Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

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Is there really a restorative quality to water? If there is, you will undoubtedly experience it paddling the rivers and lakes of the Shenandoah Valley.

Of course the most storied river in the Valley is the Shenandoah—it has silently witnessed generations of American history—from Indians following game trails to explorers, settlers and soldiers. It is a changeable river, with a character that can be flat, calm and serene or loud, fast and bumpy. Front Royal is proud to be the “Canoe Capital of Virginia,” but access to the Shenandoah, and to guides and outfitters bent on getting you on the river, can be found in almost every town in the Valley.

Lake Arrowhead in Luray, Sherando Lake near Lyndhurst, Smith Mountain Lake near Bedford, and Cave Mountain Lake near Natural Bridge are also favorites.

But the Shenandoah River is by far still the most popular waterway in the Valley for paddlers. Outfitters along the river rent canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes. Standup paddleboards are now being seen 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. Besides recreational paddling, the Valley is now hosting challenging competitive events on the water, too. Here’s a roster of folks who we know that can give you a great experience on the water.

Adventure Enablers, based in Front Royal but operating in several states, takes fitness and outdoor skills and creates adventurous competitive events. These include paddling, mountain biking, marathons, 10Ks, trail running, and navigation/orienteering. The annual Shenandoah AquaBlaze, normally held in April, is their fastest growing race. It combines 12 miles of paddling and 13 miles of running/trekking. View their calendar here. 

Front Royal Outdoors offers self-guided canoe, kayak, raft and tube trips on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Shuttle service is included. Canoe, kayak and raft trips range between three and 40 miles, from Front Royal to Luray. Their well-stocked Outfitters Store sells dry bags, seat backs, water bottles, cameras, sunglasses to sunscreen, T-shirts and sweatshirts to shoes. New and used kayaks and canoes may be purchased as well. They are open seven days a week until November 3rd.

River and Peak Outfitter — A new startup, opening just last year in Front Royal, River and Peak Outfitters sells all manner of quality outdoor gear—kayaks, paddles and accessories, apparel, camping supplies of every stripe, etc. The founders are lifelong outdoors enthusiasts and ready to provide all the assistance you need for a trip on the river on in the mountains. They can recommend local canoe and kayak shuttles to get you on and off of the river safely. They can even ship a gear order to you while you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or any other long trail within the U.S. Place an order online or by phone (but know that there are more items in the store than on their website).

Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray is closing in on 50 years of service to paddlers. The staff here know every riffle, rapid and bump you will encounter on the river. They can give you expert advice on paddling, fishing, gear, photo ops, routes, etc. Rent a canoe, kayak, raft or tube, and 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 Outfitters is convenient to Luray Caverns, George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park and many amenities in downtown Luray. Don’t forget to ask about the Lunch and Steak Dinner Package.

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. Standard float trips are 6.5, 9, or 15.5 miles long.

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 seven days a week from May through August, then weekends into the fall. 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 30 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.

Outdoor Adventure Experiences in Dayton is a professional guide service offering 4, 6, and 8 hour guided trips– rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, river tubing, top-rope rock climbing, caving, and swimming hole trips. In all, they offer over 10 different guided outdoor activities. On weekends from June to August, a half-day trip starts at $42 per-person; other packages are available, depending on the number of participants, length of trip, and time of year. Want to introduce your kids to the outdoors? OAE runs summer camps for various youth age groups such as Water Adventure Week, Intro to Adventure Sports Week, and Adventure Sports Sampler.

Working closely (not exclusively) with guests at Massanutten Resort, Massanutten Adventures offers canoe, kayak, rafting and tubing adventures on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. All guests receive a riverside orientation, which includes canoe, kayak, rafting, or tubing instructions, as well as safety guidelines for maximum river enjoyment. Massanutten Adventures will also be glad to help you plan a custom trip. Canoe and kayak trips depart daily April through September, tube trips are available Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather permitting, from Massanutten. If you want to get off the rive for a day, Massanutten Adventures also offers motorcoach tours of local wineries and breweries, as well as trips to Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy Virginia Tourism Corporation