Rapidan River



Although it suffers from irresponsible agricultural practices, the Rapidan still has some very pretty stretches as it cuts across the Piedmont from Hoover Camp in Shenandoah National Park to the Rappahannock between Fredericksburg and Remington.  In its upper reaches it is a tiny creek; by the confluence, it is a huge river.

Recommended trips:

  • (day trip or short overnighter) Graves Mill to Route 29
  • (short day trip) Graves Mill to Rt 230/Wolftown Road
  • (day trip) Liberty Mills (Rt 231) to Madison Mills (Rt 15)
  • (overnighter) Rt 522 to Elys Ford
  • (day trip) Germanna to Elys Ford
  • (overnighter) Elys Ford to Motts Run Landing on Rappahannock

Directions to Put Ins and Take Outs:

View Rapidan River in a larger map

Graves Mill: Follow Graves Mill Road upriver as far as the water level will allow.  General Banks Ln, a little road to the right off Graves Mill Rd, has a good unofficial put in next to the one lane bridge about a mile downstream of Graves Mill.

Graves Mill Road: About 5 or 6 miles downstream of Graves Mill, the Rapidan goes under Graves Mill Road.  There is a good put in on the west bank just after the road crosses the river.

Route 230/Wolftown Road: A few miles downstream of the Graves Mill Road crossing of the Rapidan, and perhaps midway between Standardsville and Rt 29.

Route 29: From the northbound lanes, take a small, steep gravel lane on the south bank of the river to a decent unofficial put in.  A non-4 wheel drive car might have some trouble here.

Route 231: About 12 miles downstream of 29.  Park on the south bank of the river, west side of the road; use the small grassy path to access the river.  This is a decent unofficial take out.  Access via 29 to the north or 20/33 to the south.

Madison Mills: This put in is located very close to the Rt 15 bridge; just north of the bridge, turn west on Madison Mills Road and follow it approximately 1/10th of a mile to a dead end.  The small dirt path leads some 25 feet down to the river.

Rt 522: Drive down a gravel road on the south side of the river, east side of the road, to an unofficial public put in immediately adjacent to Route 522.

Ely’s Ford Road/Rt610: Access via Rt 3 to south, or Kellys Ford/Edwards Shop/Fields Mill Roads to the north.  This put in has a canoe ramp that won’t work for motor boats.

Sections of River to Run:

Graves Mill to Wolftown Road (about 6 miles): The Rapidan is a tiny little mountain creek with a pebbly bottom, no difficult rapids, and fantastic views.  The surrounding farmland is quite pretty, though they need to plant some more riparian buffers.  In high water be very wary of strainers, which are not infrequent.  There is also a low water bridge a mile or so downstream of General Banks Lane bridge.  The Rapidan gets a considerable infusion of water from Garth Run, which enters shortly after Graves Mill Road bridge.  Therefore, if it is too shallow above the Graves Mill Road bridge, put in at the bridge; there will be enough water in about 150 yards, after Garth Run comes in.

Wolftown Road to Route 29 (about 12 miles): Below Wolftown Road the Rapidan widens slightly, so you’re not running into the bank every 10 feet.  It is still very pretty, although there are occasional sections with eroded banks due to deforestation.  Also, be very careful about fences.  Someone has hung a very dangerous fence from the 230 bridge.  There is another fence across the river about 0.5 miles downstream of the Wolftown bridge.  It is electrical; be careful.  Then there is another fence perhaps 4 miles below that.  None of them are too hard to portage at reasonable water levels.

Route 29 to Route 231 (about 12 miles): Although pretty, this part of the river has higher banks and is less scenic than sections either upstream or near the confluence with the Rappahannock.  There would be plenty of camping opportunities.

Route 231 to Route 15: The Rapidan is slow, flat, and scenic during this winding 10 mile trip from Madison Mills to Liberty Mills.  A four foot high, potentially hazardous dam is located approximately 7 miles into the trip; it backs up a mile or so of slackwater.  The dam can be run through the left slot at the right water levels, or portaged on the right.  In high water, take care not to run either the right slot or across the middle.   The right slot has a shallow landing and the middle has many potential pinning rocks.  At low water, the dam can also be portaged by taking out in the middle of the dam and carrying across the rocks below.  With roads and houses almost entirely absent from this trip, this makes for a very pretty float trip.  This section has enough water at approximately 1.5 feet on the Culpeper gauge on the Rapidan.

Route 15 to Route 522: 14.5 miles

Ely’s Ford Road to Motts Run Landing: This run includes about 9 miles of the Rapidan, then another 8 miles or so of the Rappahannock.  This is a very pretty run, with nice forested hillsides and rocky river, particularly near and at the confluence.  A great campsite is at the confluence, in the middle of the two rivers.  Other campsites are just downstream, on the Rappahannock, on river right, near the old stone wall.  This stretch requires a little more water to run comfortably, at least 1.6 feet on the Culpeper gauge.  Lower water runs will require walking through the confluence area, which can become very shallow.


Additional information