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Before planning your trip to the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail, make sure you pick up a copy of our Trail Guide. Guides are available for free at West Virginia travel centers, Tamarack, the Coal River Science & Education Center, and around businesses in the greater Charleston area. The Trail Guides include the map of the entire Coal River Water Trail and other helpful information for your trip.
When planning your paddle trip on the Coal River Water Trail, first check the USGS River Gauge information to determine the current flow and water levels. Water levels play a huge role in making your river trip safe and enjoyable. If the water is too low, your canoes and kayaks may drag on the bottom of the river. On the other hand, very high water levels can be dangerous to recreational paddlers.
USGS River Levels - Big Coal River at Ashford, WV
--Optimal Paddling levels for the Big Coal: 1.9 - 5.00 high
(If the level is below 1.9, your boat will drag bottom. Levels above 5ft can be dangerous to non-experienced boaters)
USGS River Levels - Coal River at Tornado, WV
--Optimal paddling levels for the Little Coal River: 10.20 - 11.50
(Note: once the USGS installs a new flood gauge at Danville, these numbers will change)
The Coal River watershed is located in the heart of the historic southern West Virginia coal mining region.
The Big Coal River begins near Whitesville, WV. Route 3 borders the Big Coal River from Peytona to Whitesville. Boone County's John Slack Park is located in Racine and offers public boat access, picnic shelters, and has a public swimming pool. Visit Drawdy Falls at Peytona and imagine 100-foot long riverboats pushing coal barges through the locks near Peytona Bridge in 1855. Sylvester, Comfort, and Orgas are also located along this stretch of WV Rte. 3.
The Little Coal River begins near Madison, the home of the historic Boone County Courthouse and the Boone County Coal Museum. Follow WV Rte. 85 through Danville to the junction of US Rte 119 (Corridor G). The river flows north along the Corridor and passes the Boone County Water Park, the trailhead for the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Center, and joins the Big Coal RIver at Alum Creek.
The Little and Big Coal Rivers create the Coal River, which extends from Alum Creek to the Kanawha River at St. Albans. Along the way, Rte 3 runs parallel to the river and passes four sites of the historic locks and dams. The community of Tornado provides offers views of the picturesque Upper Falls dam, Meadowood Park, and Big Bend Bend Golf Course. Lower Falls, located on Strawberry Rd in St. Albans, in another lock and dam site.
St. Albans is the largest town in the Coal River watershed. Located on the Midland Trail (US Rte 60), the historic town offers visitors a host of restaurants, museums, and river-based recreation opportunities. The community's annual Riverfest celebration draws over 40,000 visitors each year and attracts many privately-owned sternwheelers for display.
The Big Coal and the Little Coal flow through scenic areas and have many shallow rapids. The type of boat you select is very important. The shallow depths on these rivers require either a canoe or kayak. Be prepared for strainers in the many sharp turns in the river and keep an eye out for sunken objects with sharp edges. The main Coal River has a larger channel and in many areas is beyond 6 feet in depth. The lower areas of Coal River are navigable by motorboat. Tubes are not recommended.
Normal boat safety rules should be followed at all times. Remember, a river is a river, so be prepared for encounters with wildlife of all types as well as natural and man-made hazards. Many of the areas along the Big and Little Coal are not accessible by roads and may not have cell phone service. The main Coal RIver flows through more populated areas with more accessible services. Please use caution and respect along the trail for private landowners.
Life vests are other normal boating safety equipment are highly recommended. The rivers have many deep holes, and rapids can be swift in places. Drinking water, first aid kits, and food and snacks are important. Very few stores are available alond most of the river, so be prepared and plan ahead.
There are no public camping areas on the Coal River Water Trail at this time. Commercial lodges and campsites are available at the Water Park on Corridor G. Remember that most of the land along the trail is private, so please be respectful of the property owners and their property. "Nothing left behind" is our motto.
The Coal River Water Trail is new to the communities in the region. Please be respectful of the local residents and their culture and customs. The region is the largest coal producing area of West Virginia, and the mining business continues to be important to the area. Be careful and watch for coal trucks on the access roads to the water trail. Park only in public parking areas or right-of-ways. Use caution when leaving a vehicle unattended for long periods in isolated areas. Plan ahead for your trips and have a pickup car available to shuttle you to your put-in site.