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Difficulty III+(IV)
Length 4.4 Miles
Flow Range 225 - 500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 10 years ago 1.1 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 05/10/2005 10:52 pm

River Description

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.

Rapid Descriptions


Gage Descriptions

Alternatively, the Manassas Run gauge should be at least 135 cfs.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports



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Attention Virginia Boaters!

Jason Robertson

During the high waters of Spring 2003, there has been a noticeable increase in reported confrontations between boaters and property owners in Virginia. Please remember to be respectful and courteous to property owners; do not trespass; and avoid confrontation in order to preserve access in the future.

Stephen J. Ettinger


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1191733 05/10/05 Stephen J. Ettinger n/a