A great many people see the Shenandoah Valley by driving scenic routes, but there’s another way that, while a bit slower, is perhaps even more gratifying—by canoeing.
Rivers, creeks and lakes abound in the Shenandoah Valley but by far the most popular paddling spot is the Shenandoah River, particularly the South Fork. (The river is sectioned into the North and South Forks that flank Massanutten Mountain, and the Main Stem, from where the forks converge in Front Royal to Harper’s Ferry.) Outfitters along the river rent canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes. Standup paddleboards are being seen on the river as well. Typically you choose from several distance options, and the outfitter transports you downstream where you put in and float back at your pace. Usually you can go with a guide or on your own.
Some of the most popular river outfitters include:
Front Royal Outdoors: Opening in March, they will be open seven days a week until early November. Front Royal Outfitters can help you plan a wide variety of trips, from one to two hours to two or three days. Ask about discounts for groups, mid-week trips, military, church, etc. Bonus: Front Royal is the northern entrance to Skyline Drive, is minutes from Shenandoah River State Park, and is home to Skyline Caverns. Easily accessible from I-66, Front Royal is about 70 miles west of Washington, DC.
Shenandoah River Outfitters: Opens early April for river trips. Owner Nancy Sottosanti said, “We are entering our 48th year of providing canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes for the best way to enjoy the river! There is no better way to experience the beautiful views of the Massanutten and the Blue Ridge mountains as the river winds its way north than by the river!” The staff members here know every riffle, rapid and bump you will encounter. They can give you expert advice on paddling, fishing, gear, photo ops, routes, etc. Ask about the Lunch and Steak Dinner Package and you won’t have to worry about bringing food. Stay the weekend or longer in one of their rental cabins (some right on the river) which are open all year. Amenities may include hot tubs, queen size beds, fireplaces, full kitchens, heat, AC and Direct TV. Tent camping and hot showers are available, too.
Shenandoah River Adventures is headquartered in the Town of Shenandoah about 18 miles south of Luray on Rt. 340. Shenandoah River Adventures gets you on the river by appointment only. “Technically we’re open year-round,” said owner Rodney Turner. “Practically we have run trips every month, except January and February.” Same-day trips are possible but it’s better to call ahead. Like some of the other outfitters, Shenandoah River Adventures can provide AT Aqua-blazing, where thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail divert to float a portion of their trip on the river. Pitch your tent in the adjacent campground and stay the weekend.
Outdoor Adventure Experiences near Harrisonburg offers guided trips on the river—four, six or eight hours–plus rock climbing and rappelling, caving, hiking/backpacking and group-building. River trips may include standup paddleboarding, rafting, fishing floats, kayaking, and tubing. Owner Derek Young said, “We guide all year, but river tubing and stand-up paddle boarding are really June to late September activities; we can kayak into mid to late October. We would really like our clients to know that we can personalize trips for individuals, small groups, family groups (especially with young children); as-well-as medium to large size groups. Talk to us about your group’s abilities, their ages, and let us make suggestions based on our 30 years of experience in the area. We do not have just one stretch of one river where we can offer trips. Young could not disclose the caving sites but said he has access to 13 on private property, all 30 to 90 minutes from Harrisonburg.
Massanutten Adventures: Operating “March through Memorial Day and Labor Day through October,” Massanutten Adventures starts most of their trips from Massanutten Resort, but they are happy to help you put together a customized excursion, too. A standard canoe float is seven miles, from nearby Elkton to Shenandoah. Shuttle dropoff and pickup back to the resort is the normal routine. If you want to get out of the water, ask about their Motorcoach Tours to local breweries, vineyards, Charles Town Casino, and even Washington, DC and other destinations. Located minutes from Harrisonburg and about two hours from Washington, DC.
Wild Guyde Adventures As the name implies, this outfit near Harrisonburg provides instruction and guide services for canoeing the river, plus rock climbing, hiking and cave exploration. Their season runs from May through August. Staff work with you to assess your skill level and ambition and tailor a trip that’s right for both. Owner Lester R. Zook has been leading wilderness adventures and training camping leaders for 25 years. He served as director of the Outdoor Ministry program at Eastern Mennonite University, is a Wilderness First Responder, and is a certified member of the American Mountain Guides Association and the Professional Climbing Instructors’ Association.
Lodging on/near the river—There are many options! A few we urge you to consider:
Motel 6 Front Royal
Super 8 Front Royal
Country Place Lodging and Camping on the Shenandoah River
The Mimslyn Inn
The Manor House and Cottage Collection
Luray Caverns Motel
River Bluff Farm B&B
Banner photo courtesy Shenandoah River Outfitters