Shenandoah River

For the river in New Zealand, see Shenandoah River, New Zealand.
Shenandoah River
Crossing the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Country United States
States Virginia, West Virginia
 - left North Fork
 - right South Fork
Towns Harper's Ferry, WV, Front Royal, VA, Luray, VA
Primary source North Fork
 - location Shenandoah Mountain
Secondary source South Fork
 - location Port Republic
Source confluence
 - location Front Royal, VA
Mouth Potomac River
 - location Harpers Ferry
 - elevation 250 ft (76 m)
 - coordinates 39°19′21″N 77°43′40″W / 39.3225°N 77.727778°W / 39.3225; -77.727778Coordinates: 39°19′21″N 77°43′40″W / 39.3225°N 77.727778°W / 39.3225; -77.727778
Length 56 mi (90 km)
Basin 2,937 sq mi (7,607 km2)
Discharge for Millville, WV
 - average 2,755 cu ft/s (78 m3/s) [1]
Shenandoah River Watershed
Wikimedia Commons: Shenandoah River

The Shenandoah River /ˌʃɛnənˈdə/ is a tributary of the Potomac River, 55.6 miles (89.5 km) long with two forks approximately 100 miles (160 km) long each,[2] in the U.S. states of Virginia and West Virginia. The principal tributary of the Potomac, 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.[3]


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, in the extreme eastern tip of the state. Once in West Virginia the river completes six large bends before joining with the Potomac from the south near Harpers Ferry, 20 miles (32 km) from the Virginia-West Virginia border.


Dream Lake, inside Luray Caverns

The Shenandoah valley is underlain by limestone. The fertile soil made it a favored place for early settlement. It continues to be 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.[4]

Environmental issues

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]


Moonlight on the Shenandoah, engraving by J.D. Woodward[8]

Various accounts tell the origin of the name. According to one, General George Washington named the valley (and river) in honor of Oskanondonha (also known as Skenando 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.[9][10] 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.

In popular culture

The American folk song "Oh Shenandoah" has been recorded in the 20th century by a number of notable artists. The song may or may not refer to the Shenandoah River or Valley.

The Shenandoah River figures prominently in John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," which associates the river with the state of West Virginia. Only the last 20 miles (32 km) of the river are in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia; more than 92% of the river and its forks and tributaries flow through Virginia.

The original song "Shenandoah River" is included on the 2011 album Middle of Everywhere by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three of Saint Louis, Missouri.


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. Those willing to brave the colder water of spring will be rewarded with a more challenging big-water experience.

South Fork Shenandoah River

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)[2] 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

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[2] 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

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

The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, at Harpers Ferry

West Virginia

  • Hog Run
  • Long Marsh Run
  • Bullskin Run
  • Evitts Run
  • Forge Run
  • Cattail Run
  • Flowing Springs Run


  • 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

See also


  1. "USGS 01636500 Shenandoah at Millville, WV" (PDF). National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1895–2013. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed August 15, 2011
  3. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Shenandoah River
  4. 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 200 to 300 horses).
  5. Michael Alison Chandler (July 20, 2005). "Troubled Waters in the Shenandoah". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  6. Trice, Calvin R. (June 7, 2006). "Shenandoah fish kill has afflicted more species". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond, VA. p. B-1.
  7. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. "Virginia Seeks Public's Help in Fish Kill Investigation". Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  8. Woodward engraving reproduced from The Aldine Magazine, Vol. VI No. 7, July 1873
  9. "Cultural Heritage: American Revolution", 5 July 2010, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
  10. "The Revolutionary War", 5 July 2010, Oneida Indian Nation

External links

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