- Last Updated on Thursday, 17 May 2012 20:55
Passage Creek drains beautiful Fort Valley, which is located between the two ridges of the northern portion of Massanutten. After meandering through the relatively level valley, Passage Creek drops precipitously through the gap near Elizabeth Furnance as it leaves Massanutten and enters the Shenandoah Valley. Shortly after leaving Massanutten Passage Creek joins the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Passage Creek has outstanding mountain views both in Fort Valley and in the gorge. With native trout in its headwaters and stocked trout near Elizabeth Furnace, Passage Creek is a popular fishing destination.
Above Elizabeth Furnace, Passage Creek has relatively little gradient change, and is a calm paddle at lower water levels, roughly between 70 and 110 cubic feet per second. The gorge has much more challenging whitewater and requires higher water levels than the more level upstream portion of the stream. If running the gorge, use plenty of flotation and scout the several blind rapids to ensure strainers aren’t in them. In the upstream portion, be wary of low water bridges and the numerous barbed wire fences that farmers have strung across the creek; the upper section could be quite dangerous at higher water levels because of man-made hazards.
Numerous hiking trails are convenient to the river, as are Elizabeth Furnace and Camp Roosevelt state campgrounds. Located at the beginning of the gorge and the end of the flatter portion of Passage Creek, Elizabeth Furnace is the perfect location to stay if running the gorge one day and part of upper Passage Creek the next. This campground can fill up quickly in the warmer months; Camp Roosevelt, the first campground constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, located approximately 20 miles south of Elizabeth Furnace near the headwaters of Passage Creek, is less crowded. In the event that Elizabeth Furnace campground is full, there is informal camping near the Bear Wallow trailhead, which is directly across the street from Elizabeth Furnace campground. Route 678, which runs the length of Fort Valley, is a very scenic road and makes for a beautiful and efficient bicycle shuttle route.
- (day trip) Seven Fountains/Route 758 to Elizabeth Furnace
- (day trip) Elizabeth Furnace to Bucks Mill Road/Route 610
Directions to Put Ins and Take Outs:
View Passage Creek in a larger map
Route 758: Turn east of Route 678 in Seven Fountains and park in VDOT right of way on the east side of Passage Creek next to the steel bridge; great put in, very limited parking
Elizabeth Furnace: If camping here, it is possible to put in/take out by carrying approximately 40 yards to/from the campsite; choose a campsite close to the stream, away from the road. Alternatively, park and put in/take out at the day use picnic area located shortly downstream, which is easily visible and well-marked from Route 678.
Bucks Mill Road/Route 610: If driving from Elizabeth Furnace stay straight where Route 678 crosses Route 55, then bear right and continue to the low water bridge. Parking is extremely limited, in VDOT right of way next to the bridge.
Sections of River to Run:
Seven Fountains to Elizabeth Furnace: Excepting high water conditions, there are no rapids larger than a riffle. Several private low water bridges can be run at low water levels (roughly 70-85 cfs) but present dangerous hazards at higher levels. There are also several barbed wire fences across the river, which are often difficult to see, so be alert. Other than some areas of eroded banks, this is a very pretty stretch of calm, tiny river through a gorgeous valley. Seven Fountains to Elizabeth Furnace is a full day trip that can be shortened by putting in at Route 774 instead of Route 758. Note that Passage Creek is runnable about Seven Fountains depending on water levels, but the Seven Fountains to Elizabeth Furnace section is frequently runnable, needing only 70 cfs or more to be passable with few scrapes.
Elizabeth Furnace to Bucks Mill Road: This section of river requires a minimum 100 cfs to avoid constant scraping. Shortly after leaving the picnic area at Elizabeth Furnace Passage Creek begins a precipitous descent to the Shenandoah Valley. Two of the three most difficult rapids in the gorge can be scouted easily from the road; one is located at the first bend where Passage runs next to the road below the picnic area, and the other at the lowest point in the gorge, where the creek runs up against a high rock wall that supports the road. Each of the three more difficult rapids in the gorge requires several quick, sharp turns at lower water levels to avoid pinning. Be sure to have flotation and good boat control. Be aware that after the first challenging rapid near the road Passage leaves the road and then goes around an island, raising the likelihood of strainers crossing the channel. The final rapid of the gorge requires a hard right turn as the current approaches the rock retaining wall on which Route 678 is located, due to a hard to spot pinning rock near the end of the rapid. After leaving the gorge be prepared for a dam located just below some cliffs on river right. Portage on the left. Mountain Road/Route 691, located shortly below the dam, could be used as a put in or takeout, as it is on public land. Below the dam Passage Creek continues over numerous little riffles on the way to the North Fork. There are no more hard rapids, and the only hazard other than possible strainers is the low water Bucks Mill/Route 610 bridge, which is immediately downstream of the railroad track and within sight of the North Fork.