Explore The ohio river islands

Scattered along 362 miles of the Ohio River, the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge restores and protects habitat for wildlife in one of our nation’s busiest inland waterways.

About the Refuge

The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system. The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge was the first refuge in West Virginia and began with the purchase of eight islands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990. Now the refuge includes a total of twenty-two islands and four mainland properties. 18 of these islands are located in West Virginia, with two in Kentucky and two in Pennsylvania.


The refuge’s goal is to conserve and restore floodplain forests, where giant sycamore, silver maple and cottonwood can thrive once again. While natural processes are re-growing much of the island forests, the refuge also plants many species of native trees and shrubs to help create a more diverse wildlife habitat. The management and removal of invasive species is also essential to restoring the islands’ habitats.


The refuge lands are open to the public from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. All of the islands are accessible by boat. Carry-down boat access for small boats, canoes and kayaks are available near the refuge visitor center in Williamstown, WV. There are public boat ramps for larger vessels off of the headquarters. Additionally, a bridge allows vehicle access to Middle Island near St. Marys, WV. A small refuge parcel on Wheeling Island can be reached from walking from Belle Isle Park. Buffalo Creek in Brooke County, WV is accessible by car.


The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center is a wonderful, educational spot for all ages. It’s located at 3982 Waverly Rd, two miles outside of Williamstown, WV. Explore exhibits displaying refuge wildlife, history and recreation opportunities. The center is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. During the summer, the center is open on Sundays and federal holidays. Updated hours are available on their website or by calling 304-375-2923.


Some of the best fishing in the Ohio River occurs around the islands. All refuge islands are open to fishing with state-specific regulations that control harvest and methods.

Two mainland fishing areas are available along the shoreline near the visitor center. One of the areas offers barrier-free access from a paved parking area. Middle Island also offers a fishing area, providing walk-down access to the river.

Wildlife Observation and Photography

A network of short walking trails at the refuge visitor center explores hilly upland forest with a great variety of large trees, gentle bottomland terrain with views of the river and open grassland filled with birds and pollinators. A paved, barrier-free trail starts at the headquarters.

Additional walking trails can be found on Middle Island, which also offers a wildlife observation blind near a seasonal wetland. The observation blind and trail leading to it are barrier-free. Some trails are subject to seasonal closures during hunting seasons.


Most refuge islands are open to hunting with special regulations in effect. Appropriate state licenses are also required. Hunting opportunities include archery for deer and shotgun for waterfowl, dove, rabbit and squirrel. Hunters may download the required refuge permit from the refuge website or may obtain one in person at the refuge’s visitor center. Refuge trapping permits must be obtained in person or by phone.


The refuge and its Friends organization offer special activities and events throughout the year with emphasis on activities for youth and families during the summer. Contact the refuge or visit their Facebook page for more information.

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Click here to view the Ohio River Island trail maps