Traveling interstate 81, you get a quick look at the Maury River just north of Lexington as it passes beneath a bridge underneath your wheels. If you're traveling U. S. 11 instead of the interstate, you get a more intimate look at the river. But neither perspective gives you a true picture of this fast mountain stream that offers so much to so many outdoorsmen. Nor would the traveler who looks upstream or down know that the river gathers it headwaters miles to the north beyond U. S. Highway 250 which snakes through the rugged mountains between the western Virginia towns of Churchville and Monterey.
Small mountain streams, many of which hold native brook trout join to form the Calfpasture River which merges with the Little Calfpasture River just west of Goshen Pass. There the Maury River is born. The water of the two major tributaries barely have time to mingle before the Maury enters the famous Goshen Pass and begins a turbulent run downstream, dropping as much as 20 feet in one 100 yard stretch of the river. Once through the Pass the river drops into the valley, continuing toward Lexington at a fast pace. It maintains that rate of flow, except where man intervened, until it enters the James River at Glasgow.
Unlike most Virginia rivers the Maury is contained entirely within Rockbridge County. It does not cross any county lines. While nature designed the Maury as a fast flowing stream from its headwaters to the confluence with the James, several dams have changed its personality. A pair of dams, an eight-foot one in Lexington and a 20-foot one near Buena Vista impound the fast water forming stretches of calm water behind them.
The Maury River is fairly short by most standards. From the confluence of the Calfpasture and the Little Calfpasture Rivers, it's approximately 30 miles to its confluence with the James River. En route it brushes the charming cities of Lexington and Buena Vista. While there is challenging whitewater such as Devil's Kitchen and other rapids too difficult for the novice to tackle, the river offers plenty of Class I and II water that the average canoeist or kayaker can handle. In addition to the fast water at Goshen Pass, there are the remains of Goose Neck Dam downstream from Buena Vista that require care. This is Class II+ water.
The names of rivers often raise questions from serious river lovers. How did the river get that name? Sometimes there's an explanation, sometimes none. There is, however, an explanation for this one. The Maury River was first called the North River of the James. It enters the James River from the north. But then came Matthew Fontaine Maury, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in the years following the Civil War during which he had served in the Confederate forces. In those postwar years he fell in love with Goshen Pass and requested that at his death his remains be carried through the pass and on to Richmond for burial. An honor guard of Virginia Military Institute cadets carried out his wish. A monument in his honor now rest on the side of Virginia Primary Highway 39 where it passed through Goshen Pass. And the river was named for him.
Obviously the Maury River gets a lot of attention from whitewater canoeists and kayakers, primarily because of the Goshen Pass wild water. Most of this kind of river recreational use occurs during the colder months when the river is high. During the dry months of summer the river in this section is too low to canoe or even use a kayak. The only exception comes when heavy rainfall in the watershed of the river raise its level significantly - even if for only a day or so. Thanks to the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area, there is public access to the river through most of Goshen Pass. Virginia Primary Highway 39 follows the river and provides access in places. Downstream the river is considered a public waterway from Lexington to its mouth. While part of that section of the river brushes the George Washington National Forest, it is well to keep in mind that most of it flows through private land. Leaving the river to go ashore on private property is trespassing unless you have prior approval.