Shenandoah River

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Shenandoah River
Crossing the Shenandoah River.jpg
Crossing the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Shenandoah River map.png
Shenandoah River drainage basin
Country United States
State Virginia, West Virginia
Towns Harpers Ferry, WV, Front Royal, VA, Luray, VA
Physical characteristics
Source North Fork
  location Shenandoah Mountain
2nd source South Fork
  location Port Republic
Source confluence 
  location Front Royal, VA
Mouth Potomac River
Harpers Ferry
39°19′21″N77°43′40″W / 39.3226009°N 77.7277704°W / 39.3226009; -77.7277704 [1]
246 ft (75 m) [1]
Length56 mi (90 km)
Basin size2,937 sq mi (7,610 km2)
  location Millville, WV [2]
  average2,755 cu ft/s (78.0 m3/s)
Basin features
  leftNorth Fork (Shenandoah River)
  rightSouth Fork (Shenandoah River)

The Shenandoah River /ˌʃɛnənˈdə/ is the principal tributary of the Potomac River, 55.6 miles (89.5 km) long with two forks approximately 100 miles (160 km) long each, [3] in the U.S. states of Virginia and West Virginia. The river and its tributaries drain the central and lower Shenandoah Valley and the Page Valley in the Appalachians on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in northwestern Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. [1] There is a hydroelectric plant along the Shenandoah river constructed in 2014 by Dominion.



The Shenandoah River is formed northeast of Front Royal near Riverton, by the confluence of the South Fork and the North Fork. It flows northeast across Warren County, passing underneath Interstate 66 1 mile (1.6 km) from its formation. Beyond the I-66 bridge, the river flows through a set of bends before turning to the northeast again, crossing into Clarke County 11 miles (18 km) below I-66. Five miles (8 km) downriver from the Clarke County border, the Shenandoah passes under U.S. Route 50 and then passes through a triple bend. 14.5 miles (23.3 km) below the Route 50 bridge, the river passes underneath State Route 7 and then continues northeast another 8 miles (13 km) where it crosses into Jefferson County in West Virginia. Once in West Virginia, the river completes six large bends before joining the Potomac from the southwest near Harpers Ferry. The confluence is on the West Virginia-Maryland border, and 0.4 miles (0.64 km) from the Virginia-West Virginia border. [4]


Dream Lake, inside Luray Caverns Reflecting cavern lake.jpg
Dream Lake, inside Luray Caverns

The Shenandoah Valley is underlaid by limestone. The fertile soil made it a favored place for early settlement. It remains a major agricultural area of Virginia and West Virginia. Some karst topography is evident, and the limestone is honeycombed with caves. Several have been developed as commercial tourist attractions, including Luray Caverns, Shenandoah Caverns, and Skyline Caverns.

On the riverbank, a few miles above Harper's Ferry, is said to be a cave with an opening just large enough for a mounted rider to squeeze through. It widened in the interior to a spacious room where hundreds of Col. John Mosby's raiding troops are said to have hidden from pursuing Union cavalry. [5]

Environmental issues

Mercury contamination

The Shenandoah River was contaminated with mercury which was released by a DuPont rayon manufacturing facility located in Waynesboro, Virginia from 1929 to 1950. [6] This mercury is still present in the fish population of the river today; data collected over the last several decades shows that mercury levels remain stable. [7] The fish in many sections of the Shenandoah River are not safe for human consumption. For example, the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) states that it is not safe to consume any species except trout which are caught between Waynesboro and Grottoes, Virginia due to elevated mercury levels. In general, the VDOH states that it is not safe to consume more than two fish per month which are caught on the Shenandoah River in Page, Warren, Augusta, or Rockingham counties. [8]

In 2017 DuPont agreed to pay $42,069,916.78 to address natural resource damages and to implement restoration projects related to the impacted resources in the South Fork Shenandoah River watershed. [6]

Fish kills

Since 2005, the Shenandoah River has experienced several springtime fish kills that have affected several of its native fish species. In 2005, redbreast sunfish and smallmouth bass along a 100-mile (160 km) stretch of the South Fork Shenandoah River began dying of lesions caused by bacteria and fungi. Although the fish kill eventually wiped out 80% of the adult redbreast sunfish and smallmouth bass, juvenile populations appeared to be unaffected. [9] The following year more-localized fish kills in Clarke County spread to two of the Shenandoah's three species of sucker: the shorthead redhorse and the northern hogsucker – the former suffering from similar lesions witnessed in the previous year's fish kill. [10] Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality received reports of fish kills near Elkton and between Bentonville and Front Royal in late April 2007 and observed fish exhibiting lesions and strange behavior. [11]


Moonlight on the Shenandoah, engraving by J.D. Woodward Wd.shenandoah.jpg
Moonlight on the Shenandoah, engraving by J.D. Woodward

Various accounts tell the origin of the name. According to one, General George Washington named the valley (and river) in honor of Skenandoa (or Shenandoah), an Oneida "pine tree chief" based in New York, who led hundreds of Oneida and Tuscarora warriors in support of the American rebels on the frontier during the Revolutionary War.

He also sent much needed corn to Washington and his troops during their hard winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1777–1778. [13] [14] However, the name was in use when Washington was a child, as evidenced in land grants and correspondence. [15] It is also said to be named after the Senedo people, a little-documented tribe said to have lived on the north fork of the river and destroyed by the Catawba, some time between 1650 and 1700.


The Shenandoah River is a very popular river for canoeing, river tubing, and white-water recreation such as rafting and kayaking (class I-III in season, II-III+ during the spring run-off), and several commercial outfitters offer a variety of guided trips and rentals.

South Fork Shenandoah River

The South Fork Shenandoah River, with Massanutten Mountain in the background, as viewed from an overlook in Shenandoah River State Park South Fork Shenandoah River April 2017.jpg
The South Fork Shenandoah River, with Massanutten Mountain in the background, as viewed from an overlook in Shenandoah River State Park
Volunteers cleaning up the river, 2015 Shenandoah River Clean Up (22365534895).jpg
Volunteers cleaning up the river, 2015

The South Fork is formed at Port Republic in southern Rockingham County, by the confluence of the North River and South River. It flows 98.5 miles (158.5 km) [3] northeast in a tight meandering course, past Elkton and Shenandoah, through Page Valley, with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Massanutten Mountain range to the west.

South Fork tributaries

  • North River
  • South River
  • Naked Creek
    • Mudhole Run
    • Deep Run
  • Crooked Run
  • Fultz Run
  • Hickory Run
  • Cub Run
    • Roaring Run
    • Pitt Spring Run
  • Foltz Creek
  • Honey Run
    • Line Run
  • Stony Run
  • Hawksclaw Creek
  • Big Run
    • Georges Run
    • Browns Run
  • Mill Creek
  • Hawksbill Creek
    • Pass Run
    • Dry Run
    • Hollow Run
    • Chub Run
    • Beaver Run
    • Rocky Branch
  • Jeremys Run
    • Moody Creek
    • Nelson Run
  • Dry Mine Run
  • Overall Run
  • Gooney Creek

Bridges over the South Fork

  • N Shenandoah Avenue (US 340/ US 522/ Va 55)
  • Rivermont Drive (SR 619)
  • Indian Hollow Road (SR 613)
  • Bixlers Ferry Road (SR 675)
  • Lee Highway (US 211/ US 340)
  • US 340 BUS
  • US 340
  • Maryland Avenue (SR 602)
  • Old Spotswood Trail (US 33 BUS)
  • Spotswood Trail (US 33)
  • Island Ford Road (SR 649)
  • Lynnwood Road (SR 708)

North Fork Shenandoah River

The North Fork is 105 miles (169 km) long [3] and rises in northern Rockingham County, along the eastern flank of Shenandoah Mountain in the George Washington National Forest. At its formation, the principal feeder on the North Fork is the German River.

The North Fork flows initially southeast, down from the mountains, then northeast through a valley across Shenandoah County, along the western side of Massanutten Mountain. It flows past Woodstock and Strasburg. On the north end of the ridge it turns briefly southeast to join the South Fork from the northwest to form the Shenandoah.

North Fork tributaries

View of the North Fork Shenandoah River near Woodstock, Virginia North Fork Shenandoah River November 2016.jpg
View of the North Fork Shenandoah River near Woodstock, Virginia

Bridges over the North Fork

  • Winchester Road (US 340)
  • Strasburg Road (Va 55)
  • Deer Rapids Road (SR 744)
  • Colby Lane (low-water, on private property)
  • Bear Paw Road
  • Headly Road (SR 600)
  • Hesley Bridge Lane
  • Artz Road (SR 663)
  • Woodstock Tower Road (SR 758)
  • South Hollingsworth Road (SR 609)
  • Laurel Hill Lane
  • Edinburg Gap Road (SR 675)
  • Palmyra Church Road (SR 698)
  • Red Banks Road (SR T-698)
  • Old Valley Pike (US 11)
  • Wissler Road (SR 720)
  • Caverns Road (SR 730)
  • Interstate 81
  • Quicksburg Road (SR 767)
  • River Road (SR 728)
  • Va 42
  • Shenandoah Avenue (SR 1411)
  • Spar Mine Road (SR 617)
  • Brocks Gap Road (Va 259)
  • Hopkins Gap Road (SR 612)
  • Little Dry River Road (SR 818)
  • Yankeetown Road
  • Lairs Run Road
  • Bergton Road (SR 820)
  • Bergton Road (SR 820)

Shenandoah tributaries

West Virginia


The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, at Harpers Ferry Harpers Ferry WV aerial.jpg
The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, at Harpers Ferry
  • Happy Creek
  • Manassas Run
  • Venus Branch
  • Long Branch
  • Spout Run
  • Morgan Mill Stream
  • Chapel Run
  • Lewis Run
  • Craig Run
  • Dog Run
  • Spout Run
  • Wheat Spring Run
  • Passage Creek

In culture

The American folk song and river and sea chantey titled "Oh Shenandoah" has been adapted to explicitly reference the river or river valley, although earlier versions referred to the 18th century Oneida Chief Shenandoah and the Missouri River, 1,000 miles to the west.

The 1971 hit and signature song of John Denver, "Take Me Home, Country Roads", prominently mentions the Shenandoah River, and was adopted by the state of West Virginia in 2014 as its fourth official state song.

An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, continuing the tradition of naming their runabout vessels after rivers, has a shuttle named Shenandoah.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shenandoah Valley</span> Region of Virginia and West Virginia

The Shenandoah Valley is a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia in the United States. The Valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, to the north by the Potomac River, to the south by the James River, and to the Southwest by the New River Valley. The cultural region covers a larger area that includes all of the Valley plus the Virginia Highlands to the west and the Roanoke Valley to the south. It is physiographically located within the Ridge and Valley Province and is a portion of the Great Appalachian Valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 211</span> Highway in the United States

U.S. Route 211 is a spur of US 11 in the U.S. state of Virginia. Known for most of its length as Lee Highway, the U.S. Highway runs 59.09 miles (95.10 km) from Interstate 81 (I-81) and Virginia State Route 211 in New Market east to US 15 Business, US 29 Business, and US 211 Business in Warrenton. US 211 connects the Shenandoah Valley with the Piedmont town of Warrenton via Luray and Sperryville, where the highway runs concurrently with US 340 and US 522, respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 522</span> Highway in the United States

U.S. Route 522 is a spur route of US 22 in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Highway travels in a north-south direction, and runs 308.59 miles (496.63 km) from US 60 near Powhatan, Virginia, to its northern terminus at US 11 and US 15 near Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. US 522 serves many small cities and towns in the Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, and northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The highway serves the Virginia communities of Goochland, Mineral, Culpeper, the town of Washington, and Front Royal and the independent city of Winchester. US 522 then follows the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians north and then east through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, a 2-mile-wide (3.2 km) stretch of Western Maryland, and South Central Pennsylvania to its terminus in the Susquehanna Valley. The highway serves Berkeley Springs, West Virginia; Hancock, Maryland; and the Pennsylvania communities of McConnellsburg, Mount Union, Lewistown, and Middleburg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 340</span> US Numbered Highway in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, United States

U.S. Route 340 is a spur route of US 40, and runs from Greenville, Virginia, to Frederick, Maryland. In Virginia, it runs north–south, parallel and east of US 11, from US 11 north of Greenville via Waynesboro, Grottoes, Elkton, Luray, Front Royal, and Berryville to the West Virginia state line. A short separate piece crosses northern Loudoun County on its way from West Virginia to Maryland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Branch Potomac River</span> River in United States

The South Branch Potomac River has its headwaters in northwestern Highland County, Virginia, near Hightown along the eastern edge of the Allegheny Front. After a river distance of 139 miles (224 km), the mouth lies east of Green Spring, Hampshire County, West Virginia, where it meets the North Branch Potomac River to form the Potomac.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 259</span> State highway in Virginia, United States

State Route 259 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. The state highway runs a total of 26.80 miles (43.13 km) in two sections. The southern section, in northern Rockingham County, has a length of 21.81 miles (35.10 km) from Interstate 81 (I-81) and U.S. Route 11 at Mauzy through Broadway to the West Virginia state line into Mathias. The northern section, in western Frederick County, covers 4.99 miles (8.03 km) from the West Virginia state line north to US 50 at Gore. The two sections of SR 259 are joined by West Virginia Route 259.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South River (South Fork Shenandoah River tributary)</span>

The South River is one of the two main tributaries of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It begins south of Waynesboro, Virginia, and flows northward to Port Republic, where it merges with the North River to form the South Fork. The river is 52.6 miles (84.7 km) long.

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State Route 55 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. Known for most of its length as John Marshall Highway, the state highway runs 64.71 miles (104.14 km) from the West Virginia state line, where the highway continues as West Virginia Route 55, east to U.S. Route 29 in Gainesville. West of its interchange with Interstate 81 (I-81) in Strasburg, SR 55 runs concurrently with the easternmost portion of US 48 as part of Corridor H. East of Front Royal, the state highway serves as the local complement of I-66 as it passes through the towns of Marshall, The Plains, and Haymarket.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 8</span> State highway in southwestern Virginia, US

State Route 8 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. The state highway runs 55.88 miles (89.93 km) from the North Carolina state line near Palmetto, where the highway continues south as North Carolina Highway 8, north to U.S. Route 11 in Christiansburg. SR 8 is part of a 151-mile (243 km) two-state highway 8 system and is the main north–south highway of Patrick County, Floyd County, and southern Montgomery County, connecting their respective county seats of Stuart, Floyd, and Christiansburg with each other and with the Blue Ridge Parkway. The state highway also links the New River Valley region of Virginia with Southside Virginia via US 58 and the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina via NC 8.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 33 in Virginia</span> Section of US highway in Virginia

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 56</span> State highway in Virginia, United States

State Route 56 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. The state highway runs 60.87 miles (97.96 km) from U.S. Route 11 at Steeles Tavern east to US 60 near Buckingham. SR 56 is the main east–west highway of Nelson County. The state highway connects the county seat of Lovingston with Buckingham to the east and the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 254</span> State highway in Virginia, United States

State Route 254 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. The state highway runs 25.01 miles (40.25 km) from SR 42 near Buffalo Gap east to U.S. Route 340 in Waynesboro. SR 254 provides a northerly alternate route to US 250 between Waynesboro and Staunton, where the highway provides access to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 252</span> State highway in Virginia, United States

State Route 252 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. The state highway runs 29.06 miles (46.77 km) from SR 39 near Rockbridge Baths north to U.S. Route 250, US 11 Business, and SR 254 in Staunton. SR 252 passes through rural areas of the upper Shenandoah Valley of northern Rockbridge County and western Augusta County.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia State Route 256</span> State highway in Virginia, United States

State Route 256 is a primary state highway in the U.S. state of Virginia. Known for most of its length as Weyers Cave Road, the state highway runs 6.78 miles (10.91 km) from U.S. Route 11 near Weyers Cave east to US 340 in Grottoes. SR 256 connects Interstate 81 (I-81) with Weyers Cave in northern Augusta County and Grottoes, which is home to Grand Caverns, in southeastern Rockingham County.

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Interstate 81 (I-81) is an 855.02-mile-long (1,376.02 km) Interstate Highway. In the US state of Virginia, I-81 runs for 324.92 miles (522.91 km), making the portion in Virginia longer than any other state's portion of the route. It is also the longest Interstate Highway within the borders of Virginia. It stretches from the Tennessee state line near Bristol to the West Virginia state line near Winchester. It enters Virginia from Bristol, Tennessee, and leaves Virginia into Berkeley County, West Virginia. The route passes through the cities of Bristol, Roanoke, Lexington, Staunton, and Harrisonburg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 250 in Virginia</span> Segment of American highway

U.S. Route 250 is a part of the U.S. Highway System that runs from Sandusky, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia. In Virginia, the highway runs 166.74 miles (268.34 km) from the West Virginia state line near Hightown east to its eastern terminus at US 360 in Richmond. US 250 is the main east–west highway of Highland County, which is known as Virginia's Little Switzerland; the highway follows the path of the 19th century Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike. From Staunton east to Richmond, the highway serves as the local complement to Interstate 64 (I-64), roughly following the 18th century Three Notch'd Road through Waynesboro and Charlottesville on its way through the Shenandoah Valley, its crossing of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap, and the Piedmont. In the Richmond metropolitan area, US 250 is known as Broad Street, a major thoroughfare through the city's West End and downtown areas.

<i>Antrolana</i> Genus of crustaceans

The Madison Cave isopod, Antrolana lira, is a freshwater, cave-dwelling crustacean species. It is in the family Cirolanidae and it is the only species of its genus Antrolana. This isopod can be found in flooded limestone caves and karst aquifers throughout the Great Appalachian Valley of Virginia and West Virginia. The Madison Cave isopod has been listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List since 1983 and as a threatened species under the United States Endangered Species Act since 1982. The species was named after the cave in which it was first discovered, Madison Saltpetre Cave. Very little is known about the life history and behavior of the Madison Cave isopod.

Smith Creek is a 35.5-mile-long (57.1 km) tributary stream of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Its watershed comprises 106 square miles (270 km2) within Shenandoah and Rockingham counties on the western slope of the Massanutten Mountain ridge. Its headwaters lie in Rockingham County just north of Harrisonburg, and its confluence with the North Fork of the Shenandoah River is located just south of Mount Jackson.


  1. 1 2 3 "Shenandoah River". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  2. "USGS 01636500 Shenandoah at Millville, WV" (PDF). National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1895–2013. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed August 15, 2011
  4. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, 7.5 Minute Topographic Quadrangle, USGS, 1996
  5. Virgil Carrington Jones, Mosby's Rangers (Chapel Hill & University of North Carolina Press, 1944), p. 240 (The Union discovered Mosby's cave only by accident late in the war when a wandering horse fell through a trap door hidden in a burnt-out house on the bluff above the river. A curious Union soldier noticed stairs leading downward, which proved to be the second entrance to the cave. There were stalls, hay, and room enough for 100 to 300 horses).
  6. 1 2 U.S. Department of the Interior. "DuPont Waynesboro Case Details". Natural Resrouce Damage Assessment and Restoration Program. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  7. Stewart, Caleb (December 15, 2016). "DuPont to pay $50 million over mercury dumped in South River" . Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  8. Virginia Department of Health. "Fish Consumption Advisory". Environmental Health. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  9. Michael Alison Chandler (July 20, 2005). "Troubled Waters in the Shenandoah". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  10. Trice, Calvin R. (June 7, 2006). "Shenandoah fish kill has afflicted more species". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond, VA. p. B-1.
  11. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. "Virginia Seeks Public's Help in Fish Kill Investigation". Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  12. Woodward engraving reproduced from The Aldine Magazine, Vol. VI No. 7, July 1873
  13. ""Cultural Heritage: American Revolution", 5 July 2010, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin".
  14. ""The Revolutionary War", 5 July 2010, Oneida Indian Nation".
  15. Image [ dead link ]