South Fork of the Piney

Virginia Whitewater | Charlottesville Region

South Fork of the Piney River

Length:  3.5 miles

Difficulty: Class IV-V

Gauge:  Route 827 & Route 666 Bridge; online USGS Piney River at Piney, VA

Minimum:  6 inches; 400 cfs+

Maximum:  User’s discretion – Visual


There isn’t a more beautiful creek to paddle in the central Blue Ridge Mountains than the South Fork of the Piney River.  This creek’s origins amass the Priest Wilderness to the north and Mount Pleasant Nation Scenic Area to the south.  The woods surrounding the South Fork are a lush mix of evergreens and deciduous trees, sprinkled with mossy boulders along the banks.  There is no lull in gradient throughout the creek’s 3.5 mile bout off the ridge; however, the creek is roadside and you can pull off if needed (being respectful of landowners).  Be sure to scout anything and everything knowing full well there is most likely a tree in the mix.

The action starts quickly from the start and doesn’t let up for the entire run.  After some class III boogie, you’ll reach the Cascades.  This is the most famous section of whitewater on the South Fork of the Piney due to it’s roadside access and bedrock slides.  It is also the easiest section to navigate with large eddies aplenty.  If you feel maxed out here, consider running some laps and hiking back to the car at the put in.

Continuing downstream of the Cascades will give you a better idea of the type of whitewater you’ll be paddling for the next 3 miles.  Manky, narrow, and tons of trees.  Eddies can be tough to find at times, so please go slow and be very careful.  Plenty of boofs will be in the mix on the South Fork as you make your way to Switchblade.

max switchblade

Max finishing up Switchblade. photo Hunter Davis

Switchblade is one of the best rapids in Nelson County!  It consists of a technical enterance, 5 foot clapper, and culminates with an awesome boof.  You’ll know your getting close to it when the river right wall rises higher than usual.

Word of Caution: There is a very dangerous sieve on river right fn an inconspicuous rapid not far after Switchblade.  The rapid stairsteps down some bedrock and slams into a giant pile of rocks on the river right.  Most of the water goes underneath the pile of rocks.

zizza no fishing falls

Zizza  sliding down No Fishing Falls. photo Hunter Davis

You’ll know your getting close to the end of the main gradient after dropping a couple steep, bedrock rapids including No Fishing Falls.  This rapid is a classic and engulfed by beautiful surroundings.  Be sure to soak it all in while remembering the land around this section of river is private property – respect the landowners as you continue downstream.  A final boof off a sloping boulder, known as Shotgun, notes warrant as well.  There is a piton/pin spot underwater on the ledge just feet from the sloper.

josh shotgun sfpiney

Josh finishing up Shotgun. photo Hunter Davis

Don’t forget, there is a wonderful section of class III/IV whitewater on the Piney River after the takeout for the South Fork of the Piney section.  Adding the Big Piney to the South Fork will provide a total of 7 miles of gradient goodness.  Get out there!

Shuttle: Most of the South Fork of the Piney is roadside.  The takeout is on FR 63 at the National Forest boundary sign.  Head upstream and put in near the first bridge crossing.

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