In the heart of West Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains, lies an oasis that seems like something from another world. Featuring incredibly clear blue water that encompasses 2,700 acres and 60 miles of shoreline, Summersville Lake is as unique as it is beautiful. In the years since the lake was opened, it has become a destination for fishers, rock climbers, boating enthusiasts, and even scuba divers who want to spend a day enjoying West Virginia’s largest lake. So, how did Summersville Lake come to be? Let’s dive in (pun intended) to some of the history surrounding Summersville Lake.
Summersville Lake is not a natural lake, but was instead created by constructing a dam and flooding a valley. Construction on the Summersville Dam began in 1960 as a means to control flooding in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. The Gauley River, now a popular whitewater rafting trip for those who visit ACE in the fall, was dammed, and the resulting reservoir became Summersville Lake. The Army Corp of Engineers broke a long standing tradition in naming the dam, as it is usually named after the closest town to the dam (or after a person). However, the closest town was named “Gad”, and the name “Gad Dam” or even “Gauley Dam” just didn’t bode well. So, the dam was instead named for the closest town, Summersville.
At 390 feet tall and 2,280 feet long, Summersville Dam is the second largest dam of its kind in the United States. It is such a feat of engineering that Lyndon B. Johnson, the vice president of the United States at the time the dam was opened, was present at the ribbon cutting ceremony in 1966 and officially dedicated the dam. The final cost of the project totaled $48 million, over $380 million today.
In 2001, a hydroelectric project was completed at the Summersville Dam, allowing the dam outflow to be harnessed to produce electricity. The robust power station outputs 80 megawatts of electricity that can be generated when the dam is at peak flow. That’s enough to power over 7 homes or 102,564 full size refrigerators!
Visitors to Summersville Dam can marvel at the giant rock fill dam, and even see a model turbine at the top of the reservoir. Afterwards, head out on the Long Point Trail (not to be confused with the trail of the same name in the New River Gorge), to see the best vantage point of the Lake, with the unique rock formation known as Long Point taking center stage. Or, go to the beach at Battle Run Campground for a day of beach fun (BONUS: there are no sharks in West Virginia).
But, the best way to see Summersville Lake is on the water. Whether you choose to rent a stand up paddle board or lake kayak and head out on the water on your own, or you opt for a multisport pontoon adventure with ACE, you can see all the sights and experience all the adventure that makes Summersville Lake so unique. The lake is surrounded with cliffs where you’ll find rock climbers trying out their skills. Or, you can try out climbing for yourself! All Summersville Lake Multisport Pontoon Trips include a climbing guide who will help get you climbing on the famous cliffs of Summersville Lake, too! Check out the picturesque waterfall at Pirate’s Cove, where you can paddle your standup paddle board or lake kayak directly underneath the cool mountain water.
Unlike many dam release lakes, the fun of Summersville Lake doesn’t stop when the temperatures drop in the fall. Every fall, for 6 weekends beginning in September, the Army Corp of Engineers begins scheduled releases to allow rafters to experience the full force of the Gauley River. The Upper Gauley, one of the top whitewater destinations in the world, is full on, in your face, class V whitewater. The Lower Gauley is more tame, with plenty of epic rapids and some of the best scenery in all of West Virginia. Check out a Gauley River overnight to experience the pinnacle of the West Virginia beauty and seclusion (plus, your guides will make some pretty incredible riverside meals for you, too).
Check out the history and the beauty of Summersville Lake and Dam. Whether you choose to visit in the summer and explore the dam and the lake, or you visit in the fall and raft on the Gauley River, Summersville Lake is a can’t miss for people no matter what level of adventure they want to experience.
Chelsea was born and raised in Southern West Virginia and enjoys sharing her love of the Mountain State with everybody she can. Chelsea began her career at ACE as a zipline guide, and after earning her degree in Journalism from West Virginia University, moved to the marketing department where she filled the role of Social Media Coordinator.