Shenandoah - 3. Millville to Harpers Ferry

Shenandoah, West Virginia, US


3. Millville to Harpers Ferry (Shenandoah Staircase)

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
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 - 10.00 ft II-III 01h02m 1.71 ft (too low)

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 to Harpers Ferry. 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 340 bridge over the Shenandoah to the 340 bridge over the Potomac.

The Staircase section can be run a bit lower than from Millville to the first 340 Bridge.

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

From Frederick Maryland take Hwy 340 south to Harpers Ferry.
The National Park Service Wayside take-out is on river right just across the bridge.
Parking is limited (three spaces).

To get to the put in, continue south on 340 past the Harpers Ferry Park entrance. About 1.5 miles past the take-out, turn left at the Flea Market on Millville Road. Go about 2 miles down thru Millville until you see water. Some of the rafting companies own land on the banks, expect to pay a few dollars to park at the Put-in. Or continue on 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. Presently the CSX Railroad isn't fond of people trespassing on the railroad tracks, and is prosecuting. There have also been some reports of car break-ins in the area.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-06-26 00:52:57


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Millville Put In
0.5Private Put-insPutin Access
3.0Bull FallsII+Hazard Playspot
3.1Bulls TailII
3.5Lunch Rock FolliesII
4.0Spike Dam RapidsIIIWaterfall
4.5Staircase RapidsIIIPlayspot
5.5Whitehorse RapidIIIPlayspot
7.0Sandy Hook

Rapid Descriptions

Millville Put In
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.

Private Put-ins
Dinks campground. Last checked they charge 2 dollars a boat.

Bull Falls (Class II+, Mile 3.0)
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 3.1)
Wave train after bulls falls.

Lunch Rock Follies (Class II, Mile 3.5)
Small waves and ledges.

Spike Dam Rapids (Class III, Mile 4.0)
built back in the day as a deversion dam for that Patomack (sp?) 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 III, Mile 4.5)
The sight of the Hwy 340 bridge signals the start of the staircase. The ledges and rapids continue for nearly a mile.

Whitehorse Rapid (Class III, Mile 5.5)
Main channel is to the left. Lots of good play.

River right take-out

Sandy Hook
River Left take-out.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
February 20 2012 (1984 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 (1984 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 (2998 days ago)
James SteffenDetails
Ran this route yesterday at 5.2 what a great run the staircase was a blast.
November 1 2008 (3190 days ago)
x (1)
June 29 2007 (3681 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 (3752 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 (4558 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 (4735 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 (5443 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

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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.