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By: Tim Donaldson

Places to Ride: Hatfield McCoy – Dingess Rum Trail System

Beautiful scenery is all round on the Hatfield McCoy's Dingess Rum Trail.
Beautiful scenery is all round on the Hatfield McCoy's Dingess Rum Trail.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Rambo: First Blood”? In the movie, police and Army reservists comb through frosty mountain terrain looking for the ever elusive, John Rambo, who was hiding out in an old abandoned mining cavern. The crisp, overcast morning of our arrival at Hatfield McCoy’s Dingess Rum Trail System - in the heart of coal-mining, West Virginia - was very reminiscent of the fog- smitten mountain-top scenes in the movie. As a Huey helicopter circled the area, I thought for sure that we would have bumped into Rambo at some point, had the Colonel not convinced him to give up.

Our troubles were very different than those of Rambo. Twenty minutes from our home departure, we were plagued with flat tires. The first one came as we were driving down the interstate. A trailer tire had worn against the undercarriage, due to weight overloading. After a few minor positional adjustments and replacement of the spare tire, we were back on the road.

Logan Motor Lodge
Logan Motor Lodge

That road led us to Logan, West Virginia where we stayed at the Logan Motor Lodge. Everyone in the community greeted us with warmth and friendliness. Even as we were stopped at traffic lights, passersby would wave or say hello.

Our ATV excursion began at the Bearwallow trailhead/ranger station. Be advised that Dingess Rum and Bearwallow are the same place. Dingess Rum is the name of the trail system, and Bearwallow is the name of the trailhead/ranger station. If you are not aware of this distinction, you may think they are actually two different places.

The trailhead/ranger station is a great place to find information about trail conditions or closings. Many times the trails are closed due to maintenance or impassable terrain from fallen trees or soil erosion. At other periods, trails may be closed due to active mining operations. Some trails share traffic with mining or logging vehicles, so trail availability varies with current activities. Those affected are marked outside the ranger office.

One of several flats we encountered.
One of several flats we encountered.

Once on the trails, we quickly followed the switchbacks to the top of a mountain ridge. On the way, there were many protruding rocks which led to the eventual flat tires on two more occasions. Fortunately, we were prepared with an air compressor and a tire patch kit. If you are planning a trip, don’t leave home without either one! Compressed “tire gunk” will not be sufficient. The can that we brought along exploded from vibration in our carry-on bag.

Another feature of the trail system is the infamous “coal pile." Ascent and descent about the mound is achieved a variety of ways with assorted levels of difficulty. Quite a bit of time can be spent just exploring these routes. Remember, coal is a loose foundation and yields different base stability than typical soil. So be prepared before attempting maneuvers that you are, otherwise, normally comfortable performing.

Discarded rock from blasting are fun to climb.
Discarded rock from blasting are fun to climb.

As mentioned earlier, there are active mining operations ongoing within the vicinity of the Dingess Rum Trail System. Perched atop a mountain ridge, you may be fortunate enough to see the distant plume of a mining blast on an adjacent hillside. Even if you don’t see the blast, you will certainly hear the thundering rumble and feel the ground tremble.

Trails at Dingess Rum are clearly marked and are identified according to their difficulty rating. With the aid of the available trail map, there should be no concerns of permanently vanishing from civilization. Be aware that the “most difficult” trails are, in fact, very challenging. The trails are typically steep and characterized by rocky and uneven terrain. First-timers will definitely want to pass on these; and in many cases, spotters strategically placed alongside will add to the safety of riding the tougher sections.

The “easiest” level trails are relatively trouble-free and will certainly accommodate two-way traffic. At one-point, we were required to yield to a Park Ranger driving a Jeep. Yes, the lights were flashing and everything! It was the last thing I expected to see darting around the corner of a densely-wooded forest. Maybe, they really were looking for Rambo?!

Mudbogs that can swallow a quad.
Mudbogs that can swallow a quad.

Dingess Rum is just one of the five trail systems located within the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System and boasts approximately 105 miles of the total 500+ miles available. Vehicle width permitted is limited to 50 inches, excluding the recently approved addition of some side-by-side models for green trails use only. Trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset. A user permit is required to ride any and all of the trails, and the current rates for user permits are as follows:

• 1 Day : $19.00
• 3 - 7 Day: $37.00
• WV In-State Annual: $26.50
• Out-of-State Annual: $79.50

While you’re at it, go ahead and get the annual permit so that you can try all of the trails at Hatfield-McCoy. This may be the best trail system east of the Mississippi River. So get out there and decide for yourself! If you happen to run across Rambo while there, leave him alone. He’s a Green Beret!

Additional information about the trails can be obtained at http://www.trailsheaven.com


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