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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

hatfield mccoy trails, west virginia

West Virginia’s Hatfield-McCoy trails are the perfect destination for off-road enthusiasts east of the Mississippi.

Deep in the emerald green mountains of Appalachia, miles from anything resembling a big city, you’ll find the place they call “Almost Heaven.” And while West Virginia-as-Valahallah may not be a universal assessment, if you’re an ATV rider it’s hard to imagine anywhere better.

That’s because southern West Virginia is home to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, a 1,000-mile system of offroad adventures carved out of mountains off coal country. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for those who consume the outdoors, where you can spend days on end careening down rocky gulches, climbing to the top of epic viewpoints, and immersing yourself in the wilds of West Virginia.

West Virginia’s Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trails

A Place Built on Coal Turns to Outdoor Adventure

For centuries in West Virginia, coal was king. But in the latter part of the 20th century that industry began to wane, and the state began looking to its other great resource to drive the economy: nature. In its efforts to lure visitors, the state opened the Hatfield-McCoy trails in 2000. This created a destination for ATV enthusiasts that was only a day’s drive from the Northeast, Midwest, and deep South.

The result has been a slow burn, to say the least, but it’s picked up considerably since the onset of the pandemic. In 2019, the trails sold over 90,000 permits – a record for Hatfield McCoy. And a study out of Marshall University showed the economic impact of the trails hit just over $38 million that year. 

You can see the economic impact in the businesses that line the highways in Boone, Mercer, Mingo, and other southern counties. Where once there were strips of general stores and hardware depots now sit stretches of ATV rental shops, and full-service lodges catering to riders.

It’s not at all uncommon to pull up to a restaurant near the trails and find a cluster of ATVs parked out front. Not that they encourage you to come inside caked in mud, but having a little dirt on your shirt is almost expected. ATV culture abounds in this region, and conversations at the diner center more around trail conditions and wildlife than around sports or families.

How to Ride the Hatfield-McCoy Trails

hatfield mccoy trails, west virginia

If you don’t own an ATV, UTV, Jeep, or other off-road vehicle, but still seek the thrills a long weekend of offroading provides, the Hatfield McCoy trails make it easy for you. You may literally never see a higher concentration of off-road machine rental shops than you will in the towns dotting this region. Most offer the same collection of “machines,” as they’re colloquially called, ranging from 4-seat UTVs to dirt bikes and single-passenger ATVs.

Can-ams or similar UTVs will run you around $400-450, though that can swing a hundred dollars or more depending on how large a vehicle you’re renting. Polaris ATVs and similar are around $225. 

You’ll also need to get a permit to ride the Hatfield-McCoy trails, though obtaining one is as easy as plopping down $50 (for non-residents) at almost any ATV resort or outfitter. The permit is good for one year, and everyone driving a machine must have one.

Which Trails are Best for You

The Hatfield-McCoy trails truly offer a little something for everyone, whether you want to try and cheat death along an expert trail or just take a leisurely cruise through the woods. There are ten different trail systems within the Hatfield-McCoy trails, and in the interest of brevity, we’ll break down some of the best and most popular.

Bearwallow

This is one of the three original trail systems and still a Hatfield-McCoy hallmark. It’s a destination trail for those looking for more expert stuff, though beginners can find easy trails as well. It’s also got some single track stuff, if you brought your dirt bike along.

Ivy Branch

hatfield mccoy trails, west virginia

If you’re driving to West Virginia to get some mud on your Jeep or 4-Wheel drive, Ivy Branch is the trail for you. It’s the closest trail to Charleston — West Virginia’s largest city — so you can enjoy the restaurants and bars by night, then take your truck on the trails by day. Its wide paths make Ivy Branch much more popular with larger vehicles, so if you’re on a UTV you may want to look elsewhere.

Cabwaylingo

Kinda like New York City does when naming trendy new neighborhoods, this trail system takes a couple of letters from all its surrounding counties to make up a cool-sounding word. Some of the newest trails among the Hatfield-McCoy, Cabwaylingo offers the best option for true beginners who want to try out their offroading skills without doing anything that would make their mom nervous.

Buffalo

If you want a little history lesson with your ride, hit the Buffalo trail. It winds through the historic town of Matewan, home of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and site of the Matewan massacre. It also boasts the most single-track trails for avid dirt bikers.

Pocahontas

The longest extended series of trails in the system, the Pocahontas is probably best if you’re planning a multi-day trip and want to check out as many different trails as possible. It connects to the longest series of uninterrupted trails east of the Mississippi, and takes you through the picturesque cities of Bramwell and Coaldale.

Rock House

For a true sampling of everything the Hatfield-McCoy has to offer in just over 100 miles, opt for the Rock House trails. You’ll find hair-raising black-level trails with stunning payoff views, easy meandering rides, and just enough single track to keep a dirt biker entertained.

Where to Stay Along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails

The wilderness along the Hatfield McCoy trails is stunning, but the history is almost as much of a draw. The historic town of Metawan is home to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, which tells the often-brutal history of the early days of coal mining in the region and the miners’ fights for safe working conditions. The town looks much like it did a hundred years ago, with old storefronts in downtown and a handful of coal baron mansions dotting the surrounding streets. One such mansion is now the Powerhouse ATV Lodge, where guests can either rent out a rustic lodge or stay in the historic home.

The Buffalo Trail Cabins sit in Bluefield, about 15-20 minutes from the Pocahontas trailhead. The resort not only has the most luxurious cabins in the region, it also offers a two-story heated yurt your family can rent out. All have full kitchens if you want to cook at the end of the day. Plus, they provide easy access to the trails while staying a little removed from the ATV-ing masses.

If you want to stay in the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country, book a room at its namesake resort. The Hatfield-McCoy Resort looks a little like an Old West movie set, and is owned by direct descendents of the famous feuding families. It offers easy access to the Devil’s Anse connector trail, meaning you can reach a majority of the trail system pretty easily from the front door.

There are also plenty of chain hotels scattered in the towns along the trails, as well as campgrounds for the more intrepid traveler. The Hatfield-McCoy trails’ website offers some info on most of them.

Where to Eat Along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails

If you rent a cabin, chances are it’ll have a full kitchen. But you’d be remiss not to try a little of the local Appalachian cuisine, especially if you’re making a lunch stop along a full-day ride.

The Bramwell Corner Store in Bramwell is the quintessential mid-day meal destination. It’s an old-school soda fountain that feels like stepping into the 1920s. The menu is filled with all kinds of humorous names for familiar foods, like “breath” for onions, and spins the best milkshakes in the region. After lunch, walk up the hills of the surrounding town and check out the ornate mansions that still fill the landscape.

If you’ve got a large family full of finicky eaters, hit the wood lined walls of the Buffalo Trail Cabins restaurant. Offerings run the gamut from a fresh berry salad to a thick bison burger, with potstickers, ribeyes, and buffalo chicken pizza on the menu too. If you’re feeling strong, try the Feud, a five-pound burger whose finishers get a place in Buffalo Trail history.

And it wouldn’t be a trip to the country without some BBQ. PT 12 BBQ in Gilbert slings some spectacular baby back ribs, along with a pulled pork sandwich that’s the ideal fuel for an afternoon of offroading. Not feeling smoked meats? You can also try a deep fried corndog, or one of the thin-crust pizzas on the menu.


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