Ohio River

Ferry on the Ohio River at Sistersville, WV, Tyler County, Mid-Ohio Valley Region
Sistersville Ferry on the Ohio River

The Ohio River rises at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River. From Pittsburgh, it flows northwestward to Chester, West Virginia, where it turns southwestward and courses for more than 256 miles across the western flank of West Virginia to Kenova, West Virginia, where it is joined by the Big Sandy River.

History of the Ohio River

The Ohio River has long been one of the chief water transportation routes in the U.S. Before the Civil War, it served as the chief passage westward and southward for many Americans. The first steamboat navigated the Ohio River in 1811, though steam navigation was not established on the river until 1817. Until the Civil War, flatboats remained the chief watercraft employed to carry freight and passengers. The  Ohio River was often know in the early years of its discovery by Europeans as the Allegheny River.

Ohio River Tributaries

The Ohio River forms the western border of West Virginia between Penssylvania and Kentucky and, with its tributaries, drains more than three quarters of the Mountain State. Tributary rivers of the Ohio in West Virginia, beginning upstream, include the Little Kanawha River, the Kanawha River, the Guyandotte River, and the Big Sandy River.

Other lesser tributaries of the Ohio River in West Virginia include, beginning upstream, Tomlinson Run, Buffalo Creek, Wheeling Creek, Little Grave Creek, Grave Creek, Fish Creek, Fishing Creek, Bens Run, Middle Island Creek, Pond Creek, Sandy Creek, Mill Creek, Fourpole Creek, and Twelvepole Creek.

Ohio River Communities

West Virginia counties that border the Ohio River include, from the upstream, Hancock County, Brooke County, Ohio County, Marshall County, Wetzel County, Tyler County, Pleasants County, Wood County, Jackson County, Mason County, Cabell County, Wayne County.

Principal communities on the Ohio River in West Virginia, from north to west, include Chester, Newell, New Cumberland, Weirton, Follansbee, Wellsburg, Beech Bottom, Windor Heights, Warwood, Wheeling, Benwood, McMechen, Glen Dale, Moundsville, New Martinsville, Paden City, Sistersville, Friendly, Bens Run, Saint Marys, Belmont, Willow Island, Williamstown, Boaz, Vienna, Parkersburg, Blennershassett, Washington, Belleville, Murraysville, Ravenswood, Millwood, Letart, New Haven, Hartford, Mason, Point Pleasant, Henderson, Gallipolis Ferry, Lesage, Guyandotte, Huntington, Ceredo, and Kenova.

Name Origin

Some sources claim the name “Ohio” was given by the Ohio peoples and meant “white foaming river” or “river of whitecaps.” Other sources claim that the name in native speech meant “beautiful river,” “great river,” or “something big.”

Ohio River Islands

More than 32 named islands and eyots rise in the Ohio River, 17 of which are protected as part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

  • Babbs Island — Hancock County at Chester, WV
  • Cluster Islands — Hancock County, northwest of New Manchester, WV
  • Browns Island — Brooke County at Weirton, WV
  • Griffen Island — Brooke County at Weirton, WV
  • Upper Twin Island — Ohio County at Warwood, WV
  • Lower Twin Island — Ohio County at Warwood, WV
  • Wheeling Island (NWR) — Ohio County at Wheeling, WV (head of island)
  • Captina Island (NWR) — Marshall County southwest of Moundsville, WV
  • Fish Creek Island (NWR) –Marshall County southwest of Moundsville, WV
  • Paden Island (NWR) — Wetzel County north of Paden City, WV
  • Williamson Island (NWR) — Tyler County west of Paden City, WV
  • Witten Towhead Island (NWR) — Tyler County southwest of Paden City, WV
  • Crab Island (NWR) — Tyler County at Sistersville, WV
  • Wells Island (NWR) –Tyler County southwest of Sistersville, WV
  • Mill Creek Island (NWR) — Tyler County northeast of Friendly, WV
  • Grandview Island (NWR) — Tyler County west of Friendly, WV
  • Grape Island (NWR) — Pleasants County northeast of Saint Marys, WV
  • Middle Island (NWR) — Pleasants County at Saint Marys, WV
  • Broadback Island (NWR) — Pleasants County at Belmont, WV
  • Eureka Island — Pleasants County at Belmont, WV
  • Buckley Island (NWR) — Wood County northwest of Williamstown, WV
  • Muskingum Island (NWR) — Wood County at Boaz, WV
  • Vienna Island — northwest of Vienna, WV, in Ohio
  • Neal Island (NWR) — Wood County at Vienna, WV
  • Blennerhassett Island  — Wood County at Blennerhassett, WV
  • Newberry Island — Wood County wouthwest of Meldahl, WV
  • Mustapha Island — Wood County west of New England, WV
  • Buffington Island (NWR) — Jackson County north of Ravenswood, WV
  • Letart Island (NWR) –Mason County southwest of Letart, WV
  • Eightmile Island  — Mason County southwest of Lakin, WV
  • Gallipolis Island — Mason County north of Plymale, WV
  • Lesage Island — Cabell County at Homestead, WV

Parks & Public Recreation

In addition to islands and mainland areas contained in the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, parks and preserves on and near the river in West Virginia help protect the environment and provide outdoor-recreation facilitites for fishing, hunting, hiking, boating, and wildlife observation. The following park areas are located on and near the river from north to west.

Variant Names

Aaboukingon, Akansea River, Alagany River, Allegany River, Allegeny River, Alleghany River, Alliganey River, Baudrane River, Bella Ribera, Belle Riviere, Cau-si-sip-i-on-e, Cubach, Dono, Eagle River, Fair River, Fleuve Chucagoa, Fleuve Saint Louis, Hohio River, Il Fiume Ohio, Kan-zan-za River, Ki-to-no, Kis-ke-ba-la-se-be River, Kis-ke-pi-la-se-pe River, Kiskepila Sepe, Kottono-cepe, L’Oyo Riviere, La Riviere Ouabache, La Riviere Oyo, LaBelle Riviere, O-H-I-o-ple, O-Yo, O-h-i-o-ple, O-he-zun River, O-he-zun-River, O-he-zun-an-de-wa River, O-hee-yo, O-li-gen-si-pen, Ochio, Oheeo, Oheezuh, Ohi, Ohio, Ohionhiio, Ohiopeckhanne, Ohiople, Olighin-cipou River, Ouabache, Ouabouskigon, Oyeu River, Oyo, Oyo-peck-han-ne, Pa-la-wa-the-pee River, Palawa Thepiki, River Allegane, Sabsquigs River, Sault River, Splawacipiki River, Turkey River

Regional Information

Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the upper Ohio River, upstream of New Martinsville, may be found in our guide to travel in the Northern Panhandle Region. Information for the central segment of the Ohio River, between New Martinsville and Gallipolis Ferry, may found in the Mid-Ohio Valley Region. Information for the lower segment, including Huntington, may be found in the Metro Valley Region.

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