Hatfield-McCoy Trails: Beast of the East

Published in the August 2013 Issue August 2013 Powersport News, Travel Lane Lindstrom

When you hear the names Hatfield and McCoy, most people obviously think of the famous family feud from the late 1800s.

If you love to ride off-road, however, most likely you think of West Virginia's Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Those trails are as famous in the off-roading world as the Hatfield and McCoy feud is to the general public.

We've been to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails a couple of times now and had a great time riding there both times and would not hesitate a second in recommending the area to others.

And that's saying something because we think our location in the western United States is surrounded by some of the best riding in the U.S. We here at Dirt Toys Magazine are the first to admit we're just a little more than prejudiced when it comes to riding areas.

We think it's pretty tough to beat the mix of riding areas we have here in the western United States. There are monstrous sand dunes, riding along the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, amazing mountain trails with even more amazing scenery. There's the impressive technical, rocky trails in Moab, UT. And we can't forget the desert riding areas of Arizona, southern Utah, Nevada and southern California. We could go on and on about riding in Alaska.

That Good

Having said all that, if we were to pick a favorite outside the West it would have to be the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. They are that good.

In an area of the U.S. where off-roaders are a bit starved for off-road opportunities, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are a veritable buffet of off-road riding.

In fact, it's hard to say what's our most favorite part of the riding buffet. We've only sampled a small portion of the buffet but even then it was easy to see why the off-trail riding there is so popular. Nearly 600 miles of trails (with includes the newest trail, Ivy Branch, which should open this summer about the time you get this issue) is certainly enticing. Being able to ride into a handful of towns for fuel, food and accommodations is a big advantage. Picturesque comes to mind when describing the Hatfield-McCoy trails but that kind of leads you to think it's too tame. Kick butt picturesque might be more accurate.

We haven't ridden all the trails--there are eight separate major trails in all--in the Hatfield-McCoy system but there are a couple of things they all have in common. First, they all travel through the mountains of southern West Virginia so there's plenty of terrain and elevation changes. Second, just as most places in the East, it is heavily treed so there is lots of tree canopy covering the trails. That helps provide a little cooler (temp wise) riding experience in the summer as there is lots of shade on the trails. That doesn't leave a lot of wide open vistas but there are a couple of promontories where you can get sweeping views of the mountains, valleys and hollows. And there are enough gaps in the trees where you can get a glimpse of the surrounding mountains so it's not like you're riding in a tunnel.

It's those promontories and glimpses that show just how vast and mountainous southern West Virginia is. It's big and beautiful.

Fall, Spring Rides

We rode the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in the fall--the colors were truly amazing--and again in the spring before the trees had leafed out. Because we rode in the spring before the trees really leafed out we actually got to see more of the area than you might if you rode there in the summer. This was especially true at the higher elevations where spring was a little slower in coming than down lower.

Our fall ride was on the Bear Wallow Trail while just this past spring we tackled the Rock House Trail. Rock House was a pretty apt description of the trails in that portion of the Hatfield-McCoy system. There were plenty of them--rocks that is. But if rocks aren't your thing then don't fret as there were plenty of trails we rode that didn't have many, if any, rocks.

But we tend to like the challenge of rock riding so we were more than happy to ride the roughest trails we could find. They were rough and challenging but not overly difficult. We were riding the Kawasaki Teryx and it was quite capable of handling everything we experienced that day.

The same goes for our fall ride, where we tackled the trails on a Kawasaki Brute Force 750 4x4i EPS. It didn't have any issues with the Bear Wallow trails and those who rode the Rock House Trail on the Brute Force had an easy enough time as well during our spring ride. During our rides we saw side-by-sides, ATVs and dirt bikes.

Rock House was definitely more challenging than the Bear Wallow system but both offered their own distinct characteristics.

Tight, Twisty Trails

What we really enjoyed about the trail system is the twisty trails. There were plenty of hairpin turns as well as other twists and turns that weren't as sharp but fun just the same.  There are some straightaways where you can mash the throttle but those are not as plentiful as the twists and turns. The direction you're riding seems to always be changing.

The number of miles in the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system changes too.

Hatfield-McCoy marketing director Mike Pinkerton pointed out that the changes are dictated by the mining, natural gas and logging companies that work the land where the trail system is. The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are unique in many ways but one that really stands out is the fact that a government agency--the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority--is managing private land. That means the public is allowed to recreate on private land owned by the many mining, natural gas and logging companies in the area. So, if any one of those companies needs to move its operations from one area to another, trails might be opened or closed to accommodate that move. Thus, the miles of trails do change from time to time.

But from everything we've seen and experienced, this private/government partnership works really well.

Back to our fall and spring rides. Pinkerton tells us the RockHouse Trail is the most popular in the Hatfield-McCoy system and one of area's premiere trails. With 90 miles of trails, it's the second longest trail system in the Hatfield-McCoy, just behind Buffalo Mountain and its 106 miles of trails. RockHouse offers access to two ATV-friendly towns, Man and Gilbert.

Rockin' On The RockHouse

We started our RockHouse Trail ride from the trailhead near Man, leaving on trail No. 10 (all Hatfield-McCoy trails are designated by a number) before jumping on to No. 23 and then No. 40. From No. 40 we hopped on No. 18, then No. 31 to No. 93.

All Hatfield-McCoy Trails have a decent trail map showing the difficulty of each trail from easiest (green) to extreme difficult (red/black). The two other trail designations are more difficult (blue) and most difficult (black).

Our RockHouse ride was a mix of green, blue and black trails. Although No. 93 is rated as a black trail (most difficult), we didn't find it overly difficult to traverse. It was trail No. 93 that led us to a lookout where you could see far and wide. The view was impressive and we could look down on trail Nos. 11 and 18 as they weaved through the trees.

It was on trail No. 31 where we encountered one stretch of trail that was easily the most fun of the day. It's also Pinkerton's most favorite. There are some steep climbs, rocks, creek crossings, switchbacks and ride-on-the-edge-of-the-mountain sections that were challenging and fun.  

Our day's ride also took us on trails No. 30 to No. 19 to No. 12. We covered only about 35 miles of the RockHouse's 90 total miles.


Likewise, when we rode the Bearwallow, located near the town of Logan, we dialed up almost 39 miles, which is a little more than half of that system's 67 total miles.

On Bearwallow, we started out at the trailhead off West Virginia State Highway 17, heading northwest on trail No. 12 to No. 26. From No. 26 we went to No. 16 to No. 33 to No. 35 and then to No. 32. From No. 32 we went to No. 11 back on to No. 16 to No. 12 and then to No. 15 where we dropped off the mountain into Logan to have lunch. After lunch we jumped on to No. 15 to a cutoff and back to the parking area/trailhead.

Our Bearwallow ride was a mix of green and blue trails.

As previously mentioned, with the new Ivy Branch trail, there are eight total trails in the Hatfield-McCoy system so we have a lot left to discover. Three of the trail systems--Pinnacle Creek/Indian Ridge and Indian Ridge/Pocahontas--are interconnected but we're told there are plans to try and connect all the systems so you would never have to leave the trails to get from one system to another. Ivy Branch, whose trailhead will be a few miles from the Little Coal River trailhead, was designed to accommodate 4x4s as well as side-by-sides, ATVs and dirt bikes.

When Ivy Branch, which has 75 miles of trails, opened it represented the eighth West Virginia county covered by a Hatfield-McCoy trail. Hatfield-McCoy opened with three trails--RockHouse, Bearwallow and Buffalo Mountain--in October, 2000. Little Coal River opened next in 2002, followed by Pinnacle Creek in 2004, Indian Ridge in 2008, Pocahontas in 2012 and finally Ivy Branch in 2013.

You'll get no argument from us that the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are the beast of the East.


Hatfield-McCoy Trails, West Virginia

Elevation 738 feet (Man); 679 feet (Logan); 840 feet (Gilbert) to 2,330 feet  

Full Service Town Bramwell, Delbarton, Gilbert, Logan, Man, Matewan, Mullens, Northfork, Pineville, Williamson

Nearest Airport Charleston, WV (57 miles from Logan)

Getting Started Hatfield-McCoy Trails (800-592-2217 or www.trailsheaven.com) or Hatfield-McCoy Convention and Visitors Bureau (304-752-6020 or www.hatfieldmccoycvb.com)

Getting There The trails are located in southwestern West Virginia, covering eight counties with several trailheads. The main arteries through the area are U.S. Highway 119 and West Virginia Highway 80

Getting Around There are several ATV/side-by-side rental businesses in the area. Contact the Hatfield-McCoy Trails for a complete list.

Bedding Down There are several lodging options in the area. Camping is also available.

Eating Out There are lots of dining options as well in the area. We had lunch at Wally's Restaurant in Gilbert, WV, and the food was very good and the service great.

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