Shenandoah National Park


Many rivers are born in Shenadoah National Park. But while they flow through the park, they're too small and brushy to float. However, there's some great paddling within hollering distance of the park's borders.

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River comes within a mile of the national park. It's one of the world's most bucolic paddles, as you make your way among rich farmland, forested hillsides, limestone cliffs, and sandy islands. Many sites of historical interest can be found along the way: ancient Indian fish dams, Civil War battle grounds and traditional farm architecture. If you look at a map of the river, you'll notice that it meanders in short "S" curves; the effect is a constant changing of perspective and light, adding to the interest of the paddle.

Access to the river is easiest from the public roads that either cross over or stop at the river. The road numbers include 675, 661, 663, 664, and 613. Final take out is at the Gooney Run river meeting point, near U.S. 340. This entire trip is 29.5 miles. Generally, the land along the river is privately owned, so though camping is a time-honored tradition, it's by permission only, and you'll probably see lots of "No Trespassing" signs along the way. Compton's Rapids is the only stretch of whitewater you'll encounter along the way, and it's a mild Class I, soaring up to Class II during periods of especially heavy run-off.

Passage Creek running near the northern edge of the park offers (slightly) more whitewater thrill. Passage Creek flows through the cliffs of Mount Massanutten, which dominates the landscape. The scenery along the way is stupendous: large rock formations, forests, rhododendron dells. The rapids are tricky; the paddler must also watch out for fallen brush. This river is runnable January to mid-May, or after a heavy rain. Put-in is at the picnic grounds of the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area. You can take out either at Road 619 or Route 55. The entire run is 7.5 miles.

Thorton River on the other side of the ridge near Sperryville is a Class II river runnable from January to mid-April. While the entire river is canoeable, the best whitewater portion is between Fletcher's Mill and Rock Mills. Below Rock Mills the river calms down, becoming a wonderful flat water tour off the beaten track.


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