The smaller twin of the Kanawha River, the 169-mile Little Kanawha River drains approximately 2,160 square miles of northern and central West Virginia. The river sources at the junction of its north and south forks near Kanawha Head in southern Upshur County and flows northwestward through southern Lewis County, northern Braxton County, central Gilmer County, and central Calhoun County to Elizabeth, in central Wirt County. At Elizabeth, it turns northward and courses across Wood County to meet the Ohio River at Parkersburg.
The chief tributaries of the Little Kanawha are the Hughes River and the West Fork of the Little Kanawha River. The stream has been impounded near Burnsville, West Virginia, as Burnsville Lake, the centerpiece of the Burnsville Lake Wildlife Management Area. The river is also a feature in the Fallout 76 video game.
History of the Little Kanawha River
The Little Kanawha River was valued by early European settlers, who farmed the gentle valleys along its flanks and harvested timber in its headwaters. In 1834, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act requiring private dam owners along the stream to build locks from Parkersburg to salt wells at Bulltown, West Virginia, in Braxton County. The assembly authorized improvements to navigation in 1847.
In the 1860s, the oil industry developed along the river at Burning Springs, and in 1863, the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia passed an act that incorporated the Little Kanawha Navigation Company, which completed several locks to permit passage of steamboats as far upstream as Glenville.
Little Kanawha River Communities
From source to mouth, the following select cities, towns, and villages are located on or near the Little Kanawha River.
Kanawha Head, WV
Falls Mill, WV
Sand Fork, WV
Burning Springs, WV
Kanawha Station, WV
Mineral Wells, WV
Cedar Grove, WV
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Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the lower Elk River, downstream of Elizabeth, West Virginia, may be found in our guide to travel in the Mid-Ohio Valley Region. Information for the river upstream of Elizabeth may found in the Heartland Region of central West Virginia.