south fork shenandoah river

-- Last Updated: Feb-18-05 9:59 PM EST --

I will be putting in at Elkton,Virginia and heading to Harpers Ferry,West Virginia around the first week of May, spending about 12 days or as long as I want to take. Stopping for fishing and camping at the Shenandoah Nat.Park. Dose any one have any negatives about the area or river that could be good to know. I will be heading out in a Pelican Int.15'. Solo. I do know about the dams. I have read about the South Fork and Shenandoah. But what all the goverment post mostly is that the river banks are private. thanks sheb

I have ended up with great info so far thank you very much to all.

Elkton to Harpers Ferry.
I think one of the folks who could give you the best info is ShenandoahRiverRat. I think he’s had a lot of experience on the whole area you’re asking about. The amount of paddling I’ve done on the river is more limited and so are the areas of it I’ve paddled mostly near my home off the South Fork at Front Royal and from a waterfront lot on the main stem I have between the power dam and the low water bridge at Morgan Ford. The power dam is reported to have a less than wonderful portage trail. The low water dams at Bentonville and Morgan Ford also deserve respect. A friend of mine was on the upstream side of the one at Bentonville when a bystander convinced him to let her 2 daughters take a short spin in his plastic kayak. As soon as the girls got away from shore they refused to pay any attention to what they were told and got themselves and the kayak pinned hard against the bridge by the current. By the time the adults went on top of the bridge and rescued them, Mike’s kayak had been bent double by the current bending it around one of the bridge supports.

thanks, but how do I get a hold of the shenandoahriverrat?

Getting in touch with ShenandoahRiverRat
I have kind of mixed luck myself. Search the message archive here for any postings by him. Then probably try both replying to his most recent msg.and also send him email from the email button at the message. He posts here fairly often.

Other info sources.
The Shenandoah River Atlas is a good source with good maps and info on South Fork, North Fork, and the main stem. I know several of the kayak, canoe, and rafting companies also have map sheets printed for their customers if you can find them. I’ll check my bookshelf, I’m sure I have a couple of other useful paperbacks. Also the main stem from the power dam at Front Royal downstream to Morgan Ford appears to be one of the less documented sections. When I headed out from my lot last Spring headed toward Morgan Ford I had not really scouted the area and was not expecting the area shown by the Atlas as Cowtail Rapids/Berkeley Falls to be much. However, when I rounded the bend and the sound of the water over the rocks was louder than the din the Cicadas were making, I was suitably impressed. Depending on the river level that area could be anything boring, to dangerous to the unwary, to an area where just to get past all of the rocks you may have to carry your boat. Since, I’ve mapped that area out fairly well and have marked up topo’s, photos from shore, and even some aerial photos I found.

A dam and a little WW
You’re going to have to portage a dam. They were getting set to blow that dam, so it may be passable now. If the river markers are still there, obey them. It’s one of the old style power dams and very dangerous to paddle near if still functioning. I always put in below the dam, so don’t know the portage route.

There’s some whitewater you’ll run into as you approach Harper’s Ferry. Class III to III+ depending on the river level. I’ve never run it over 4’ at the Millville, WV gauge. That’s the top of my own skill level, though others run it at higher levels - up to 10’ in rafts by the outfitters. Tricky rapids are Bull Falls, White Horse, and the Upper and Lower Staircases. The Staircases aren’t bad. They’re primarily a challange to pick a route through all the ledges without getting hung up. But if you get hung up, it’s not a serious issue. Just scoot off and keep going. Bull Falls is a chute with three routes. I’ve only ever done the center route. The right route is easier, but has no room for error. If you pin, you die. The center route if you get thrown, you get introduced to an underwater rock named “Cheesegrater”. Wear a helmet. I can’t speak to the left route. Below Bull Falls is Bull’s Tail that’s a Class II wave train. White Horse is a couple hundred yard long wave train with 4’ to 6’ standing waves. If you get thrown, you just get wet. Paddle like hell and wear a skirt. Punching the waves is easier than riding over them. I’ve used 'yaks that do each, and punching through was a lot easier.

Bull Falls, Bull’s Tail, Upper Staircase, White Horse, Lower Staircase, and then Harper’s Ferry takeout is on river left under the bridge. There’s a beach for easy takeout that requires a strong ferry to get to. Contact RiverRiders ( or River & Trail ( for up to date information on river levels, strainers, etc. They both take trips through there every day. They’re likely to have maps as well and give you more information on routes, portage areas, scouting vistas, etc.

I can’t speak to the river above Millville. I’d bet ShenandoahRiverRat knows it well.

  • Big D

Bruce Ingram wrote a guide to the Shenandoah available by Ecopress that might be of some assistance.

Other books.
I dug out a couple of other good paperbacks on Virginia rivers in general with detailed sections on PARTS of the South Fork and main stem of the Shenandoah. I have and recommend “Classic Virginia Rivers” by Ed Grove and “Virginia Whitewater” by H.Roger Corbett which cover a great many streams in VA. Here’s a link to one of the outfitters’ online maps of the South Fork. I still can’t find any of the printed ones I have from several outfits.

If you get to Front Royal and decide to forgo the portage around the power dam, as long as I’m not away, I could load you and your boat up at one of the landings above the dam and drop you off at either of a couple places below the dam.

Thanks again

– Last Updated: Feb-22-05 7:27 AM EST –

Another great link shenR. How ruff is it to portage Front Royal? I should take a day and drive down there and recon the area. I was going to hit the river next month but it will be May now for sure. Around the 6th or 7th and then like I said no true time schedule after that. I have to go to Northern Michigan on Thursday for my gramps 99th birthday. Its always fun up there and I can grab some gear I left up there last summer. I am all so looking at getting another canoe. I like my old Pelican, but its not a top dog. But it has been good to me In California,Michigan,Wisconsin and Maryland. I went and Looked at some MADRIVER Canoes over the weekend and sure like what they are all about and the after market add-ons. Anyway I will e-mail you and give you my number and maybe you could e-mail me back and we can touch base next month. I will have my lap top with me up north. thanks again. Keep me posted if you do find the riverrat...