Why You’ll Want to Hit the Trail(s) in West Virginia
Though West Virginia has long since solidified its position as Almost Heaven (in fact, the song just celebrated the big 5-0), there’s one corner of the state that’s total heaven for off-road enthusiasts—and by extension, anyone who loves vast swaths of gorgeous nature: The Hatfield-McCoy Trail Systems. Yes, those Hatfields and McCoys, whom we’ll come back to shortly.
Meanwhile, picture 10 trails—many historic, two brand-new—that wind their way through hundreds of miles and a million+ acres of wooded, river-laced mountains (one of the largest off-highway vehicle trail systems on earth), and you’ll soon realize you can’t picture any better place to blow off some serious post-2020 steam. Little wonder the region is known as Trail Heaven.
Mind you, you don’t have to be an ATV veteran to want to plot an escape here. With trails ranging from novice to pro—and off-trail options that range from hiking to historic site-hopping—the mountains of Southern West Virginia serve up all kinds of choices (not least, amazing Appalachian specialties at the local restaurants).
To get the lay of the land, read our quick guide—then make plans to hit the trail(s)!
Brush up on your Hatfield-McCoy lore
The trails’ namesake families—who lived just across the West Virginia-Kentucky border from one another and may or may not have started warring over a stolen pig—took their grudge to such heights that both sides suffered major casualties, the Supreme Court ruled on an element of the case in 1888 and the story became not only 19th-century national news, but also 20th-century TV fodder. Episodes of every show from The Flintstones to (naturally) Family Feud borrowed from the clans’ history—the latter borrowing actual descendants, too, who faced off in a special event in 1979. For the record, the Hatfields won the game show.
As for who prevailed in real life, that answer is much murkier, as is the feud’s inciting event. Beyond the rumored pig theft, another origin story cites Union solder Asa Hatfield—whose death was believed to have been the work of a McCoy-filled Confederate militia.
Off-roading through their gorgeous old Appalachian stomping grounds, where the ghost of the OG William Anderson (“Devil Anse”) Hatfield is still said to make the occasional cameo, you’ll become so steeped in local lore, you may well develop your own theories as to what started the war. But one thing’s for sure: You’ll have fun researching.
Some of the trails, such as Buffalo Mountain and Devil Anse, are particularly historic, running through or near the scene of many a battle (the Matewan Massacre was a biggie)—plus the Hatfields’ ancestral cemetery. And in the town of Matewan, which connects these two trails, you’ll find a number of historic buildings, plus the newly expanded—totally worthwhile—West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. (Note that Matewan is one of a number of Hatfield-McCoy trail towns where you can ride your “machine,” in local parlance, right through the city center.)
But no matter which trail you choose—and you’ll learn more about each momentarily—you’ll feel steeped in the local legends.
Chart your course
Whatever your off-roading skill level and interest, odds are, there’s at least one trail here for you:
One of the original systems, Bearwallow is beloved for its blend of easy-riding vistas and difficult trails. Bearwallow is also the only trail that’s open to ORVs as well as ATVs, UTVs and off-road motorcycles.
Beyond its historic riches, the aforementioned Buffalo Mountain is also known for having the most single track trail—and for the dirt bike enthusiasts who therefore can’t get enough of this system near the ATV-friendly towns of Matewan, Delbarton and Williamson.
Cabwaylingo State Forest
Fun fact: The four closest West Virginia counties—Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo—each leant a syllable to this name. And as a recent addition to the Hatfield-McCoy system, the forest has lent almost 100 miles of new trails, where ATV, UTV, 4×4 and dirt bike riders and hikers will find especially beautiful excursions.
This is one of those something-for-everyone trails, with a good variety of difficulty levels—plus easy access to the ATV-friendly towns of Northfork and Keystone—and connections with the Pinnacle Creek, Pocahontas and Warrior trails.
Defying expectations of a state capitol, Charleston places you little more than 20 minutes away from amazing off-roading—specifically, the Ivy Branch trail system, where riders of full-sized, off-road vehicles (think Jeeps and land cruisers) have a blast alongside ATVs, UTVs and dirt bikes.
Having taken the Hatfield patriarch’s street name, this trail system is fittingly strategic and expansion-minded—like the man himself—linking two previously non-contiguous trail systems to form one massive swath of territory for amazing rides.
Another system that connects to three others to form one awe-inspiring, extended ride, Pinnacle Creek is known for stunning views and easy access to whitewater rafting—plus direct connections to the ATV-friendly towns of Mullens and Pineville.
For the ultimate extended ride—that is, the highest number of continuous miles east of the Mississippi—hit the Pocahontas Trails, which links to three more systems. And while you’re in the neighborhood, check out the early 20th-century homes in nearby Bramwell.
Though it’s home to a more than 100 miles of trails at all difficulty levels, Rock House is particularly beloved among extreme riders. And with direct access to the ATV-friendly towns of Gilbert and Man, Rock House gives you the opportunity to ride over a great old rail trestle turned ATV trail.
Welcome to West Virginia’s southernmost city, where this trail system serves up gorgeous views as well as adventure.
Whet your appetite
Though the adventure quotient is high around these parts, you can’t run on adrenaline alone. And happily, you’ll find a great array of places to refuel. But whatever you’re in the mood for, don’t miss the classics: Morrison’s Drive-Inn for dogs, onion rings and shakes; Four Seasons Country Store for wings and Chirico’s Ristorante for the tastiest carbo-loading you can do. And when you’re looking to caffeinate for an early morning ride, you can’t beat the coffee drinks at Hot Cup—and when you're craving a post-ride treat, proceed directly to Nu Era Bakery (and if you see the individual pecan pies in stock, nab one immediately).
Get a room (or a cabin)
From rustic to elegant and simple to tricked-out, the variety of lodgings around the trail system is amazing. If—in the spirit of the families who’ve lent this region their names—you’re thinking a mountain cabin is the way to go, options abound. The cozy, well-appointed Rockfort Cabins -- located at Appalachian Outpost -- are particularly popular among off-roaders. Not only is there ample parking for trailers, haulers, ATVs and the like, there’s also a mere ¼ mile between the cabins and the Rock House Trail System (which in turn connects to Devil Anse and Buffalo Mountain Trail). Put otherwise: You can unload your machine precisely once for the entire trip (but note that rentals are also available onsite, so you need not BYO).
Another prime spot to retreat to a mountain cabin is Chief Logan State Park, where three new cabins await—and are worth checking into for the porch views alone (though each comes with plenty of amenities, too, from Wi-Fi to fire pits). Then again, if these 4,000 acres of mountainous beauty inspire you to sleep under the stars, you’ll find campgrounds here, too. And though Chief Logan places you near ATV trails (Bearwallow, in particular), you'll also want to explore the state park’s 18 miles of hiking and biking trails—especially in spring and summer, when bluebells, wild geranium, fawn lily and so many other wildflowers adorn the way.
And bear in mind that some of the favorite foodie stops in the region—the aforementioned Morrison’s Drive-Inn, Four Seasons Country Store, Chirico’s Ristorante, Hot Cup and Nu Era Bakery, to be specific—are all in the neighboring Appalachian mountain town of Logan, so a sojourn in the state park comes with a delicious bonus. While you’re in town, don’t miss the famed Doughboy Monument and Memorial, dedicated in 1928 to Logan County servicemembers who lost their lives in World War I.
Score the essentials
Though off-roading through the mountains with your family and friends may be the highest expression of carefree escapism, it does—as veterans of the sport know—require at least a bit of planning. In the case of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Systems, here are some of the essentials.
You need a current permit, but getting it is simple, with options both in person and online. Beyond that, there are rules regarding your machine and protective wear, but the many local outfitters can help you gear up—and plan your route, if you'd like. You can read this for the rest of the trail regulations, and this for the state's Travel Responsibly health guidelines. Of course, with so many miles of off-road wilderness trails to explore, no rules could be easier—or more fun—to comply with.