Located on the Ohio River, on the border between Ohio and West Virginia, the Willow Island Pool is the perfect spot for fishing, picnicking, and boating. Around 160 miles south from the city of Pittsburgh and all its attractions, there are three recreation areas within this Army Corps of Engineers park: St. Marys, Willow Island Abutment, and Willow Island Locks.
Construction of the Willow Island Lock and Dam began in 1967, and the area was completed and opened to the public by 1976. It's the seventh lock and dam on the famous Ohio River with the upper pool of the Belleville Dam downstream and the Hannibal Dam upstream. There are two locks onsite, main and auxiliary, used for both recreational and commercial watercraft.
Outdoor and travel enthusiasts will enjoy the location of this COE park. On your next trip, you can enjoy everything there is to do at Willow Island while still having time to explore your surroundings. Head from Ohio into West Virginia by simply crossing the river. Pennsylvania is also only around 100 miles northeast. If you want to stay close to Willow Island, it is adjacent to the Wayne National Forest, which covers over 240,000 acres.
No COE campgrounds are provided at Willow Island on the Ohio River, but that doesn't mean you and your RV are out of luck. Traveling upstream under 20 miles will bring you to one of the Wayne National Forest campgrounds, Leith Run. Large sites and standard amenities in a picturesque setting are all you need for the best vacation.
To reach the Willow Island Locks, you will travel around nine miles from Marietta, Ohio, using Route 7. The small town of Willow Island is across the river from the locks. For visitors traveling south from Pittsburgh, the last quarter of the journey has you skirting the majestic trees of the Wayne National Forest. You will travel through many quaint small towns that are ideal for a lunch stop. If you're traveling from Columbus, you'll head southeast through lovely small towns but will not pass as close to Wayne National Forest.
All the roads in the area around this COE park are paved and easily navigated in a large rig. Watch out for worsening conditions if you are exploring the area in the winter. Bring snow chains or winter tires to be safe.
Parking isn't a problem at any of the Willow Island recreation areas. Parking is also available within the Wayne National Forest and the Leith Run campground.
The Leith Run Campground is a fabulous option for campers touring Willow Island Pool. Follow the river upstream for 18 miles, and you'll be at your new home away from home. Rigs up to 90 feet in length are welcome, and sites are grassy with shade. Some sites are even right on the river. Each site is provided with a campfire ring and picnic table for your evening entertainment.
Electric hookups are available at 18 of the 21 campsites. The remaining three are for tents only. Campers will have access to drinking water, flush toilets, and showers. For a little fun, there are picnic shelters with electric hookups, a playground, horseshoe pits, and a court for volleyball. If needed, there is a dump station on-site, as well.
One of the main benefits of staying at Leith Run, other than the proximity to Willow Island Pool, is the magnificent natural setting. It's the gateway to Wayne National Forest full of river views, dense trees, and wildlife.
Opportunities abound for avid anglers at Willow Island. You can choose to fish from a boat using the boat ramp at St. Marys Recreation Area or fish from the banks. There is also a fishing pier at the Willow Island Abutment. Before you bait your hook, make sure you have a valid Ohio fishing license regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Fishing is popular here due to the many tributaries and islands within the pool. Check out the upper pool first; there's bound to be fish here. The discharges of hot and cold water create oxygen and have high populations of baitfish.
There is good shore fishing in the waters below the Hannibal Dam, whereas the deeper waters near Middle Brothers Island are full of catfish. The shallow waters around Middle Brothers Island are common spots to catch as well.
If that isn't enough, set your course to the head of Paden Island. Black bass are found in the gravel areas.
Overall, the most common catches in and around the Willow Island Pool are catfish, walleye, bass (striped and black), and early spring sauger
Boating of all kinds is permitted in the Willow Island Pool of the Ohio River. If you have a powerboat, try some waterskiing or tubing if the weather's good. Canoeing and kayaking in the pool and in any of its tributaries guarantee lovely vistas and wildlife viewing. The shoreline of the many islands within this COE park is not to be missed. Do some fishing while you're out in the boat or travel through the series of locks as you make your way up or down the river.
If you're looking for more than a stroll along the river on the grass, you're going to need to head away from the main recreation area of Willow Island Locks. A good first stop is Middle Island which can be reached by car. The island is full of meadows and forests. On the island, you'll find miles of hiking trails to explore that are maintained by the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Within the Wayne National Forest between Leith Run Campground and Willow Island Dam, there's the Kinderhook Trail. This trail is open to hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers and travels 12 miles through mature and new forest. There are also open areas and some steep spots which may not be suitable for beginners. Parking is available along with restrooms containing vault toilets.
The Willow Island Locks Area has a group shelter, and the recreation area at St. Marys has both a picnic shelter and a separate picnic area. The landscape at the site of the lock is open and grassy. There are a few trees scattered around for shade, and the area boasts plenty of places to spread out.
As you relax with your lunch, you're likely to spot some purple martins going about their business. This Army Corps of Engineers park provides multiple purple martin houses for them to inhabit.
As you explore the Willow Island Pool recreation areas and their surroundings, you are bound to cross paths with some of the region's local wildlife. Make sure you have your camera on you at all times in case you run into one of the more than 20 mammals present here. There are white-tailed deer, rabbits, muskrats, raccoons, and red fox, to name only a few.
Waterfowl and migratory birds, turtles, and several specifies of fish can also be found either in or near the water. Make sure to respect the natural habitat as you travel through the area.
Primarily in West Virginia, the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a fun place for all ages. The park itself is made up of 22 islands, and one of the largest, Middle Island, should not be missed. It's one of only two islands within the refuge that can be reached by road.
The activities are plentiful at Ohio River Islands, with bird walks and junior ranger programs available. The visitor center, located around 12 miles downstream from Willow Island, houses two turtles and has a 1,200-gallon tank. If you're lucky, you can time your visit with one of the exciting turtle feedings.
The main types of wildlife you will see here are freshwater mussels, migratory birds like osprey, and turtles. Deer, cottontail rabbit, and raccoons are also present.