We are a well established medium size river outfitter operating in a remote little corner of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, just about an hour’s drive west of Washington DC. We offer canoe, kayak, raft, and tube float river trips on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, a gently flowing mountain river. Take a minute to look around and learn more about the river trips we offer!
Hours of Operation: April 1st – October 31st
May 1st thru September 30th: Monday – Friday 9 am to 6 pm; Saturday and Sunday 7 am to 7 pm
April and October hours: Monday – Friday 9 am to 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 6 pm
Downriver Canoe Company
Our base at Bentonville Low Water Bridge is the finishing point for most of our river trips. After signing up for the trip of your choice, leave your car in safety at our base while we shuttle you to your starting point and let you float down river, back to our base, finishing at your leisure. Take your time to relax and enjoy the river. Since our trips are not guided, you will be given a detailed map and trip description.
Downriver Canoe Company maintains a primitive campground in a spectacular riverside setting called Golden Rock Campground. It is located right at Compton Rapid, the midpoint of the two day river trips. The facility provides fresh water, portable toilets, picnic tables, and firepit grills, but no showers or hot water. Tent camping only is allowed. The campground is restricted to canoeists on our two day river trips on weekends during May and June. However, during July, August, September, and October, canoeists taking single day river trips with Downriver Canoe Company are eligible to stay in the Campground for $10 per person per night.
Downriver Canoe Company has done everything possible to assure our guests a rewarding experience. After all, we have been professional river outfitters for over forty years. However, we wish to inform our guests that river running is not entirely risk free. Unlike a theme park setting, your adventure will take place in a natural environment over which Downriver Canoe Company has no control. Therefore, all activity participants will be required to sign our Acknowledgment of Risk/Release Form. All children under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian signature on our form. Downriver Canoe Company reserves the right to restrict or cancel any river trip due to unfavorable river level or adverse weather conditions.
About the Shenandoah River
The South Fork of the Shenandoah River is a flowing mountain river of unparalleled beauty. A steady current of surprisingly clear water passes over an uneven rock bottom, creating many riffles and small rapids followed by calm pools of deeper water. The water depth will vary from just a few inches to some wonderfully deep swimming holes in the deeper pools, but will average about 3 feet deep in most places. Summertime water temperature will usually hover in the upper 70’s Fahrenheit (the upper 20’s Celsius). Although the uneven river bottom makes footing tricky, it creates a wonderfully diverse river environment supporting a great fishery. Wildlife abounds. You may expect to see lots of turtles, ducks, geese, kingfishers, herons, osprey, and even bald eagles. Often beaver, mink, and river otter are present as well, with deer and even an occasional black bear. You are surrounded and immersed in a natural environment much as it was 100 years ago, or even 10,000 years ago (but without the saber tooth tigers of course). Let your imagination wander!
The South Fork of the Shenandoah River remains amazingly healthy and environmentally diverse considering the abuse it has sustained over the past couple of centuries. In the nineteenth century the Valley was pretty well denuded of its forest cover to supply fuel for the local iron industry. Tree bark was heavily harvested to supply tannin for the many tanneries that sprung up in the valley. To add insult to injury, a blight killed off all the dominant chestnut trees in the early twentieth century. The fortuitous establishment of Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest in the first half of the twentieth century has allowed vast clear-cut areas to be re-forested.
During the twentieth century the industrial impact on the river was significant. From 1927 to 1950 significant quantities of mercury were discharged into the river by a Dupont plant in Waynesboro. The mercury has extended along the whole length of the river and worked its way into the fish population (which is why a health advisory on consumption of fish from the river remains in effect).
There is no economic or environmentally viable way to remove the mercury from the river, so, by current projections there it will remain for the next ten thousand years or so. Another example of industrial malfeasance would be the Avtex plant in Front Royal, once the largest rayon plant in the world employing over 2,700. Vast quantities of zinc and other waste were discharged into the river over its fifty-year existence. In 1989 the documented dumping of PCB’s into the river forced its closure by the state, and its nomination as an EPA superfund site. A twenty year hundred million dollar clean up at the old Avtex site is almost complete, so progress by some measure on the industrial front is being made.
In 2008 the Shenandoah River was listed by the American Rivers organization and one of the ten most threatened rivers in the nation because of development pressure. So threats to river health are on going, but there is hope. Today there is much more awareness of environmental issues. Listed below are three outstanding river conservation organizations we would encourage you to join and support:
- Shenandoah Riverkeeper –shenandoahriverkeeper.org
- Friends of the Shenandoah River – fosr.org
- Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River – fnfsr.org
So, like I was saying, it’s amazing how vibrant and healthy the South Fork of the Shenandoah River is today, but it is going to take some effort and attention to keep it that way.
Organizing a Group
Whether you are organizing a group from work, a church group, scouts, or simply bringing family and friends, there are certain steps you can follow to make your task easier, more fun, and less stressful.
- Call ahead for reservations to set aside the equipment you think you will need. Please make your estimate as accurate as possible.
- Although we no longer require advance deposits to hold your reservation, it isn’t a bad idea to collect deposits to help solidify your numbers. Also, we do require groups to pay as a group to receive quantity discounts, so obviously somebody has to take charge and organize the group. This saves a lot of time and reduces confusion on the day of your trip. We know the burdens and challenges of being a group leader and we strive to be helpful and understanding.
- Inform your participants of the plans for your group and refer them to our web site to answer any questions and suggest “what to bring”.
- Keep us posted on any major changes to your group size or needs. We understand your group numbers will constantly change, we simply ask you to keep us posted on any major changes, especially last minute changes. We are anxious to work with you to make your job as organizer easier.
- Check our web site three days prior to your adventure to ascertain river level and weather forecasts. Phone in any last minute changes to us and confirm arrival time.
- Make sure everyone in your group has directions (available off our web site) and an agenda. Collect everyone’s balance due so one payment may be made for your group as opposed to everyone paying separately upon arrival (this saves a lot of time and will qualify you for your quantity discount).
- Every individual must sign our release form (which may be downloaded from our web site). It saves time to have this done prior to your arrival. Any child (under the age of 18) must have our release signed by a parent or guardian.
- Upon arrival at Downriver Canoe Company assemble your group at one of our assembly points. Then you, as the leader, come inside with your group release forms and payment. We take it from there.
- Minimum age: 5 with close parental supervision
- 2 persons per canoe is ideal, maximum 3 adults
- Pets are O.K. if you can handle them except in rafts
- No glass containers on the river please
- We operate rain or shine
What to Bring
- Sunscreen, a hat, and cover shirt to prevent sunburn
- River sandals or an old pair of sneakers for foot protection
- Plenty of water or sport drinks (No glass containers please)
- Some snack foods or maybe a picnic lunch
- How about a zip lock or waterproof bag for all your goodies
- And don’t forget a trash bag to help keep the river pristine
- An eyeglass leash may save those expensive glasses from a watery grave
- A waterproof or disposable camera may save your good one
- Don’t forget your fishing pole and of course your fishing license
- A change of clothes for the ride home is a good idea
- In fact, don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose or get wet
- Finally, leave your keys hanging on our key board at our base
- (Of course most of these items are available for sale in our store at highly inflated prices)
Alcohol and the River
Although we do not prevent you from bringing alcoholic beverages on the river, we do expect responsible behavior. Stupid drunkenness is not cool and will not be tolerated. Your judgement and abilities may be diminished by alcohol along with your ability to withstand cold, and summer sun may dramatically intensify the affects of alcohol. In Virginia drinking in public is illegal and intoxicated individuals are subject to immediate arrest. Do not put yourself in that position. Be responsible and smart, and make the ride home safe and sober.
The South Fork of the Shenandoah River has historically ranked as one of the finest small mouth bass fisheries anywhere. Unfortunately, an as yet unexplained fish kill in 2005 wiped out close to 80% of the mature bass, but mysteriously spared the juveniles. Fish stocks have since made a remarkable recovery, and fishing last year was exceptional once again, but the unsolved cause of this event is troubling.
Be that as it may, superb fishing has returned. Downriver Canoe Company carries a variety of artificial bait, which works well on this river, and the local stores in Bentonville carry live bait as well. Rental tackle is also available. Fishing licenses are best obtained on line at www.dgif.virginia.gov. Also, we regret to inform you that human consumption of fish from the river is not recommended due to the careless industrial discharge of mercury into the river during the first half of the twentieth century in the Shenandoah Valley.