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
for the upper reaches of the river and at the Virginia
Department of Environmental Quality's
Emporia dam. For the North Meherrin River, check the
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
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.