OUR RIVERS ARE IMPORTANT PATHWAYS THAT CONNECT OUR PAST TO OUR FUTURE. FLOAT WITH US AS WE PAY HOMAGE TO SOME OF OUR MAJESTIC WATERWAYS AND THE TOWNS THAT EMBRACE THEM.
The mighty Ohio—created where West Virginia’s Monongahela River joins Pennsylvania’s Allegheny at Pittsburgh—forms West Virginia’s distinctive 277-mile border, from its northernmost tip to its westernmost. The river has served as a vital corridor of transportation and trade since the earliest years of the nation. From sturdy barges to romantic sternwheelers to exhilarating speedboats, the Ohio River has shaped the culture of that part of the state.
When the Wheeling Suspension Bridge crossed the main channel of the Ohio in 1849, it was the first span of a major river west of the Appalachian mountains and the longest suspension bridge in the world. The beautiful, historic structure is open still for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy. Stretched along the river at the bridge’s base, Heritage Port park, with its stepped amphitheater and pathways at the water’s edge, hosts Wheeling’s annual Fourth of July fireworks, Italian Festival, and Heritage Music Blues Festival as well as weekly concerts. And during the September Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, wooden hydroplanes and race boats run on the river at speeds up to 140 mph.
For decades starting in 1938, New Martinsville was hydroplane racing central. Dozens of global speed records were set here, and this stretch of the Ohio River was known as the fastest freshwater course in the world. And the legend and legacy live on: Every July, the New Martinsville Vintage Regatta revives the thrill with sleek open-cockpit boats built from the 1940s into the 1980s. Attendees can meet the drivers and watch them run the river at astonishing speeds. Then, in September, the New Martinsville Area RegattaFest brings American Power Boat Association–sanctioned action to the region for a weekend of festival fun, with powerboat speed record runs and divisional championships.
It’s impossible to think of the Ohio River at Parkersburg without thinking of Blennerhassett Island, once the dazzling home of Irish aristocrats and the site of Aaron Burr’s infamous 1805 Southwest conspiracy, now a gracious historical state park. Sitting at the confluence of the Little Kanawha and Ohio rivers, Parkersburg enjoys access to a variety of flatwater experiences, and the city’s 58-mile Ohio River Water Trail outlines paddling excursions on both rivers. For a more serene paddle on the Ohio, the September Parkersburg Paddlefest closes a three-mile stretch to barges, reserving it for people-powered watercraft for several hours. Get a terrific view of the Ohio River valley from higher up at Fort Boreman Park.
Many of us know Point Pleasant as the epicenter of the 1966–67 Mothman sightings and the site of the tragic 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge—but it’s also a town with a proud inland maritime history. Situated where the Kanawha River flows into the Ohio, Point Pleasant framed its economy around boat building and river transport. The Point Pleasant River Museum celebrates local river culture and wildlife and operates immersive digital riverboat pilot simulators that are both a visitor experience and a training site for professionals. The museum burned in 2018, but a new location is nearing completion.