Take the trail less traveled— really less traveled!
Have you ever paddled a water trail?
Water trails (also called blueways) are river or lake routes for small, non-motorized boat traffic. You can usually stop off on the banks along the way at shops, restaurants and attractions.
They’re not adrenaline-laden whitewater runs– think more leisurely, Huck Finn-styled drifting along easy flatwater, with plenty of scenery, solitude and natural beauty all around.
Get ready to load up your canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard for some Mountain State adventure!
Here are 7 of the best of our water trails:
1. Wheeling Creek
Wheeling Creek is a great intro into what water trails are all about! Very popular with locals for tubing as well as canoeing and kayaking, it is mostly flatwater with a few small riffles for most of its length.
This creek is quite diverse as it cuts across West Virginia’s northern panhandle, moving from rural farmland and forest toward the more urban landscape of Wheeling at its confluence with the Ohio River.
You can dock or drop in at the ample put-ins and take-outs, and as Wheeling Creek nears the city of Wheeling, there are even some nice multi-use trails, parks and restaurants that line its banks.
2. Cheat River
The Cheat is a largely wild river system with some great sections of whitewater. But if you want some laid-back water trail paddling, check out its upper section between the towns of Parsons and Rowlesburg. Depending on where you put in or take out, you can put together multi-day trips of longer than 50 miles!
Because the Cheat is in a large watershed, rainstorms well upstream of your route can cause floods. Make sure you check the most current river levels.
3. Upper Monongahela
The “Upper Mon” is not completely developed, but you can certainly get some great floating in on its flatwater sections, especially some of the more upper sections around Fairmont.
Be careful: farther downstream, as the river flows northward, you may be sharing the river with some motorized traffic. There are also 5 locks along the Upper Mon.
4. South Branch of the Potomac
The Potomac’s South Branch is flat and beautiful, with no more than class II rapids.
The South Fork is not yet an officially designated water trail, but its scenery and accessibility certainly qualify it for a good paddle. The 11-mile run below Moorefield is a combination of open farmland, and then a deep, 1000-foot gorge called “The Trough,” which is only accessible by boat or train.
Campsites and excellent fishing abound.
5. Coal River
This newly designated water trail has a lot going for it! It is big, with more than 88 miles of river along 2 of the Coal’s tributaries. The WV Department of Natural Resources maintains 17 different launch points along its network. And, it’s in Kanawha County, close to West Virginia’s largest population center in Charleston.
6. Elk River
Flowing from the center of the state westward to the Kanawha for 180 miles, the Elk River is the longest river contained entirely within the Mountain State. From its headwaters just below Sutton Dam, there are a dozen access points. Beautifully wooded, accessible from nearby interstates, and one of the most biodiverse waterways in West Virginia, the Elk River water trail is often called the “best all-in-one river” in the state.
As an added bonus, the river trail flows right past one of West Virginia’s finest restaurants, Cafe Cimino in Sutton!
7. Greenbrier River
The Greenbrier flows for most of its 173-mile length with no rapids harder than splashy class II’s. It’s also incredibly accessible– a multi-use trail runs along the banks, allowing for easy put-ins and take-outs. You could truly plan any trip from a half-day 5-mile affair, to a multi-day expedition.
Be sure to check on water levels– spring and early summer tend to have the best water, but late summer rainstorms can keep the river at boatable levels throughout the season.
Which water trails will you paddle?