Advice on the Shenandoah River

We’re thinking of paddling the Shenandoah from Shepherdstown to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia using rec kayaks. We’re wondering if it is suitable for a lazy paddle, or are there hazards we need to know about?

The first hazard you must overcome will be not getting run over by trucks and cars as you paddle or peddle your rec kayaks down the highway you will need to take to get to the 'Doah. Sheperdstown is on the Potomac, not the Shenandoah.

If you mean to paddle the Potomac, there are some hazards, and I am not the one to talk to about it because I’ve not paddled the entire stretch. Pick up Ed Gertler’s guidebook for Maryland rivers and I’m sure he will have it well covered.

Immediately above Harpers Ferry, there is a rapid known as the needles. I believe that above the needles there is some sort of dam ruins that some people run, but I hear people talking about avoiding rebar there. Seems hazardous to me. In the immediate Sheperdstown area, folks do flatwater paddling. The Needles is no more than Class II.

If you mean the Shenandoah, there are different and more severe hazards, although much of it is a very nice kayaking venue. But, you need to find a different place to start.

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Shenandoah or Potomac
Yikes! Sounds like the highway will be safer! Thanks!

Shenandoah at Harpers Ferry
I paddled the Shenandoah down to Harpers Ferry a couple of times, at least 11 years ago, so take this for what little it is worth: You need some modest whitewater skills, but it’s all class II except for one isolated drop that might be a class III (Bull Falls, maybe?). People do it in inner tubes in the summer. You don’t say what whitewater background you have. And you don’t indicate that you know that water levels make a big difference on whitewater rivers. So if you’re a whitewater novice, I recommend you get some guidance from more experienced friends or outfitters.

I repeat: this is low-quality information, out of date, from a guy who sometimes misremembers things. I recommend you get the Gertler book, and there used to be even more localized books (try the local outdoor and paddling shops). Or try to get information from the Canoe Cruisers Association, the Monocacy Canoe Club, or other local organizations. And throw some money towards the local outfitters, since knowledge is one of the main things they are selling. The theme here is: the information you seek is available, and it’s best had locally. Or just google it :slight_smile:

– Mark

Luray to Bentonville
It’s a nice run as long as the water is up. Comptons is the only possible CIII section depending on water level. It’s usually class II.

If the water is down the rapids become very technical, ferrying back and forth to find paths through the rocks. It’s a bit more developed on the right side but the left side is mostly public land with good campsites along the way.

The worst part of that run is the doldrums at the end. Aptly named…

If you are really talking about the Potomac–never been there.

Paddled from Millville?

Are you referring to the classic “Staircase” paddle from Millville?

The reason I ask is I’d like to know if Corbett’s 2000 edition of Virginia Whitewater accurately describes the stretch of 'Doah above Millville. Here’s his description of Route 9 to Millville:

“the first mile and a half below Bloomery is called Big Eddy, an eddy being a long flat stretch of deeper water. Then the only rapid on this section, a long, strong Class 3, is encountered, below which the river leaves the road and becomes slack water behind the power dam at Snyder Hill.

The portage around the Snyder Hill Dam is always difficult and is extremely hazardous…” And he concludes: “This section of the Shenandoah River is not recommended for paddlers at any water level, especially in high water.”

I have a 1974 guidebook for the Shenandoah River that describes this stretch in even more dire terms. Apparently, back then, there was no portage path as there is now. Rather, there were no trespassing signs plastered on the cliffs to the left and the canal to the right, so there was no way around the dam without trespassing. Musta been a son of a gun humping the Grumman over the rocks and cliffs, keeping an eye out for Jonny Law all the while.

That author of the '74 booklet was a friend of Corbett, and I always wondered if it was as nasty as Corbett indicates, or if Corbett “copped an attitude” from the other writer.

So, anybody been there?


memory has faded

I don’t remember any “long” class IIIs, and I don’t remember that dam, so I suspect we put in somewhere below the dam. Can’t say for certain.

If I recall correctly, our takeout was on the Potomac, not far downstream from the confluence of the Shenandoah.

I would definitely trust a whitewater book from 2000 over my memory from 1994-ish.

– Mark

It all depends on the water level
I’ve gone tubing on that stetch many times (it is the Potomac, not Shenandoah). If the water is high, you can kayak it pretty easily, but at low water you’ll probably need to get out often and drag over rocks. It gets pretty shallow about a few miles out of Shepardstown. You can put in and take out at the parking lots for the C&O Canal towpath.