The Coal River is a larger tributary of the Kanawha River that drains part of the Cumberland Mountains region in southern West Virginia, a rugged area of about 900 square miles.
It rises in the mountainous northwestern portion of Raleigh County at the junction of its Marsh Fork and Clear Fork and flows northwesterly across Boone and Kanawha counties where it enters the Kanawha River at Saint Albans, West Virginia.
Joining midway along its course, the Little Kanawha River is the largest tributary of the Coal. Their junction is protected as a Forks-of-Coal Wildlife Management Area. Two significant cataracts near its mouth, the upper and lower falls, are managed as part of public recreation areas on the lower river.
Much of the river has been developed as a public recreational waterway, the Walhonde Trail, along which many natural and cultural resources have been preserved and interpreted and many public-access areas have been built. Thousands of kayakers ply the gentle lower river annually, and an increasing number of vacation cabins and rentals are opening along the river there.
History of the Coal River
The Coal River has provided a transportation route through the mountainous terrain of southern West Virginia since prehistoric humans arrived in the region. Abundant timber harvested along the stream was transported to the Kanawha Valley during floods. John Peter Salley, credited with the discovery of coal in West Virginia, prospected along the river in 1742. Investors were enticed to the region in the mid-19th century because of the availability of cannel coal along the lower river.
Coal River Communities
From sources to mouth, the following select cities, towns, and villages are located on or near the Coal River.
Fairdale, WV (Marsh Fork)
Saxon, WV (Marsh Fork)
Arnett, WV (Marsh Fork)
Rock Creek, WV (Marsh Fork)
Dry Creek, WV (Marsh Fork)
Montcoal, WV (Marsh Fork)
Clear Creek, WV (Clear Fork)
Ameagle, WV (Clear Fork)
Colcord, WV (Clear Fork)
Dorothy, WV (Clear Fork)
Alum Creek, WV
Saint Albans, WV
The Delaware Indians named the Coal River "Walhondecepe." It was renamed "Coal River" in the 18th century by explorer John Peter Salley, who found coal along its banks.
Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the lower Coal River below Alum Creek, WV, may be found in our guide to travel in the Metro Valley Region, in western West Virginia. Information for the upper river may found in the Hatfield & McCoy Region in southwestern West Virginia.