The Coal River Walhonde River Trail is long at 88 miles (with shorter sections along the way), but it's a calm river with a maximum of Class-II rapids. There may be a few eddies and sharp turns here and there, but it's a safe, easy ride for paddlers looking for a leisurely trip.
Time To Complete
With the average distance around 8 miles for each section, the trail is divided in a way that shouldn't exceed 6 hours of paddling each day. Shorter trails will, of course, take less time to complete, but 6 hours is a fair average.
The Coal River Walhonde Trail is accessible year-round. Depending on the weather and your scenery preferences, each season provides a different glimpse into rural WV coal country.
On Leash Only
There is no fee to access the Walhonde River Trail. The Coal River Group does provide kayak and canoe rentals at the following rates: single kayak—$35 per day; tandem (double) kayak—$65 per day; and canoes—$100 per day.
The Coal River is made up of three parts: the Big Coal and the Little Coal, and then once these two combine, the mainstem Coal River. Designated by the National Register of Historic Places, these three sections make up the 88-mile Walhonde River Trail, created by the St. Albans-based Coal River Group. With around 17 access points, from the top of the trail in Boone County to St. Albans at the confluence of the Coal and Kanawha Rivers, the trail runs through the epicenter of West Virginia’s remote coal mining counties. It’s also the first federally designated water trail that is entirely within the state of West Virginia. With a maximum Class-II difficulty level, Coal River’s runs are smooth, and make for long, leisurely trips through scenic, historic, and rural West Virginia coal country.
What Makes It Great
The river is a much-loved destination for outdoor recreation and river tourism. The Coal River Group started a watershed restoration project in 2004, and it has significantly improved water quality.
Because there are so many put-ins and take-outs along the 88-mile trail, boating journeys can range from just 3 miles to 14.5 miles. The Coal River Group has created a map of the access points along the trail system, including the exact locations of put-in/put-out zones and riverside facilities along the way.
Winding through coal country, you will see all sorts of scenery and pass through several small communities, including Whitesville, Sylvester, Racine, Peytona, Ashford, Emmons, Alum Creek, Madison, Danville, Julian, MacCorkle, and Upper Falls, before ending at St. Albans along the Midland Trail. St. Albans is the biggest community along the trail, with a population of just less than 11,000.
Who is Going to Love It
Because the water ranges from flatwater to Class II over the course of the Walhonde Trail, it’s a safe, calm, and relaxing excursion, whether you paddle just 1 section or decide to do the whole 88 miles. The Coal River is a great family excursion or a classroom for beginners, where you can really focus on the fundamentals of navigating a river. While there may be a few eddies you’ll need to navigate through along the way, there are no major obstacles that will be a challenge to a beginner or leisurely paddler.
The Walhonde Trail sections are also great for paddlers who enjoy fishing from their boats (a WV fishing license is required). There’s a variety of fish including brook trout, white bass, redbreast and pumpkinseed sunfish, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, perch, bigmouth buffalo, brown trout, bluegill, carp, catfish, rainbow trout, and muskellunge.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Visit the Coal River Group’s website for a map and directions to specific put-in/take-out locations. They recommend checking water levels before taking a trip along the Walhonde Trail. Optimal water levels on the Big Coal River are 1.9 to 5 feet, and ideal levels on the main Coal River are 10.2 to 11.5 feet. Water levels below the minimum recommended level could result in dragging at the river bottom, and levels above could be dangerous for paddlers.
Keep in mind that most most of the land along the river is private property. There are no public campsites at this time, although there are lodging opportunities in the communities you pass through. Plan your river trip accordingly, and be respectful of local residents and private property. Park in designated areas at the marked put-in/take-out points along the trail.