The Guyandotte River follows a wandering course through one of the world’s most rugged mountain regions—an Appalachian landscape covered in thick forests and peppered with ghost towns and relics of one of the nation’s most productive coal-mining industries.
Coal is still mined in the mountains beyond the upper river, but the remnants of early mining here, including turn-of-the-century architecture more akin to that of eastern cities, add to the allure of the region which once filled with hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
Hikers, hunters, and trail-riders on all-terrain vehicles now follow the paths that miners once trekked, and anglers fish the rivers and streams that ran black with coal a century ago. As the valley of the Guyandotte reverts to its natural state, more visitors are discovering the wonder of the landscape and the potential for sustainable development among its mountains.
Discovering the Guyandotte
Ready to explore the Guyandotte? You’ll find plenty of backroads and highways to lead you through the region, and its inhabitants are known for their hospitality and delight in introducing visitors to the region. There are three traditional methods of immersing oneself in the Guyandotte that are also among the chief reasons visitors travel here:
All-terrain vehicles serve as an important mode of off-road transportation in the upper reaches of the valley where trails are often more convenient than paved roads. Countless miles of trail climb into the hills along the river, and many are part of the network of Hatfield & McCoy Trails on which public trail riding is permitted. Thousands of off-road enthusiasts visit annually, lodging in vacation rentals and cabins designed specifically to accommodate ATVs and UTVs. Many restaurants cater to tourists and ATV riders in search of local cuisine.
The Guyandotte is a popular fishing river, particularly where float trips are concerned. Much of the river from R.D. Bailey Lake downstream is runnable without portage, though upstream the river is interrupted by shoals in many places.
Though the the Guyandotte is a popular destination for warmwater fishing, several of its tributaries—Buffalo Creek, Pinnacle Creek, and its Clear and Slab forks— are cold enough to support trout and are stocked annually, usually in spring. In addition to lake fishing on R.D. Bailey Lake, the state stocks several smaller fishing ponds and lakes in the area.
Hunting is a perennially popular sport in the Guyandotte region, and hunters come from several states away to hunt its public hunting areas and on private preserves. More than 30,000 acres of public hunting lands are found in wildlife management areas at Elk Creek, Horse Creek, Big Ugly, Creek, and R. D. Bailey Lake. Land companies that manage hundreds of thousands of acres of forest lease tracts to hunt clubs and individuals.
The Origin of Guyandotte
This watershed remained relatively undeveloped by expanding American industry and agriculture even into the first part of the 19th century. Before American General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s army defeated Shawnee Blue Jacket’s combined Amer-Indian forces at Fallen Timber in 1794, war parties continued hitting settlements in southwestern Virginia in a vain attempt to retake former territory. The ancient war trails up Kanawha valley and through eastern Kentucky were too crowded for Virginia and Kentuckians to allow safe passage for aboriginal warriors, but the Guyandotte River, Tug Fork, and Levisa Fork valleys remained unsettled enough to allow war parties to pass relatively undetected. During the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, several nations’ armies demanded bear skins for warm winter wear and decorative clothing, like the tall bear skin hats of the British soldiers. In a three year period (1805-1807), some 8,000 bear hides were shipped from these watersheds to New York merchants, like John Aster for European markets.
The valley of the Guyandotte once brimmed with innumerable small coal towns and hamlets, many of which were abandoned as mining employment dwindled. Including the sprawling city of Huntington, at its mouth, the following larger towns remain.
A railroad boomtown, Mullens was named for A. J. Mullins, who owned the land on which the town was established in 1912. (Its incorporated name was inadvertently spelled “Mullens. Mullens developed after the Virginian Railway established a terminal there. Many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in its downtown were raised by the Early Brothers, descendants of Confederate General Jubal Early. The eastward extent of the Pinnacle Creek ATV Trail System approaches the town on the southwest.
Logan was platted in 1827 and first named Aracoma in honor of the daughter of Cornstalk, a Shawnee chieftan. According to local tradition, Aracoma lived on an island in the Guyandotte River there. In 1907, the city name was changed from Aracoma to Logan in honor of the Mingo chief and orator. Chief Logan State Park, where the outdoor drama “The Aracoma Story” is performed in summer, is located four miles north of town. The Bearwallow ATV Trail System is located northeast of the city. The U.S. Route 19 expressway courses along its flank.
The Guyandotte leaves the hill-country at Barboursville and enters the broad flats of the Ohio Valley and its tributaries. Established in 1815, Barboursville was among the first towns to be founded along the western margins of West Virginia (then Virginia). River traffic on the lower Guyandotte and overland traffic on the Midland Trail swelled commerce in the community. Interstate 64 courses through Barboursville and the Huntington Mall is located there.
The seat of Wyoming County, Pineville was platted in 1893 and named for a pine forest along the river near the mouth of Rockcastle Creek. The city maintains a park at Castle Rock, a monumental sandstone formation that rises along the river near the center of the town. Built of stone quarried nearby, the county courthouse complex dominates the town. The Pinnacle Creek ATV Trail System approaches Pineville from the south, and Twin Falls Resort State Park is located approximately 10 miles northeast.
Man is situated on and opposite the mouth of Buffalo Creek, which infamously flooded in 1972 after a dam near its source failed, killing 125 and leaving more than 4,000 homeless. The community’s name is derived from the last syllable of the surname of Ulysses Hichman, a member of the House of Delegates from Logan County who served from 1866 until 1869. The Rock House ATV Trail System is located southwest of Man, and the 6,000-acre Elk Creek Wildlife Management Area, to the southeast.
His identity erased by time, a hunter named Gilbert was allegedly killed by Shawnee on Gilbert Creek, which joins the Guyandotte at Gilbert. The trailhead for the Rockhouse ATV Trail System is located at Gilbert, and 630-acre R.D. Bailey Lake, surrounded by a wildlife-management area of more than 17,000 acres, is located two miles upstream on the Guyandotte. U.S. Route 52 passes through the town.
Members of the Chapman family were among the first to settle in the community now known as Chapmanville in the early 1800s. The town was named for Ned Chapman, who owned a store and ran the post office there. The U.S. Route 19 expressway courses through the community. The Guyandotte flows out of the rugged Cumberland Mountains region near Chapmanville and into the sprawling hill country south of the Ohio River.
Located five miles west of Hamlin, the county seat of Lincoln County, West Hamlin was an export center on the Guyandotte for farmers who worked many small hill farms south of the Ohio Valley. Though Hamlin is located on the Mud River, West Hamlin’s situation on the Guyandotte afforded access to the railroad that followed the river there.
The Guyandotte empties into the Ohio River at Huntington, one of the largest cities in West Virginia and one of the busiest inland ports in the U.S. Now a suburb in the city, the village of Guyandotte, at the mouth of the river, was settled by French pioneers in the late 1700s, though a town was not incorporated until 1810, and then by Virginian settlers. Huntington was established in the 1870s during completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, which linked the commerce of the Atlantic Coast with that of the Ohio Valley. The city is named for Collis P. Huntington. Marshall University, with an annual enrollment of more than 13,000, is located at Huntington.
Guyandotte Scenic Drive
The Guyandotte Scenic Drive is nestled within the southern Allegheny Mountains and is roughly bounded by the Guyandotte Mountain to the north and the Guyandotte River to the south, spanning 501 square miles of lush, mountainous terrain. The drive is a motoring tour loop for both automobiles and motorcycles that provides significant natural beauty, history, scenic vistas and numerous recreational opportunities along the way.
Twin Falls State Park
Located 30 minutes from Beckley, WV and set in the rugged mountains of Southern West Virginia, Twin Falls Resort State Park is the ideal site for nature seekers. Visitors to Twin Falls can enjoy overnight accommodations ranging from a 47-room lodge located on the mountain top to secluded cottages or spacious camping sites at the campground. Twin Falls provides a sprawling 18-hole, Par 71 championship golf course. Other leisure activities at Twin Falls include twelve scenic hiking and biking trails, picnicking, swimming in an outdoor pool, full-service restaurant, or just relaxing with a piece of history at the Pioneer Farm.
R.D. Baily Dam/Wildlife Rec Area
The lake at R.D. Bailey Dam is surrounded by 19,000 acres of the R.D. Bailey Wildlife Management Area. The Division of natural Resources manages 17,000 acres of the property for providing opportunities for hunting and wildlife enthusiasts. Activities available at the wildlife area are trails (hiking, bicycle, and horseback riding), picnic shelters, camping, and marina facilities. Fishing at the R.D. Bailey Lake has been excellent for largemouth & smallmouth bass, walleye, tiger Muskie, channel catfish, crappie, and pan fish since the lake was completed in 1980.
Chief Logan State Park
Chief Logan State Park is located in the heart of West Virginia’s southern coalfields. Chief Logan State Park is four miles north of the town of Logan. The park and town share the name of the Chief of the Cayuga Tribe (also known as the Mingo tribe). This 4,000-acre park is one of the most visited in the system. The park features a 25-site campground, outdoor amphitheater, and swimming pool with water slide, tennis, and miniature golf. Picnic shelters and playground are found through the park. The Guyandotte Beauty Flower has also been found in the park.
Hatfield & McCoy Trail System
Near to the Guyandotte River is the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System. This recreational trail is a statutory corporation created by the West Virginia Legislature to generate economic development through tourism in nine southern West Virginia counties. By mid-2009, the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System covered more than 500 miles of off-road trails in five of its nine project counties. Each of its seven trails systems are open 365 days a year to ATVs, dirt bikes, and utility vehicles (UTVs).
The community of Ranger, WV has recently installed a wonderful park along the bank of the Guyandotte River. Currently the park has a concession stand, restroom facilities, picnic tables, and little league fields for softball and soccer. The park also boasts a walking trail that encompasses its boundaries. Lincoln County Parks and Receration department has also installed many native plants and plantings to attract songbirds and butterflies in the area. Future plans are to install a river access point as well as primitive camping sites.
Located just outside of Barboursville, the park spreads over 900 and has multiple soccer fields, three baseball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, little league baseball fields, midget football field, fishing lakes and ponds, picnic areas, amphitheater, walking trails, horse show ring, and archery range. It also features nine shelters that are available for reservation for special events.
McClelland Park is one of many parks operated by the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District. The park is named for retired Executive Director James McClelland for over twenty five years of service and dedication to the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation System. The park promotes the influence of the river with play apparatus that looks like sternwheelers that once travelled the Ohio River. The park also provides basketball courts, tennis courts, and a walking path.
Along the River
The Guyandotte River and its tributaries offer many opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, and scenic vistas of the West Virginia Mountains. The river provides a variety of fishing and fun. Some of the fish in the Guyandotte River are bass, bluegill, catfish, carp, crappie, gar, muskie, trout, walleye as well as turtles. To provide easy access to the river, the Department of Natural Resources built three boat ramps along the river. During the summer, many people can be seen fishing and canoeing along the river.
Educational opportunities are abundant along the Guyandotte River as noted from the historical prospective of activities that have taken place along this watercourse. The sponsors of this proposal plans to highlight and bring more opportunities for educating the general public on these historic sites throughout the watershed. In reviewing for this application, it quickly becomes apparent of the Guyandotte River’s influences on the shaping of the United States from George Washingtons first survey of the area to the rich history in mining and organized labor unions.
The Guyandotte Water Trail Alliance was created in 2014 to convene partners interested in the development of the Guyandotte Water Trail. Greater Kanawha Resource Conservation & Development (GKRC&D) and National Coal Heritage Area Authority (NCHAA) brought together local state agencies, watershed groups, non-profits, private environmental companies and other partners to create projects, determine goals, and spread the awareness of the Guyandotte Water Trail. In 2015 NCHAA brought on an Americorps VISTA to help coordinate projects, write grants and convene members.
Listed below are the organizations involved with the Guyandotte Water Trail and members of the Guyandotte Water Trail Alliance:
Current USGS Water Data