The Northern Neck is quiet. It’s rural. It’s unassuming. But once you arrive and start to explore this region of Virginia, you kinda get sucked in. Into the simplicity, the natural beauty, and the very rich history. The main roads are just two lanes wide in most places, lined with fields of corn and soybeans. Cute, small towns are sprinkled across the peninsula, each with its own unique charm. And surrounding the Northern Neck in just about every direction you head, are secluded creeks that are just waiting to be paddled.
Warsaw, Virginia, located in Richmond County not far from the Rappahannock, is surrounded by paddling opportunities that are rich in both natural and cultural history. If visiting the Warsaw area, there are two waterways that you don’t want to miss: Menokin Bay and Totuskey Creek.
Cat Point Creek is an 8 mile creek that meanders south to the Rappahannock River. When paddling upstream toward the upper portion of the creek, it opens up into a wider waterway called Menokin Bay, before narrowing again further up the creek. The easiest way to access Menokin Bay is by the soft launch area located within the Menokin property. Menokin is a historic site with an incredible vision for preservation, as well as a mission to tell the story of those that lived and worked on the property, dating back to the American Indians.
The house at Menokin is clearly a focal point of the site. Built in 1769, the house was home to Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But the Menokin Foundation recognizes that there is a much larger and more complete story to be told at Menokin, that stretches far beyond the house ruins. They are currently working to research the lives of those that were enslaved on the property, as well as the Rappahannock Tribe, who lived on the land long before English settlement. The Menokin Foundation believes in being transparent, both by telling a complete story, and quite literally in their preservation plans for the house.
Before (or after) paddling, be sure to book a walking tour to experience all that the site has to offer. If tours are not available during your visit, Menokin has a downloadable digital guide and map on their website. Hard copies are also available to pick up at the visitor center.
There are several parking spots near the launch, but you must first drive down a steep, gravel roadway to get down to the creek. Once you have launched into the creek, you’ll be right in what they call Menokin Bay, which borders the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Heading across the bay and upstream, you will quickly be surrounded by nothing but wetlands, forest, and silence. There are no houses and no power lines in sight. At times you won’t even hear a car in the distance or a plane flying over. Cat Point Creek truly gives you a glimpse into the past, and what the Northern Neck looked and sounded like back when Menokin was abuzz with activity. The tranquility allows you to really immerse yourself in the history and feel connected to the lives that graced this region centuries ago.
Not only does the creek provide a connection to Virginia’s heritage, it can also be packed with wildlife sightings! Wading birds such as great egrets and great blue herons can be seen frequently. Bald eagles and osprey soar the skies above. Painted turtles sun themselves on fallen branches. If you’re super lucky, you may even spot some river otters playing near the riverbanks or longnose gar just breaking the surface of the water.
If you don’t have your own kayak, be sure to check out Rappahannock Outdoor Adventures. They offer rentals and occasional moonlight paddles at Menokin!
Another incredible place to paddle in the Warsaw area is Totuskey Creek. You can access the creek from the Totuskey boat ramp, located directly adjacent to Route 3, also known as History Land Highway. That is a very fitting name, given the nearby history of Menokin, as well as the history of Totuskey Creek. The land along the creek was originally inhabited by the Rappahannock Tribe until the 17th century. Over time, their lands were sold to Enligh settlers and they eventually moved to the south side of the Rappahannock River. There is even a historic marker just up the bank from the boat ramp, recognizing the tribe.
You have a choice of paddling upstream or down, but we recommend heading upstream first, to really get a sense of the area’s past. Very few houses can be seen from the creek, and just like Menokin, the stillness and tranquility allow you to immerse yourself in the history and imagine what life along the creek was like over 400 years ago.
Have your camera ready at all times as bald eagles pop out of the trees unexpectedly and frequently as you paddle by. Belted kingfishers call through the trees. Great blue herons squawk in the distance. And if you paddle the creek at just the right time of year and just the right weather conditions, you could be treated to a whole display of butterflies making their way from rose mallow bloom to rose mallow bloom.
Totuskey Creek was at one time an important waterway for the tobacco industry in the 18th century. By the 1840s, the tobacco industry had declined, but the area was becoming a good source of timber, so the Totuskey Bridge Store was built near the present Route 3 bridge. Over time, several granaries were built nearby along the creek. Upon returning to the boat ramp, you can’t help but notice the large remains of one of those granaries sitting just opposite the creek from the landing, providing an image of a life that once was.
Grab Some Post-Paddle Grub
While you’re busy paddling the historic waterways in and area Warsaw, you’re probably going to work up an appetite! The charming town of Warsaw has a handful of great dining options. Start your day at The Daily for a latte and donut, or stop in for lunch for a quick sandwich and a cold brew. If you’re looking for a relaxing dinner option, Relish offers up fresh, farm-to-table entrees, with a menu that changes regularly, based on what local farmers have available. For those seeking a restaurant with more of a pub vibe, check out the Old Rapp Taphouse, complete with a taproom and outdoor beer garden.
For more information on other historic sites, as well as dining and lodging options, be sure to visit the Northern Neck Tourism website.
Happy water trails!