A Hidden Gem of Outdoor Adventure and Small-Town Charm
By Megan Williams | Photos courtesy of West Virginia Dept. of Tourism
Tucked away within the scenic embrace of Appalachia lies Mercer County, West Virginia—a haven for those seeking an off-the-grid experience. This quaint locale, nestled at the southeastern fringe of West Virginia, offers a mix of outdoor adventures, a glimpse into history, and the charm of small-town living. The communities of Athens, Bluefield, Bramwell, and Princeton form the tight-knit area that’s rich in history and Appalachian heritage.
Amidst its breathtaking landscapes, Mercer County transitions from the undulating hills of the New River Valley to the craggy precipice of Pinnacle Rock, all against the backdrop of the area’s coal mining roots. As the railroads and coal mining revolutionized southern West Virginia, Mercer County rose to prominence, riding the wave of “smokeless” coal discoveries in its depths. This surge in population over a mere half-century laid the groundwork for the diverse tapestry that today’s travelers can explore.
Historical Lodging Experiences
Mercer County boasts an array of distinctive lodging options, each offering a unique glimpse into the region’s history and charm. Guests are enticed to step back in time, immersing themselves in the area’s rich history by choosing accommodations such as the meticulously preserved Bluefield Inn. Dating back to 1904, this historic establishment has hosted luminaries including Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy Jr., and John Nash, among other iconic American figures.Guests can stay in the Abraham Lincoln room, with a king-sized bed and luxurious linens; or the Scarlett O’Hara room which exudes Southern elegance with its sateen linens; or they can commandeer the Kennedy Cottage which sits on the upper level of the property, is pet friendly, and endlessly cozy. New pet-friendly rooms cater to furry companions, ensuring an unforgettable stay in the picturesque foothills of the Mountain State.
Year-Round Outdoor Thrills
Mercer County is an adventurer’s playground regardless of the season.
Visitors can explore twenty-seven mountainous trails and West Virginia’s largest snow tubing park at Winterplace Ski Resort, which is rated the “number one place to learn to ski in the southeast.” Guests can glide down the powdery slopes morning, noon, and night, followed by a warm meal at one of the three on-site restaurants.
If you’re seeking more speed than what skis can provide, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System is the perfect destination. This ATV and off-roading network pays homage to a notorious family feud between two West Virginia/Kentucky families along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Comprising ten trails, this system traverses the rugged terrain of West Virginia, offering trails that vary from breathtakingly scenic to exhilaratingly intense. Another remarkable trail system, the Pocahontas Trail System in Mercer County, intersects with three Hatfield-McCoy Trail Systems—Indian Ridge, Pinnacle Creek, and Warrior—forming the longest continuous trail network east of the Mississippi. Found in Coaldale, just outside the historic town of Bramwell known for its plethora of millionaire homes dating back to the early 20th century, this trailhead provides direct access to gas, food, and accommodations, enhancing the overall experience for riders.
Southern Hospitality at its Finest
Once you’ve worked up a hearty appetite from the slopes or trails, only top-notch food will hit the spot. The RailYard in Bluefield stands out as a beloved local spot. With its sophisticated bar and mouthwatering appetizers (try the duck-bacon wontons), it’s the ideal spot to unwind after a thrilling day of adventure.
If you’re in need of a place to relax your tired bones a bit longer, the Granada Theater radiates historical allure. Hosting renowned entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Fats Waller, this meticulously restored 1928 vintage theater now showcases films and stages concerts and theatrical performances year-round. A cherished local gem, it offers affordable family entertainment, classic movie screenings, excellent acoustics, and a captivating ambiance. Indulge in their daily selection of sold Italian gelato while immersing yourself in the nostalgic charm of traditional American cinema.
Old Appalachia’s Heartbeat
Mercer County, West Virginia, offers an escape from the usual routine. With its untouched natural beauty, diverse outdoor activities, and rich historical background, it attracts those looking to unwind. Whether it’s outdoor adventures, local cuisine, or exploring history, Mercer County guarantees an authentic experience that sticks with visitors.
For those seeking a break from chaos and a chance to reconnect with nature and small-town life, Mercer County embodies the enduring appeal of Appalachia.