BLUEFIELD, WV – Travelers looking to follow nature’s south-flowing tide of autumn color could find few better places to wash up than friendly and picturesque Mercer County, West Virginia (visitmercercounty.com).
The county lies in the rugged, mountainous coal-mining region along the state’s southeastern border with Virginia. Visitors who make the four-hour drive from central Ohio will be rewarded by hillsides covered with gorgeous autumn leaves, of course; but also soaring crags and cliffs and gurgling waterfalls that are spectacular any time of year.
Several of those waterfalls are part of the West Virginia Waterfall Trail. A free waterfall trail app (https://wvtourism.com/west-virginia-waterfall-trail/) guides visitors to the best falls around the state, including several in Mercer County such as Mash Creek Falls and Campbell Falls in Camp Creek State Park, which also offers attractive year-round campgrounds; and Brush Creek Falls, a 33-foot-high fall that offers magnificent scenery even at times of low water.
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For fans of off-roading, there’s no better place to see the sights of autumn than along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails (https://trailsheaven.com/), more than 1,000 miles of twisting, history-packed and well-maintained dirt ATV trails through Mercer and adjacent counties that attract ATVers and off-road bikers from across the country.
Many local businesses cater to the off-roaders who visit to use the well-maintained trail system that follows, in part, old mining and logging trails and former narrow-gauge railroad beds. Several public roads leading from nearby towns to the trailheads are open to ATVs, making it easy to get to and from the trails from lodgings, restaurants and attractions.
Trail permits for non-residents are $50 per year and can be purchased at many local merchants. And for those who don’t have their own off-road vehicle or don’t want to bring it along, rentals are available at several locations.
Even those who miss the peak leaf-peeping season will still have plenty of reasons to visit Mercer County.
High on that list is tiny historic Bramwell, tucked into a bend of the Bluestone River and which claims to have once been home to most millionaires per capita in the nation. Near the hamlet’s “Millionaires’ Row” is the Corner Shop, which serves up homemade ice cream and other treats from a century-old soda fountain. The old-timey general store claims to serve the best milkshake in West Virginia. And though I have yet to try every milkshake in the Mountain State, as of now I can personally endorse the claim.
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Another must-stop destination is the Grassroots District of Princetown (https://www.grassrootsdistrict.com/), a stretch of Mercer Street downtown that has been lovingly restored and is occupied by a variety of great local shops and restaurants.
One of my favorite stops in the district is the unique Blue Ridge Bee Company, which is something like a cross between an apiary supply store and a craft food and gift boutique.
Other highlights include the Hatter’s Bookshop, Sophisticated Hound Brewing Company and the Riff Raff Arts Collective featuring local artists.
Princeton is also home two fabled diners: Dolly’s Diner (https://dollys-diner.business.site/), a classic and popular diner on the edge of town; and Jimmies Restaurant (https://www.jimmiesrestaurantwv.com/) in the Grassroots District, a venerable eatery which celebrated a century in business last year.
Other good eating options nearby include the upscale Vault Downtown (https://www.thevaultdowntown.com/) located in a historic Bluefield bank building. The Vault is a fine-dining experience at least equal to that to be found in many big cities. (The restaurant’s lovely bar has a lovely bourbon selection, as well.)
For those with less of a hankering for the white-tablecloth experience, The Railyard (https://railyardwv.com/), just around the corner from the Vault, offers an upscale sports-bar atmosphere with lots of delicious West Virginia (and other) beers on tap.
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Bluefield is also home to the delightful and oh-so-comfy Baker’s Hill Inn (https://bakershillinn.com/), located in a restored historic home near downtown.
Visitors looking for a spooky Halloween attraction during a visit should consider Lake Shawnee (https://www.wvlakeshawnee.com), a former amusement park that today is supposedly one of the most haunted sites in the state. The park opened in the 1920s and closed in the 1980s, and during that time several tragedies befell guests who, according to believers, never completely left.
The site hosts a Dark Carnival on Friday and Saturday evenings during October. But the grounds at the old park are also open year-round by appointment to ghost-hunters, photographers, history buffs and the merely curious.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at[email protected].