Is this trip doable? Northern VA Canoe??

I’m trying to plan an overnight canoe trip for this summer. My plan is to put in at Watermelon park near Berryville VA. and then canoe to Harpers Ferry WV. and then get on the Potomac and go down to goose creek where I know of a spot that I can take out at. There are some stretches of this trip that I’m not familiar with and I was wondering if this is a possible stretch to canoe through with an overnight load?

Depends upon your skill level.

Have little personal info about Berryville and further downstream. However, there is, or was, a dam on the Shennandoah maybe 4 miles upstream of Harpers Ferry. That will be a portage.

Below the dam you’ll encounter whitewater - big rapid is called Bull Falls. If you haven’t run it before - highly recommend scouting it - depending upon levels there are multiple options. Below Bull Falls, a lot of swift running water thru the “Staircase”. At low levels can be some dragging, at high levels - lots of action.

After the confluence with the Potomac, the flow moves to the Maryland, or left, side of the river. Perhaps 1/2 mile below the confluence you’ll encounter White Horse rapid - a big drop here. Both Bull Falls and White Horse are considered Class III - some may say Class II - but they are most likely K-1 paddlers.

I’d stay abreast of river levels. I’ve overnighted the Shennandoah above Bull Falls to Mouth of the Monacacy several times - but always at moderate levels. You would NOT want to have a spill at Bull Falls - unless you recover your boat quickly it will be a looong brusing ride on the quick running river over sharp edged ledges. At high levels Bull Falls to below White Horse could be considered hazardous in a loaded canoe.

If you do it - got to provide a trip report.

Doable perhaps, but not recommended

– Last Updated: Jan-17-13 12:37 AM EST –

The portage at Millville Dam is difficult and over half a mile, from what I've read. Corbett rated the scenery in this section as "poor"; ugly riverside houses, the power plant and a huge quarry operation. A mile upstream of the dam, there is a sizable Class III drop in the midst of flat water above and below; I've heard paddlers have died there, but I believe there is a sneak route at river right.

I've also heard from area residents that the park area below the dam gets regularly trashed and there is an unsavory element usually hanging out there.

I personally would not care to run the extended whitewater above Harpers Ferry in a loaded canoe (though I'm sure it's done at milder water levels). Whitehorse and below would be manageable, as you could pick your way through the rock gardens and avoid the bigger wavetrains. Alot depends on the level. Also, if that section is still the rental zoo and redneck hangout it once was, you'll want to avoid being there on a summer weekend.

Goose Creek is quite a long way down river... how many nights are you contemplating, and where would you take out, the new Kephart landing? (I'm actually working up a plan to paddle the entirety of Goose Creek.)

For an overnight Shenandoah trip, I think you'd be better off going from Watermelon Park (or the Locke's Mill public put-in just upstream), to either the takeout at Shannondale Springs, or a little further to Rt. 9. Another option, which I posted a trip report about here on P-Net, is Morgan's Ford near Front Royal to Locke's Mill, staying the night on one of the river islands along the way.

smth95t & sapiqn are spot on …

– Last Updated: Jan-18-13 7:53 PM EST –

..... oops :-) meant waterbearer & sapian spot on (smth95t is OP , sorry) ...

don't think you should go past Rt.9 . There is a perfect takeout at the Rt.9 bridge on river right (auto accessable) .

The island drop (sapian mentions) below Rt.9 is about halfway between Rt.9 and Millville dam ... I've been there several times and I would not go through/over it . At the drop there is (or used to be) a river right exit to shore , and just down river from there (same side) is a launch .

But even if you did get around the island drop and put back in the deep water , in no time at all you'd be around the bend and facing Milleville dam ... which used to be portageable from the takeout on river left (and it's a good 1/2 mile over the hill down to the road again where you rejoin the river) ... but the public has been be banned (no trespassing signs posted) from the dam to the road for a couple or more years now due to the heavy construction work going on just below the dam .

Morgan's Ford (read about sapian's trip) or Rt.7 (even Watermelon Park if you want) are good choices for the put in .

Personally I wouldn't want to make the connection from Milleville dam to the Potomac in a gear loaded tripping canoe ... much of that stretch is benign but the remainder is (or can be) class 3 or worse at higher levels . Bull falls and the staircase are what waterbearer says they are ... I've seen them many times but never had any mind to run through them ... I think of them more as a play spot for WW types . From Bull falls on down it gets steep , fast and nasty sharp rocks as already mentioned .

Depending on water levels from 340 bridge down to Knoxville (cemetary circle) , it's doable , but you have to get through 4 nasty ledges (rather long ledges) .

From Knozville on down to Edwards Ferry is fine as long as the waterlevel is safe .

If it were me and I wanted to make it from Rt.7 to Goose ... I'd get out at Rt.9 and put back in about Knoxville or Brunswick . Of course that requires a shuttle ride .

Is it doable all the way you ask ... yes it's doable with portages . But I wouldn't do it , and I've considered it many times , but considered it is all because it's more than I would want to take on . I've known all of that area of the Shen. and Potomac for 40 yrs. , seen it at flood and draught more times than I can remember ... exactly as waterbearer said , water levels are the key and in my opinion it's a real fine line between too low or too high in that stretch from Bull falls to Knoxville . That stretch is the challenge , maybe you can , maybe you can't , only you know how much you're willing to take on during a 4 day river trip .

How much time you planning on taking for the river trip ??

Never seen Rt 9 to Millville
The river guidebooks make it sound like there is an interesting rapid below Rt 9, but the dam sounds like a PIA. I’d like to see the section, since it would fill in a gap of the river where I’ve never been.

I’ve seen the rest of the stretch. The Millville - Sandy Hook section I’ve seen many times, but always at less than 4’ on Millville Gauge. At 3 to 3.5’, I would take a loaded* boat through there.

    • there are loaded boats and loaded boats. You want your boat on the lighter side, so forget the multiple coolers and weber grill. You are talking portage at the dam anyways, so hold it to a hundred pounds or so.

      You also have to be aware of the levels on the Potomac. Whitehorse Rapid is your main concern. Looks straight and easy, but it always fools me by how squirrelie it is. You can expect to get a boat full of water there. I imagine at higher levels it just gets bigger. I imagine standing, overhead, back-curling waves, but I have a vivid imagination. The rapids at Weaverton ledges (Knoxville) are not difficult as long as you pick the right slots and avoid any wood that might be lurking in there. Again, at higher levels, conditions and results may vary.

      So, in conclusion, as above posters point out, yes, it is doable, depending on how bad you want to do it, your skills, river levels, and how much time you have. I think doing it as an “overnighter” is ambitious. There’s a reason nobody paddles that Rt. 9 to Millville section. Beyond that, just evaluate levels and your skills and make a good decision.


not to be confused about Rt.9 …
… the Rt.9 I speak of is the “old” WV Rt.9 which is CharlesTown Rd. (now a days called 115 I believe) .

The “new” Rt.9 is state Rt.9 , and this is the heavy construction over the river just below Millville dam . I think maybe the bridge is completed and operational now , but don’t know that for certain , it’s been a couple years .

What I said before about “banned/no trespassing signs posted” at Millville dam area may not be in force now … and the dam may be open to public again (I don’t know it’s current status) . Have been there several times in the past , public plays there on summer weekends (lots of Copperheads too) , but last time we just about got chased out by guards of the construction project , and not another auto or person was at the dam .

Joys of the Staircase, AW journal 1962

I would agree w/Chip 3’-3.5’ Millville gage is prime … 2’ is low

good vid. of Bull and Staircase 3.63’

– Last Updated: Jan-17-13 8:31 PM EST –

..... upper stair looks down to bridge , lower stair looking up at bridge .

This is the Shen. part of what you ask "is it doable" . Whitehorse is what happens next around the bend on the Potomac .

Does this kind of water look like something you'd be comfortable with in your loaded river tripping canoe ??