Know before you go
During your visit to the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, keep in mind:
- Refuge lands, including islands in the river and all refuge trails, are open every day from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset
- The Buckley mainland tract (visitor center) is the only property with indoor restrooms and potable water. Middle Island has an outdoor toilet. All other properties have no refuge facilities. Please plan accordingly.
- Most of the refuge’s properties do not have maintained trails, so heavy underbrush may restrict movement.
- The refuge is a natural area. Be mindful of poison ivy, thorny plants, ticks, bees, and mosquitoes.
- All plants and animals, parts thereof, and other objects of nature are protected from disturbance. Collection is prohibited.
- Observe wildlife from a safe and respectful distance. Binoculars allow you to view wildlife closely without disturbing them.
- When landing on an island be aware of steep banks and rock dikes.
Points of interest
The Refuge Visitor Center, located at 3982 Waverly Road in Williamstown, WV, is an essential stop for any refuge visitor seeking to gain a deeper understanding about what this special land and waterscape is all about. The facility features exhibits on refuge history and wildlife, including those creatures not easily seen as a casual visitor to the islands. Exhibits describe the importance of mussel beds that are the focus of refuge restoration efforts, and there are aquariums containing fish and turtles that can be found in the Ohio River. There are also several short trails around the visitor center that give a great view of the Ohio River and Buckley Island. Additional trails include a loop around a butterfly garden and a 1.2 mile hike through an upland forest. Fishing and canoe / kayak access is located on site as well. If you have any questions during your visit, the staff at the visitor center will be more than happy to answer them.
Visitor Center Hours:
Monday - Saturday
8:00 a.m. 4:30 p.m.
**We are closed federal holidays.
Several islands have sandy beaches which are a popular stop for boaters, especially during the summer.
Middle Island in St. Marys, WV is one of the few islands on the Ohio River with bridge access. It features over 3.5 miles of hiking trails with scenic views of the Ohio River and Middle Island wetland. A 1.5 mile auto tour runs along the western shore of the island presenting several stopping points with informational panels. Fishing access and a wildlife observation blind can also be found on the island.
Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge is one of a special set of federal lands set aside for fish and wildlife as a primary purpose. The six wildlife dependent activities allowed on Refuge lands are described in detail below. All refuge property is open to the public from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset.
Buckley Mainland (surrounding the Visitor Center near Williamstown, WV)
Birds and Butterflies Trail: This short loop is meant to showcase pollinator habitat, which the refuge manages to provide habitat for Monarch Butterflies, other butterfly species, and native bees. This is the trail visible from the visitor center parking area. It is approximately 0.1 miles in length.
Upland Trail: Branches off the Birds and Butterflies Trail. The trail is meant to offer a look at the upland forest typical of areas adjacent to the river, which features a mix of trees and wildlife not seen as often on the floodplain or islands. It is gravel, turning into a single track footpath when it veers off the gravel road. It is hilly, passing in and out of three ravines, then tracing up to a ridge before looping back to the visitor center. It is approximately 1.2 miles in length.
Riverview Trail: Branches off the Birds and Butterflies Trail. In contrast to the Upland Trail, this trail offers a look at the Riparian Forest that grows exclusively on the floodplain and the river islands. This type of forest attracts a special collection of insects and migratory birds. After descending to the lower floodplain on a gravel trail, the path turns to mowed grass. The trail is approximately 0.7 miles in length.
Middle Island (the most-visited refuge unit, located near St Marys, WV)
Backchannel Trail: Accessed from the first parking area, immediately after crossing the bridge onto the island. This trail follows the length of the Middle Island backchannel, offering periodic views of the backchannel throughout the year (expansive views in winter when their is no foliage). Like all trails on Middle Island, the trail is flat and six feet wide. Trail is approximately 1.6 miles one way. Can be combined with other trails to create a longer loop.
Nature Trail: This trail is most easily accessed from the second parking area, adjacent to the refuge buildings. Follow a 0.2 mile trail through meadow to a bird blind, where the trail splits into the Nature Trail Loop. This 1.2 mile loop travels through meadow andforest, and overlaps the Backchannel trail for a stretch, thus offering views of all the habitats of the island: meadows, riparian forest, and river backchannel.
Headland Trail: This trail is most easily accessed from the third parking area, located at the end of the gravel road. The trail goes through the most dense and mature riparian forest on the island, crossing back to the parking area via a powerline tract.
Rules and Policies
Regulations are in place on the refuge to help protect wildlife, refuge resources, and visitors.
- Open fires or cutting firewood
- Off-road vehicles or driving on undesignated routes
- Abandoning animals on the refuge
- Unleashed dogs except for retrieval during waterfowl hunting
- Permanent structures such as tree stands and rope swings
- Searching for or collecting artifacts
- Removal, placement, or disturbance of natural material
- Overnight mooring on islands
- Any activity on refuge property after hours (an hour after sunset to an hour before sunrise)