5 Reasons to Paddle the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail

A crew of canoes at dawn.
A crew of canoes at dawn. Alaina McDavid
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The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

If you love a good river float, canoe excursion, or kayak trip, then the Coal River is the place for you.

This north-flowing tributary meanders through mountains, green forests and natural rock formations towards St. Albans, where it meets the Kanawha River. Stretching from Whitesville to St. Albans, the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail covers 88 miles, broken into distinct 6-12 mile sections (the distance most paddlers can complete in a day). The trail is easily accessible, with 17 launches that are entirely free and open to the public.

And don’t worry if you don’t have the necessary equipment—the Coal River Group has rentals and a detailed map.

While there are a million reasons to go, we picked 5 of the best that will have you planning a trip in no time.

A bird’s eye view of a kayaker in West Virginia.
A bird’s eye view of a kayaker in West Virginia. VaMedia

1. The Tour de Coal

This summer community paddling event for canoeists and kayakers covers the 11-mile segment of the water trail from Tornado to St. Albans. You do have to pay a small registration fee, but it includes a t-shirt and admission to a beginner kayaking workshop by the Coal River Group, who also runs the event. In 2014, more than 600 participants paddled, and it keeps growing every year.

2. Experiencing Small Town Life

There are a handful of small towns along the water trail, usually just a few miles offshore. Each one has something unique to explore. Whitesville, where the trail ends, has the Coal Heritage Riverwalk, which celebrates the region’s heritage. St. Alban’s near the start has a variety of restaurants (Angela’s on the River is a good one to try) if you want one last meal that isn’t cooked over a campfire before you set out on your journey up the river.

St. Alban’s, the beginning of the Coal River Walhonde Trail, at night.
    Ken Lund
St. Alban’s, the beginning of the Coal River Walhonde Trail, at night. Ken Lund

3. Year-Round Fun

The Coal River Walhonde Water Trail is accessible year-round, and because West Virginia has four distinct seasons, you’ll get different scenery every time you go. If you want to breathe in crisp air and enjoy blazing colors above, fall is the time to go. Going in the summer is classic, and you can take a dip in the water, too. Winter will be a much chillier paddle. One of the best times of the year to take the trail is in the spring, when you’ll get comfortable, middle-of-the-road temperatures and see wildflowers on almost every riverbank.

4. It’s Accessible to Everyone

Even though the river trail is 88 miles long, there are plenty of easily accessible stops. Plus, it never gets higher than a Class I level of difficulty. You might come across an occasional swift eddy or sharp turn, but nothing too difficult, so even new paddlers can have a good time. Each segment of the trail averages about 8 miles, so each day takes about 6 hours of relatively leisurely paddling.

5. You Can Fish for Your Own Food

If you love to fish out of your boat, canoe, or kayak, you will find a variety of fish in the water below. The conservation efforts along the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail have seriously upped the water quality, creating a hospitable environment for several species of fish, including spotted and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, striper, walleye and muskie. Note: You’ll need a fishing license.

Explore the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail

Originally written for West Virginia .

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