Where Can I See Coke Ovens in West Virginia?January 6, 2022
A normal WV winter (cold, snowy) has been conspicuously absent so far this season. That means you have even more time to explore in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Unlike summer hiking, when lush vegetation obscures a lot of the history and character of the area, winter hiking exposes a world that is secretly hidden most of the year. Old stone retaining walls, building foundations, chimneys, and coke ovens, relics from southern West Virginia’s industrial past, all still exist in the Gorge. Winter is the best time to see them.
We are going to let you in on a few of the better spots to check out the coke ovens that are still standing in the gorge area. Maybe the next mild winter day you have you can go see a piece of this areas coal mining history.
Coal used in the steel making process is in the form of coke. Coke is coal with all of its impurities removed; this process requires baking the coal in an airless furnace or oven. The resulting product is mostly pure carbon and burns very hot and is virtually smokeless.
Much of the coal mined in the Gorge was of the quality to produce coke. Since the impurities comprise much of the weight of the product, it was cheaper to bake them out before shipping the coal to steel foundries. This means there were hundreds of coke ovens in the Gorge at one point.
There are a of couple areas in the Gorge where you can see coke ovens:
* Nuttallburg– As of January 2022, the road to Nuttallburg is closed for washout and construction, continue to check back to the NPS website for updates. There are also hiking options to this historic site. The Conveyer Trail, via the Headhouse Trail is challenging but a great way to explore.
* Kaymoor– These ovens are located at the bottom of the old shuttle car tracks that have been converted into stairs. This hike is steep and fairly difficult; there are 821 steps to get to the bottom. The parking area is off County Route 9 on county route 9/2. The trail leads from the parking area down to the old mine portals, which is where the stairs begin. The ovens are just upstream from the bottom of the stairs.
* Red Ash and Rush Run– The ovens that were located in these two towns are situated along the Southside Trail going from Thurmond to Cunard. You can access this trail at either Thurmond or Cunard; it’s great for both hiking and biking. The trail is 7 miles one way, so plan accordingly. The coke ovens are located very close to the trail but you have to watch for them or you may stroll right by. Thurmond is on County Route 25 out of Glen Jean and Cunard can be accessed by taking County Route 9 out of Fayetteville and following the signs to Cunard.
These are just a few of the ovens that are still standing in the Gorge. Along with the ovens, these areas also have many other visible structures from coal mining of the past. If you plan on taking one of these trips before the leaves start budding, take your time and see what other pieces of history you can locate while you explore. Just remember to take your camera as taking anything more than a picture in these areas is against the law.