Being a lake, it's pretty safe. Add 1 difficulty star though, because there's often no shore, just cliff. If you fall off your boat and can't roll, you'll have to climb back up from the water.
Time To Complete
Spring, Summer, and Fall
Summer is by far the best time go, despite the mid-day weekend crowds and power boats. In spring and fall, you may or may not find a full lake; the Army Corps of Engineers begins to raise the level from winter pool April 1, and starts to lower it back down the weekend after Labor Day.
Yes, if your dog can handle small boats. It's not uncommon to see people with dogs in canoes, kayaks, or even sitting comfortably atop stand-up paddleboards.
In the heart of Southern West Virginia, Summersville Lake holds a special allure. Rock climbers find dramatic routes to scale along the shoreline cliffs. SCUBA divers have stunning visibility to explore the underwater sandstone formations. Fishermen reel in catch after catch of bass, crappie, walleye, and more. But for the flat-water boater, the true adventure is exploring the secluded coves and waterfalls along more than 60 miles of shoreline, accessible from a brand-new, paddles-only boat launch.
What Makes It Great
Summersville Lake is a place where waterfalls cascade from massive sandstone cliffs, and hundreds of small caves are just waiting to be explored by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Inlets lead to secluded beaches that feel even more remote than they are. A few of the inlets even lead up into wide, calm creeks far from the bustle of the lake proper.
Grab a few USGS topo quads (Summersville Dam-WV, Mt. Nebo-WV, and Summersville-WV should just about cover the whole thing) and start exploring. Put in at the Route 39 paddles-only boat launch (new as of 2015), a perfect spot for catching the most scenic portions of the lake, like the awe-inspiring cliffs that hug the shores. For a monster of a day, hunker down and start paddling for Long Point some 3 miles “downstream.”
Summersville Lake paddlers share the water with powerboats, and there can be an overwhelming number of them on busy summer weekends, so bear that in mind when planning your trip. Come on a weekday, or if the weekend is all you have, plan your trip for early morning or late afternoon. Another terrific option for crowded days is Hawks Nest Lake about a half hour to the south.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone who dreams of exploring caves, inlets, and waterfalls by water will love Summersville Lake. The lake is warm (for a mountain lake) and the great water quality makes it the perfect place for families to relax and paddle around. The calm water is also a good place for beginning scuba divers, though experienced divers will also appreciate the unique sandstone formations they will find under the water.
In 2015, the WV Department of Natural Resources built a paddles-only boat launch far from the main powered traffic of Salmon Run and Summersville Lake Marina. Follow Route 19 to Route 39, just south of Summersville, WV. Turn East and follow 39 for about one mile to parking and the launch on the left just before the big bridge. From the launch, paddle left (upstream) to explore the mouth of the Top Gauley, or right to go toward Hominy Creek, Pirate’s Cove, and Long Point (in that order). Bring the aforementioned topographic maps, or just go for it!