Happy Creek, Virginia, US
Harmony Orchard Rd. to Happy Cr. Rd
||III+(IV) (for normal flows)
This is a trip that you do for the exciting whitewater, not for the scenery. Much of it can be
scouted from SR 604 and US 522. Harmony Orchard Road is the place to put in. Above there, the creek
is extremely narrow. Below, the landowners object to your putting in at their private bridges (as
one of them told us), and the Department of Homeland Security will not be happy if you start on
their property (we asked them). But no one objected to our paddling through their territory.
The trip starts out in the woods, and although the rapids are technically no more than class II+,
their continuousness, the paucity of eddies and the narrowness of the stream, which makes partial
strainers inevitable, result in this stretch being class III in challenge. The creek then flows
through open fields, under a private bridge (with adequate headroom) and then through a culvert
(that requires a portage). This part is easily scouted from the road, but eddy out well above the
culvert, as the calm looking water is actually rather fast flowing. Soon you return to the woods,
and then at 0.8 miles, pass the DHS/Customs ServiceÂs Canine Enforcement Training Center -- those
sniffing dogs at airports. A half mile later, the gradient rises to 150 ft/mile, and there are
several class III+ rapids in the half-mile approaching Sloan Creek and US 522. There is also one
spot, visible from the road (you can pull off to scout it), which is class IV, where most of the
water drops steeply towards a boulder on the right, as the stream cuts sharply left. There are
eddies above on river left, and you can portage or sneak on the far left. We were lucky enough to
encounter only one complete strainer in this first 1.8 miles.
An alternative put in is 200 yards below the confluence with Sloan Creek (which adds almost 50% to
the catchment area, but sometimes less to the flow because of a dam just upstream), below the large
grassy area alongside US 522. The gradient is somewhat lower here, but the stream is still tough.
Although it has no more strainers than usual for its size, it remains very narrow, with limited
visibility, long rapids and few eddies, so you have to paddle defensively. In a few places, the
creek braids, and one channel may be clear but the other blocked. Most of this part is class III,
becoming class II+ after Criser Road (at 3.3 miles), but three more spots are class III+. The
first, half a mile above Criser Road, requires a hard cut to the left just below a tree standing in
the creek, to avoid a boulder. The second, soon after, is a long, steep section with two large
rocks toward the bottom in midstream. And after Criser Road, following some easier rapids, the
horizon line disappears, and there is a steep boulder patch with a 6-foot drop over about 20 feet.
Bounce down it from left to right, or portage on the right. In high water, there may be a strong
hydraulic at the bottom. In this stretch, the view is delightful on river left (where rivulets
cascade down from nearby Shenandoah National Park) but horrendous on river right (trash-laden
industrial sites off US 522).
After you reach Va. 55 and Front Royal proper, there are several long and enjoyable class II+ rock
gardens as the creek runs through the narrow Happy Creek Greenway and beneath five more bridges.
After passing under a white-painted bridge on a private driveway, take out on river left, before
the creek makes a sharp left turn to go under Happy Creek Road, to avoid a dangerous waist-high
pipe that crosses the creek beneath the bridge.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2005-05-10 22:52:23