coffee. 

The Meherrin River originates by the joining of 
three branches: the North Fork, the Middle Fork 
and the South Fork.  All three branches begin 
in eastern Charlotte County, Virginia, where 
spring-fed creeks form their headwaters.

The Meherrin flows southeastward across the 
Piedmont separating Mecklenburg and Lunenburg 
Counties, crosses the Fall Line at Emporia, 
Virginia, then meanders through the Atlantic 
Coastal Plain in Brunswick, Greensville and 
Southampton Counties in Virginia.  In North 
Carolina, the Meherrin is joined by the Nottoway 
and Blackwater Rivers to form the Chowan River, 
a major contributor of fresh water to Albemarle 

Virginia Scenic River Status

The Meherrin is a simply beautiful river in its own right.  The steep riverbanks have rarely if ever been logged, and much of the river is buffered by a true old-growth forest -- a rare glimpse of what our land was like when Southside Virginia was still a wilderness.  The river is largely hidden from view by a thick forest of pine, oak, hickory, maple, sweetgum, dogwood, poplar and wild cherry.  The trees along the steep banks lean well over the river and create a canopy more typical of waterways much further south. Public interest in the river has taken on a new life with the restoration of the Whittle's Mill site.  It is an increasingly popular river for canoe and kayak adventures, and the river brings many visitors to Southside Virginia.

The Meherrin Forest is a primary refuge for wildlife.  
Deer, muskrat, fox, turkey, quail, bobcat, snapping 
turtle, raccoon, beaver, freshwater mussels, owl, 
black bear and eagle all find refuge along the river.  
Bluegill, white and black crappie, channel catfish, 
largemouth bass and walleye populate the river.  
The millpond upstream of Whittle's Mill is one of the 
best sites for smallmouth bass in Southside Virginia.

Small rivers across America are under assault from 
the pressures of relentless development, agricultural 
runoff and increasing population.  The Meherrin River
remains an unpolluted and largely free-flowing river.
Currently, the section of the Meherrin River 
separating Mecklenburg and Lunenburg Counties is 
the only part of the waterway not yet designated a 
Virginia Scenic River, a status that highlights and 
protects rivers with exceptional scenic, historic and 
natural qualities.  The river is of exceptional 
scientific interest.  To biologists, the diverse 
population of aquatic species serve as a measure 
of the health of the freshwater system, the reach
 of invasive species and the influence of global 
climate change on the natural environment of 
Southside Virginia. To geologists, the striking rock 
outcrops exposed along the steep riverbanks give 
insight into our most ancient natural history, 
including an ancient mountain range the
size of the Alps that once ran the length of the 
Piedmont.from Newfoundland to Alabama.

The Meherrin River deserves our stewardship.  Both the North Fork and the Brunswick County sections already have Scenic River designation.  The segment between the confluence of the North Fork and the Brunswick County line is a conspicuous gap. A final push is needed to obtain Scenic River recognition for the entire length of the Meherrin River in Virginia.

To learn more about Virginia's Scenic Rivers, visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation site at Virginia Rivers (opens in a new window.) 

Meherrin River Water Trail

South Hill is currently working with neighboring 
towns, counties and state agencies to establish the 
Virginia Blueway Trail along the Meherrin River.  The 
canoe and kayak trail will eventually have overnight 
camping areas and canoe ramps spaced along the 
river where bridges cross the stream.  The canoe 
ramp is already completed and in use at Whittle’s Mill.  
The Blueway Trail will eventually extend from the 
headwaters of the North Fork of the Meherrin to the 
confluence of the Chowan River.

The Meherrin River is subject to flooding after rainstorms 
and periods of very low water during dry spells.  Before 
heading to the river with your canoe or kayak, check the 
water level at the USGS gauging station at Lawrenceville 
for the upper reaches of the river and at the Virginia
 Department of Environmental Quality's 
gauging station at Emporia for routes downstream of the 
Emporia dam.  For the North Meherrin River, check the 
USGS North Meherrin gauging station.  

Use the link below to view and print an index map of the 
Meherrin Blueway Trail from the North Fork and South 
Forks of the Meherrin River to the Brunswick County line 
at the U.S. Highway 1 bridge.  The Whittle's Mill section is 
a full one-day trip or an easy two-day float with primitive 
camping (no facilities) either at Whittle's Mill Park or on the 
many sandbars along the river.

Southside Virginia's Hidden River

The Meherrin River is one of the the best-kept 
secrets in Virginia.  It is a simply beautiful black-
water river that meanders through the rolling farm 
country of the Piedmont and then through the 
lowland forests of the Coastal Plain in Southside 
Virginia and into North Carolina.  Its dark waters 
remain unpolluted, and the river valley is largely 
secluded from development. Except at the few 
bridges crossing the river, it's not unusual to spend 
the entire day floating the Meherrin without seeing 
another person or hearing a sound other than the 
river, the wind and the abundant wildlife of the 
Meherrin Forest.

Most of the Meherrin River Valley was dissected 
during the last of the great Ice Ages that peaked 
about 20,000 years ago.  The Ice Age locked up 
vast quantities of sea water into continental ice 
sheets.   As the ice grew, global sea level fell 
dramatically.  The beaches and coastal plain of 
the eastern seaboard migrated more than 100 
miles to the east of its present location, exposing 
much of the continental shelf as dry land.  As 
sea level fell, the gradient of the Meherrin and 
other river systems steepened sharply and the 
river eroded deeply into the land surface.  

The great ice sheets and glaciers never reached 
this far south, but the vertical cliffs along the 
upper reaches of the Meherrin River are the 
signature in the landscape of the last Ice Age 
20,000 years ago.

Copyright (c) 2010 - 2015
     All Rights Reserved
About the Meherrin River
The Meherrin River is splendidly isolated along much of its length by the thick old-growth corridor of the Meherrin Forest.  Photograph of the North Fork of the Meherrin by Michael B. McAlea used with permission.  

Index Map of the five rivers draining into Albemarle Sound.  The Blackwater and Chowan Rivers flow entirely through the Coastal Plain, while the Nottoway, Meherrin and Roanoke Rivers begin in the outer Piedmont province and cross the Fall Line about halfway along their course..  
Canoe ramp at the Millpond at Max B. Crowder Memorial Park at  Whittle's Mill.  The ramp was built and maintained by the Town of South Hill.  The millpond is one of the best smallmouth bass spots in Virginia but, for goodness sakes, don't tell anyone.
 A  Virginia Scenic River
The Christmas Day snow along the Meherrin River, December 2010.  Photograph (c) by Richard Baird used with permission.  Image was taken from the bridge along Robinson Ferry Road.

North Carolina