Rollicking Rivers of the Virginias

The South Fork of the Shenandoah
South Fork at a Glance
Section : Bixler Bridge to Karo Landing
Counties : Page, Warren
USGS Quads : Luray, Rileyville, Bentonville
Difficulty : Class I-II with one solid Class II (Compton's Rapids)
Gradient : 5 feet per mile
Average Width : 80150 feet
Velocity : Moderate
Rescue Index : Accessible
Hazards : None
Scouting : Compton's Rapid
Portages : Low-water bridge at Bentonville Landing, three-fourths through the trip
Scenery : Beautiful
Highlights : Scenery, wildlife, history
Gauge : National Weather Service gauge recording, (703) 260-0305
Runnable Water Levels : Minimum 1.2 feet; Maximum 3.5 feet
Months Runnable : Year-round except for unusually dry summers

This trip on the magnificent Shenandoah is generally not a whitewater trip. Paddlers can pick which put-in and take-out they want in order to shorten or lengthen a trip. The only rapid of any significance is Compton's Rapids, encountered 17 miles from the put-in at Bixler Bridge. This drop is a Class II drop with nice standing waves at the bottom, the height of which increases with higher water levels. Compton's is recognized from upstream by a high, golden rock wall that appears to block the stream ahead and by the unusually loud rumble of the rapids. Compton's is not dangerous at reasonable levels, but it has swamped many open canoes and soaked a lot of clothing and gear. Make sure everything is battened down before running this drop.

The balance of this stretch of the South Fork consists of widely spaced, tiny ledges, ancient fish dams, beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains, and relaxed paddling. The river is a sterling example of a geologically mature stream, and it meanders back and forth between the two ridges. As a result, the view and the orientation of the light is constantly changing, and the paddler is presented with a visual feast that alternates between steep, forested slopes, limestone cliffs, cow pastures, and shady bowers between sandy islands.

Camping is possible in many places along the river, although "No Trespassing" signs proliferate more and more each year. If there is any doubt about whether camping is permitted in a particular spot, it would be wise to inquire at the nearest farmhouse. The river is heavily used in this area, and littering is a severe problem for some of the landowners; protect the relationship between paddlers and landowners by using courtesy, discretion, and a large trash bag.

Ten miles below Compton's Rapids, a low-water bridge appears that will probably require a short portage. This bridge, at Bentonville Landing, signals the final quarter of the trip, with Karo Landing just nine miles below. Karo Landing, on Gooney Run, is not marked by a bridge or any other unmistakable landmark, so be sure to study it while running the shuttle to ensure that you can recognize it from the river.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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