Shenandoah - 3. Millville to Harpers Ferry

Shenandoah, West Virginia, US


3. Millville to Harpers Ferry (Shenandoah Staircase)

Usual Difficulty II-III (varies with level)
Length 6.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 7 fpm

Dash Hole, Shenandoah

Dash Hole, Shenandoah
Photo of Bobby Miller winning the rodeo by Greg McCulley

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-01636500 2.00 - 8.00 ft III-IV 00h29m 6.71 ft (running)

River Description

The Shenandoah Staircase is a classic run that has an appeal to a wide variety of paddlers. Lower water creates a superb training ground for the beginner paddler to hone their skills. Medium water creates several small and fun playspots to delight the playboater. High water brings out the big water enthusiasts and the extreme rodeo stars. When the water is rockin, the playboating in this area is spectacular!

The standard run is from Millville, WV to just below Harpers Ferry, WV. Playboaters interested in a park & play run will be interested in the 'Bridge to bridge' run. This would be the 1.7 mile run from the (WV) 340 bridge over the Shenandoah to the (MD) 340 bridge over the Potomac.

The Staircase can be run a bit lower below the WV 340 Bridge over the Shenandoah than from Millville.

This is the site of the annual Tim Gavin Downriver Race.

From Frederick Maryland take Hwy 340 West to Harpers Ferry.
The Potoma Wayside take-out is on river right just upstream from the bridge.
Parking is limited (three spaces).

To get to the put in, continue South on 340 about 1.5 miles.  After you pass the stoplight at the Harpers Ferry Park entrance, look for the next stoplight.  At this stoplight, turn left on Millville Road. Follow the road about 2 miles down thru Millville, WV until you see water. Some of the rafting companies own land on the banks, expect to pay $10.00 per car on summer weekends ($5.00 weekdays) to park at the River & Trails Put-in. Or continue on about a mile further to the public parking at the power transformers.

Some guidebooks recommend taking out on river left near the 340 Potomac bridge near Sandy Hook, Maryland. The CSX Railroad has closed and now enforces a no crossing rule for the railroad at Sandy Hook.  Potoma Wayside (heavy traffic and minimal parking) and the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center (fee charged) on the Virginia (the West Virginia/Virginia line is just above these take-outs) side of the river; and Weverton (an additional mile of mostly flatwater paddle and long carry on confusing trail) and Brunswick (very long flatwater paddle), both on the Maryland side, are the only remaining takeouts.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-11-09 15:52:51


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Millville Power Plant Put-InN/A
1.2River & Trails Put-inN/APutin
3.1Bull FallsIIIHazard Playspot
3.2Bulls TailII
3.3Lunch Rock FolliesII
3.7Spike Dam RapidsIIWaterfall
4.1Staircase RapidsII+Playspot
4.7Hesitation LedgeII+
4.9Roller CoasterII+
5.7Mad DogII
5.9Whitehorse RapidIIIPlayspot
6.1Sandy Hook Take-outN/A
6.2Potoma Wayside Take-outN/ATakeout
7.7Weverton Take-outN/ATakeout
11.1Brunswick Take-outN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Millville Power Plant Put-In (Class N/A)

Park at the Power Transformers. There have been reports of break-ins at this location. Putting in at the campgrounds downstream cuts out some flatwater and is somewhat more secure.

River & Trails Put-in (Class N/A, Mile 1.2)

Dinks campground (now owned by River & Trails outfitters). As of 2016, River & Trails charges $10.00 per car to park on weekends ($5.00 per car weekdays) from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

Bull Falls (Class III, Mile 3.1)

Class II+ (III at higher and particular water levels).  A large ledge rapid with numerous slots and channels to choose from depending on water levels. The primary slot is the third from the left bank. There is a great playhole just below the slot.

Bulls Tail (Class II, Mile 3.2)

Wave train after "Bull Falls."  Some of the best surfing on the river is here.

Lunch Rock Follies (Class II, Mile 3.3)

AKA "Rocky Road", AKA "'Round the Mountain".  Small waves and ledges.  The name "'Round the Mountain" might be better thought of as a specific (class II+) way of running this rapid, which is to run just to the right of a large rock at the beginning right of the rapid, but then stay as left as possible and run a tongue across the face of the rapid.  Where this tongue confronts the main current in the middle of the rapid, this line necessarily becomes a ferry, then where the two currents merge, a tongue again.  A great way to learn how to run a rapid with conflicting currents.  

Spike Dam Rapids (Class II, Mile 3.7)

built back in the day as a diversion dam for the Patowmack canal. Lots of rebar and other sharp metal in the dam. The canal can be seen on river left. Run the left most channel at low flows. At higher flows the right side is preferred.

Staircase Rapids (Class II+, Mile 4.1)

The sight of the Hwy 340 bridge signals the start of the staircase. The ledges and rapids continue for nearly a mile.

Hesitation Ledge (Class II+, Mile 4.7)

Double ledge on the center & right of the river, ledges spread out more on river left, making a river left run easier

Roller Coaster (Class II+, Mile 4.9)

Series of Diagonal waves.  Some of the best surfing on the river is here.

Mad Dog (Class II, Mile 5.7)

After the confluence, there is a set of Class II waves called Mad Dog Rapids.  The West Virginia/Virginia state line comes down the river right side ridge to the Potomac (the Potomac river itself is always Maryland), so from here, the river right side of the Potomac is in Virginia.

Whitehorse Rapid (Class III, Mile 5.9)

Class II+ (III at higher water) set of larger irregular waves known as White Horse Rapids.  Main channel is to the left.  Lots of good play.  There are also popular playspots located among the rocks on river right.

Sandy Hook Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 6.1)

River Left take-out.  The first takeout (Sandy Hook) on the MD side is 1/2 mile downstream from the confluence of the Shenndoah River on river left immediately before the US 340 bridge at Sandy Hook. To reach this takeout from Rt. 340, take the last left as you approach the 340 bridge from the MD side, then take the first right to the bottom of the hill where the road approaches the railroad tracks. The takeout is on posted railroad property and involves crossing two sets of very active tracks.  This once very popular takeout has been closed by the railroad.

Potoma Wayside Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 6.2)

River right take-out.  The second takeout (Potomac Wayside) on the Virginia side immediately before the lower (MD) 340 bridge.  There is space for loading and unloading here, but there are only three parking spaces where you can leave a car.  Other parking options near Potoma Wayside are very limited and/or expensive.   An empty parking lot near the gas station is often utilized when it's not being used for fireworks sales and other intermittent activities. Finally, the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center charges a flat fee for use of their Take-out and parking.  The whole parking and traffic situation on the VA side can be somewhat daunting because of the narrowness of the shoulder and the speed of the heavy two lane traffic.

Weverton Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 7.7)

Other take-outs include:  "Weverton" which is 1 1/2 miles of flat and moving water  downstream from the US 340  bridge on the Maryland side.  This take-out is hard to see from the river and requires a long walk through the woods and down the tow-path, but it does have an authorized on foot at-grade Railroad crossing.

Brunswick Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 11.1)

The "Brunswick" take-out (also on the Maryland side) requires an additional 5 miles of paddling, with the last 3 1/2 miles consisting of flatwater; however, there is an authorized at-grade railroad crossing for vehicles and a boat ramp offers the convenience of easy access and close parking. 

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
February 20 2012 (2528 days ago)
x (1)
Man everyone is staking a claim on something here. As a guide from the original outfitter no longer
in business and having run this stretch in the thousands of times, it can be run at any level seen
in the last 35 years by any boat. If you want to enjoy a scenic and historic stretch of river, go
to it. Crowds on weekends from Mem Day to August will be very heavy. Go in fall or winter for
solitude. Water from 4 feet up is entertaining and from 10 upward is sporty. This is a classic
canoe river and still beautiful after all these years - don't trash it.
February 20 2012 (2528 days ago)
x (1)
I would mention that 6.5 ft. and under is fine for novices, anything above swims become difficult
at Bull Falls. I've seen a few of them swim 200yrds to LunchRock. Didn't look fun. 9ft. and up a
spill at Bull Falls would require an even tougher swim and a tough boat recovery for novices.
May 12 2009 (3542 days ago)
James SteffenDetails
Ran this route yesterday at 5.2 what a great run the staircase was a blast.
November 1 2008 (3734 days ago)
x (1)
June 29 2007 (4225 days ago)
Jason O'NeilDetails
I just started guiding on this river and I enjoy it, it definatly is not a hard river to run most
of the time. Its a great river for a family with small kids to go on. When its at high water like
around 10 feet or so its alot of fun. Could somebody tell me where dash hole is ive nvr heard of
it. o and the rock to jump of is called beer can rock. the 4th chute of bull falls that is pictured
with the strainer is called suicide chute. O and dont lump all of us together as aholes some of the
guides are but most of them arnt. But this river is great for learning.
April 19 2007 (4297 days ago)
Will JacobsDetails
Don't fool yourself...this is not a pure whitewater run.....and as far as the guides that work this
area they have always been a-holes since I was a little kid....everyone of them thinks they are
some sort of pro...this river isn't even that difficult here...the only reson that buisness exsists
is to cater to the rich a-holes that are moving west from Fairfax and destroying the area. Either
way this is a fun run low or high......if it's low you grab a bunch of beer and sit in Bull Falls
all day as it turns into a hot tub at low levels in the summer time.......if it's higher water than
you might have some decent rapids.....also look for a jumping rock around the take out us locals
call the "Warshing Machine". You'll recognize it as the spot where everyone is getting drunk,
usually lotsa mullets, and probably a 18year old girl draggin her baby around and 8 months
pregnant. Sucks cause the rednecks trash the place (beer cans and the like) but a fun spot to hang
in the summer either way... just avoid the raft guides as those of us who grew up in the area don't
care for thier pretentious attitudes. Believe me the rednecks are nicer!
February 2 2005 (5102 days ago)
tyler kernsDetails
you all have gotta be kiddin me. we run commercial trips down this until it is under 1ft. that's
boats of 6 and a guide. you don't know what technical is. and as for the high end of running this
river, it doesn't get class 4 characteristics until it hits double digits. its hardly worth gettin
off the couch if you arn't gettin paid to do it unless it is above 5ft. --LP rules-- team HF
August 9 2004 (5279 days ago)
After running this at 1.8 I have mixed feelings about the minimum level. The section from Millville
to the railroad bridge was painfully low. But the staircase has some ok play at these low levels.
The hardest thing about the lower flow is avoiding the drunks in inner tubes. I believe the rapid
called whitehorse, the last one above the river right takeout had the best play. I'm going to echo
John Dukes comment that the minimum should be raised to two feet, with a note that it can be run
lower by the truely desperate.
September 1 2002 (5987 days ago)
John DukeDetails
I honestly think the 1.5 minimum is to low.. bull falls is the only rapid with any fun at
The staircase can take 45 minutes to pick through at this level
Lets stick with wild water west va. minimum of 2.0 for a minimum

Associated Projects

  • Harpers Ferry River Access (WV/VA/MD)
    A collaborative effort to identify and deliver on opportunities to enhance river access on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers near Harpers Ferry, WV.