A kayaker paddles the Coal River Water Trail.
Kayaker on the Coal River Water Trail

Kayaking in West Virginia (WV) is an increasingly popular sport and pastime where both flatwater and whitewater kayaking are concerned, and there are good reasons why.

Unlike many other streams and rivers in southeastern U.S., waterways in West Virginia rarely grow sluggish in summer, thanks to a continuous supply of rain shed in the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge mountains.

Streams here also enjoy a relative lack of pollutants, and many are being restored where mining and industrial sites once operated.

There's also much to be said for the epic beauty of its mountain-scapes. Whether flatwater or whitewater, its streams descend in wandering courses through varied hills and mountains, sourcing at more than 4,000 feet above sea level in the Alleghenies and at more than 3,000 in the Cumberlands of the southern state.

Ecotourism is a chief draw, and kayakers have a great advantage when it comes to their ability to explore the state's lakes and streams, many of which are otherwise difficult to reach by other means.

Flatwater Kayaking

Flatwater kayaking is popular throughout West Virginia, particularly in the western lowlands where slow-moving streams wander through wooded hills and meadows toward the Ohio River and in the eastern panhandle where the Potomac River and its tributaries descend through broad valleys toward the Atlantic.

Lakes are also popular flatwater kayaking destinations. Because of its mountainous terrain, West Virginia's lakes have all been created by impoundment. Only one small natural lake, Trout Pond, exists. Though usually created for flood prevention, its large lakes offer the advantage of having created varied habitat zones, often more diverse than natural lakes.

Parts of the following rivers accommodate flatwater kayaking.

BluestoneElk RiverLittle KanawhaOhio RiverTygart Valley
BuckhannonGuyandotteLost RiverPocatalicoWest Fork
CacaponHughes RiverMonongahelaPotomac River
Cheat RiverKanawha River
Mud RiverShenandoah
Coal RiverLittle CoalNew RiverS. Branch Poto.

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking in West Virginia is the stuff of legend. Whitewater runs here vary from class I-IV rapids on rivers such as the New, Cheat, Gauley, Potomac, and Shenandoah to seemingly impossible runs on smaller streams that descends in falls out of the mountains. Most whitewater streams are found in the Alleghenies and their foothills in eastern and southern West Virginia, though numerous rapids are also found on the Potomac and Shenadandoah rivers in the eastern panhandle.

Paddling Events

Paddling events are sponsored throughout West Virginia wherever rafting, kayaking, and paddlboarding are popular.

Efforts to open water trails across West Virginia are also helping build its communities economically.

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Kayakers ready to launch into the Guyandotte. Photo courtesy Guyandotte Water Trail.

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Paddlers float the Elk River below Sutton Dam. Courtesy Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Kayaks await the annual Tour de Coal near the Upper Falls on the Coal River.

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