WHERE TO RIDE: HATFIELD-McCOY SUMMER FUN
We all know the same grim story: Riding areas squeezing down, some riding opportunities lost completely, and non-riders treating us like lepers. At many riding areas, the only things growing are traffic and fences. This sort of situation brings us—and a lot of you—to West Virginia and the now-legendary Hatfield-McCoy trail system. Not only is this a destination with fantastic riding opportunities for ATVs and UTVs, but one where the trail experience is not shrinking. Far from it! In 2012, the new Pocahontas Trail opened with 57 total miles of trail, and in 2013, the Ivy Branch Trail opened on July 15th with another 50–75 miles of riding. Ivy Branch is the first trail system in HMT that is open to full-size 4WD vehicles. There will be some trails in the area that are restricted to UTV, ATV or motorcycles, but most routes in Ivy Branch will be shared with full-size vehicles. If you are concerned about that, there are over 600 trail miles that are not open to anything larger than a UTV. Every October there is the Hatfield-McCoy National TrailFest in Gilbert, West Virginia. This year it is held on October 10–14, and it attracts thousands of riders, but most of us vacation in the summer, which is still a great time to hit the Hatfield-McCoy trails.
If you have never been to the area, you may not understand that Hatfield-McCoy is not some huge open area with trails running willy-nilly. You don’t just grab a compass and head out. Hatfield-McCoy is a state-sponsored program that opens riding areas. Much of the land is private property, and the trails program works with landowners to make trails available. At the moment, there are eight separate and distinct riding areas. Each has a name and at least one trailhead with parking, bathrooms and permits for sale. Most have a small building with a few items for sale, plus permits and maps. If the system doesn’t have a building, it will soon. It says a lot about the trail system that the trails are opened first and then they worry about the building.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Each trail system has marked and color-coded trails. On the maps and the trail markers, green means the easiest routes, blue is more difficult, black is difficult and black/red is ugly. The trails are shared with dirt bikes, but the slick and rocky conditions favor ATVs, so there is little chance of encountering high-speed riders. A small portion of the total trail mileage is singletrack for motorcycles only. There is no chance that you will mistake it for an ATV trail.
Historically, West Virginia is coal country, and anywhere there is mining, there are dirt roads and trails. These days, mining is as rigorously controlled as any other industry, but in the early days of coal or any other mining, the normal activities make any sort of motorsport look like a “Green” hobby. The state and certainly the towns that are linked or partnered with the trail systems are incredibly welcoming to off-roaders. Welcome signs are everywhere, and the highway signs include “ATV Crossing,” in addition to signs directing riders to staging areas.
WAVE AT THE POLICE
Many of the towns have provided legal routes of access into town, and in the most welcoming areas, you can unload your off-road vehicles and keep the transportation vehicle parked for the duration of your stay. It is really cool to ride ATVs in the fast-food drive-through, or park next to the police car at a restaurant. Some of these legal routes include public roads. Because of these connections that local ordinances have made possible, trail visitors can ride legally with direct trail access on the connector between the Indian Ridge and Pinnacle Creek Trail or Pocahontas Trail. The connection of these three trails makes for the most continuous, legal miles of trails east of the Mississippi River.
We recently renewed our acquaintance with HMT while testing the latest Kawasaki ATVs on the Rockhouse trail system. We spent welcome time riding trails, and we were fortunate to ride before the tree canopy completely greened out, so we could still see the mountain terrain. In the summer, the trails are mostly dark and shady from the extensive tree cover. We met folks from Realtree Camo, Hoyt Archery and Delta McKenzie Targets to experience some other outdoor pursuits. As interesting as it was checking out the latest in archery, the most impressive part for us was the location. Wayne Ellis, owner, Twin Hollow Campground & Cabins allowed Hoyt to set up an archery range on his facility. In many of the partner towns near the trail, lodging was developed with riders in mind. Twin Hollow Campground & Cabins is a couple miles from Gilbert, WV and high above it. It features camping, RV sites with hook-ups, cabins, lodges and more. The resort is amazing and like something you would expect to see at a ski resort that might cater to riders for the summer. Not here, though. Hikers, mountain bikers and even horses are welcome, but Twin Hollow Campground & Cabins was built to service the trail system, and over 95 percent of the visitors are riders.
RATING THE RIDE
To help you plan a trip to Hatfield-McCoy, here are some brief descriptions of each trail system that will let you match a ride with the skills and machinery in your group. All trail riders, including all full-sized 4×4 participants, are required to wear helmets under all circumstances and have a Hatfield-McCoy user permit.
Ivy Brach Trail System
Opened July 15, 2013, and is located just off Route 119 and very near the Little Coal River trail system. Ivy Branch consists of 50–75 miles of trails open to ATVs, UTVs and off-road motorcycles, and will be the only Hatfield-McCoy Trail open to full-sized 4×4 vehicles. This trail system will have trails for all skill levels, but will primarily be a one-and-only multi-use trail that includes smaller machines, such as ATVs, and larger vehicles, such as the full-sized trucks on the same trail. Pick this area if you have a mixed group that includes full-size machines.
Rockhouse Trail System
Located between the off-road friendly towns of Man and Gilbert, it consists of 89.3 miles of trails, with one trailhead located just outside of Man with a two-acre parking area and restrooms. With over 20 miles of most difficult, extremely difficult and singletrack trails, Rockhouse is a great choice for riders looking for an “extreme” riding experience, though there are easy trails as well.
Little Coal River Trail System
Located just off Route 119 near Danville and Madison, it consists of 54.5 total miles of trails, with one trailhead with a two-acre parking area and restrooms. Little Coal is very popular with new riders and those who want a more scenic than extreme riding experience. It is known for having the highest percentage of green or easy-level trails. This trail system has direct access to lodging and is located very near family, summer-season activities, such as Waterways Water Park and the Little Coal River for watersports.
Bearwallow Trail System
Located near the town of Logan with 67 total miles of trails, Bearwallow has one trailhead with parking and restrooms. The easy trails are scenic, but the majority of the trails are blue or harder, so this is best for advanced riders. There’s direct access to Logan for gas, food and lodging.
Buffalo Mountain Trail System
Located between Williamson, Delbarton and Matewan, West Virginia, and with direct access to those cities, BM Trail has 106 total miles of trails and two trailheads with parking and restrooms. The first is located south of Williamson on Route 52, and the second is in Matewan. It is the most historic trail of all the Hatfield-McCoy systems and is popular with dirt bike riders since it has the most singletrack mileage of any HMT system. For ATVs and UTVs, the majority of the trails are easy, so this is a good choice for mixed groups and especially groups that include dirt bikes.
Indian Ridge Trail System
One of the newest systems and located near Ashland, West Virginia, it has 63 miles of trails with a trail connector that links to the Pinnacle Creek trail system or the newest addition, Pocahontas Trail. Indian Ridge has one trailhead. Less than a third of the total mileage is easy, so this is another area that advanced riders will like, but there are some great mountaintop views. There is community access to the towns of Northfork and Keystone, with fuel, food and lodging nearby.
Pocahontas Trail System
The trailhead is located in the historic town of Bramwell and consists of approximately 57 total miles of trails, and over half of those are rated easy. History buffs and families with new riders will like this one. Bramwell is known for its once-large population of millionaires and their millionaire homes in the early 20th century. There is direct access to gas, food and lodging in Bramwell.
Pinnacle Creek Trail System
Located near the town of Pineville, Pinnacle Creek has 79.6 miles of trails, and most of that is rated green or blue for basic riders. A trail connector links to the Pocahontas Trail by way of Indian Ridge, so this is a good choice for those looking to put in big mileage. Pinnacle Creek has one trailhead with parking and restrooms. This trail system is known for its breathtaking scenic views and is located less than one hour from world-class whitewater rafting and a snow-skiing resort. This trail system has community connectors to the towns of Pineville and Mullens.
PLANS AND BENEFITS
HMT keeps three bulldozers working full-time to keep the easy trails maintained, but that isn’t the only work being done. In addition to seeking new areas, HMT is working to connect more of the trail systems. We talked with HMT’s Mike Pinkerton about those plans. “The Ivy Branch trail system is located about five miles from the Little Coal River trail system. Little Coal is about 65 to 70 miles, and eventually we want to combine those two trail systems. That would mean between 150 and 175 miles of trail. We won’t be able to connect them initially. There is a highway, a railroad track and a river in the way. We know that we can get under the highway, and we are looking at a pass for the railroad, but we will need to build a bridge to cross the river. Luckily, it is a small river. Ideally we would like to connect any of the systems that are possible to connect.”
All of the trail mileages noted here are subject to change. The trails in a system routinely change, as land owners have uses for the property that is inconsistent with off-roading. HMT then works to add trails to reconnect trails that are affected. Most trail visitors plan for more than a single day, and that is a great plan. For one thing, there is way too much riding to experience in a day. Secondly, every person entering the trail system must purchase a one-year trail permit for $50. The permit is good at any of the HMT systems. If you plan a couple of trips, or even one extended visit, that is a bargain. If you are passing through and want one day with a four-seat UTV, it’s not so much of a bargain.
As great as the riding experience is on any one of the HMT systems, the part of the trip that is surreal is how welcome you are in these communities. How welcome? When we ate in Gilbert, the mayor dropped in to shake hands and say hello. Being headquartered in California, the Dirt Wheels guys always come back from an HMT trip and say it is downright weird to ride down a highway and wave at a smiling policeman, to ride up to a restaurant or to park your ATV in front of your hotel. Hatfield-McCoy really is trail heaven.