Southern West Virginia is known as coal country, but there’s so much more to this area than you might expect. Whether you want to ride UTVs down muddy trails, track the many battles of the Hatfield and McCoy families, or listen to pickers playing banjos and fiddles deep down in the hollows, there are no limits as to the surprises that await around every corner of this part of “wild, wonderful” West Virginia. Contrary to its backwoods’ stereotype, southern West Virginia is home to an impressive array of museums, independently owned shops and restaurants and unique historical attractions.
Legacy of Coal
The Coal House in Williamson, WV is a perfect example. Erected in 1933, the building, which is constructed out of 65 tons of bituminous coal, has survived four major floods and a raging fire, and still stands today as a tribute to the area’s economic lifeblood. Built by architect H.T. Hicks, the Coal House now houses the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce, a gift shop, and tourist information. When I stopped in, I got to hold two recently unearthed bullets from the Hatfield-McCoy feud—talk about touching history!
Speaking of those famous feuding families, southern West Virginia is rife with monuments and markers detailing the decades-long battle. For a really in-depth look at what caused the fight, as well how the feud affected members of the families for years to come, you can take a free, self-guided tour of Hatfield-McCoy feud sites, and even visit the grave of “Devil Anse” Hatfield, which is located in Logan County. The family cemetery is open to the public, and gazing at Hatfield’s statue that towers over the rest of the markers in the graveyard, you realize the immense power that this man held over the lives of his family, as well as those who crossed him.
Personally, I needed a libation after hearing about this grudge gone bad, and the good news is that you can now partake of the first authentic mountain moonshine ever legally produced by the Hatfield and McCoy families at a micro-distillery in Gilbert, WV. In addition to sampling the “Drink of the Devil,” made from Hatfield’s own recipe, you can also take tours of the small-batch distillery.
Getting Back to Nature
If you’d prefer to expend some energy outdoors, I’d highly recommend riding any of the seven trails that make up the Hatfield-McCoy Trails System, which totals 630 miles through five southern West Virginia towns. While most riders bring their own UTVs, ATVs or motorcycles, you can also get guided tours or rent your own vehicle at one of four companies in the area; just make sure that you pick up a permit before riding (WV resident $26.50, nonresidents $50), which is good until the end of the year in case you want to come back. And trust me—you’ll want to come back.
One other great stop in the area is Chief Logan State Park, a reclaimed coal mine of roughly 4,000 acres that is the most visited state park in West Virginia. There are miles of hiking trails as well as a swimming pool with a water slide, but I was most taken with the wildlife center and its two black bears, Rascal and Mandy, who seem quite happy to see visitors…as well as the occasional Little Debbie Snack Cake. If you happen to visit the park on a weekend, check out Pickin’ in the Park for some amazing music. These free concerts featuring local talent are a must-see—just make sure you wear your dancing shoes.
One last attraction that I’d recommend you visit is the West Virginia State Museum in the Capitol Complex in Charleston, where you can learn about the history of the entire state, as well as how southern West Virginia fits into the whole. An incredibly immersive experience, the museum takes guests from prehistory to the 21st century in a fascinating way, and has earned a #1 ranking on TripAdvisor.
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