Canoe Camping in Virginia – 4 Days on the Shenandoah River

Come along for 4 days of canoe camping on the Shenandoah River 

For this adventure, we did some old school canoe camping along the banks of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, just outside of Bentonville, Virginia. Since none of us own a canoe, we dropped by the Downriver Canoe Company and picked up a couple of rentals. They got us all geared up, went over some maps and legal dispersed camping options on the George Washington National Forest side of the river, private property to avoid, and even some camping spots that they maintain and make available for reservation and rental. We decided to opt out of the designated pay sites, and instead find out what we could discover ourselves in the National Forest. A link to their website is below for those interested. Our experience with them was very positive. So much so that my wife and I actually went back a couple of month later for another trip to celebrate my birthday (I didn’t film that trip, but it was a great time!)

As mentioned previously, when heading down river, a good portion of our route was flanked on the left side by George Washington National Forest. This gave is some solid options for free, legal camping without the need for any permits or advanced registration. For those of you interested in other options though, there are plenty of private pay campsites right along the river. Many of which you can even drive right up to. There’s also a state forest that has camping available, but you have to reserve a designated spot in advance, instead of just pulling up on shore and setting up camp like we did in the GWNP. We preferred this for a more secluded feeling of having the woods to ourselves, scouting out a decent campsite, collecting wood etc.

We did around 25 lazy miles or so on this trip. A bit of fishing, a bit of lounging and wading, and a whole lot of good times. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, then you’ve probably seen the stretch of river that we did. It’s the distinct, winding s-turn shaped river that you see looking down from may of the overlook areas along the scenic drive.  For those of you interested, I recorded GPS track data and campsite waypoints for each day of the trip, available on the Trip Data Page.

Oh, and speaking of fishing, just a quick note on that – While there’s some good, fun fishing in the Shenandoah River, consuming any fish from it is not recommended, due to discharge of industrial mercury to this part of the Shenandoah Valley by some unscrupulous company’s back in the 1930’s to 1950 or so. So yeah, catch and release is the way to go.

On the upside, on of the cool things about canoe camping is all the cool food you can bring and cook. With the help of a cooler and a boat to carry the weight instead of our backs, we were able to bring all kinds of fun camp food like steaks, bratwurst, eggs and bacon for breakfast, etc. Oh, yeah, and a couple domestic beers.

Speaking of coolers and such, we found it easiest to not bother killing ice trying to keep our beverages cold. Instead, we just chilled each nights libations right in the river, submerged in an old duffle bag. We reserved cooler space primarily for perishable food items. This limited the amount of times that we had to go in and out of the coolers, as well as the amount of ice needed. For the main food cooler, containing items we didn’t want to get wet, I simply froze a 2.5 gallon water jug. That’s the brick shaped style with the spout. It fit perfectly in the bottom of my cheap igloo cooler, and lasted until the third day in our little 38 quart Igloo wheelie cooler.  By then our perishable items were consumed, and as an added bonus, we had 2.5 gallons of clean drinking water.

All in all, it was a great trip, with great friends. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Link to where we chose to get our canoe rentals: