The State of West Virginia is a wonderland of natural beauty. Venture off the interstate in any direction and you will quickly find yourself immersed in rolling hills and the mountains of Appalachia. West Virginia is also blessed with abundant natural resources, most notably coal, and state and local officials have welcomed others to enjoy the beauty of their mountains with the creation of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, the preeminent off-road trail system in the country. Visit any trail head on the Hatfield-McCoy system and you will find license plates from across the Midwest, the East, and the South. The system was not created without an immense amount of foresight, work and commitment from many talented individuals though, and it also wasn’t created in a single year. Today parts of the trail system have been in place for a dozen years, but Hatfield-McCoy continues to improve and expand. Some things just get better with time.
Magic Mike & Hatfield-McCoy
The Hatfield-McCoy Recreational Authority operates one of the biggest ATV networks in the country, with six systems representing over 500 miles of trails. Each system is open 365 days a year to ATVs, dirt bikes, utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), mountain bikes, horses, and hikers. Many of the trail systems also offer community connecting trails that allow visitors to access “ATV-friendly towns” to experience the charm of southern West Virginia. Mike Pinkerton is the man in charge of Hatfield McCoy and his duties range from government liaison, to media representative, to chief trail test rider. You name it, and it’s probably Mike’s responsibility. It’s an immense job, but Mike handles it extremely well, and recently he and Kawasaki invited us down to try the newest section of the Hatfield-McCoy system called the Pocahontas trail.
Kawasaki loves to show new places to ride and we’re always up for trying a new trail. As we arrived in the town of Bramwell, we were greeted by Mike, Mayor Lou Stoker, and a fleet of Kawasaki Brute Force ATVs. Mayor Stoker graciously welcomed us to the town, and Mike informed us that within a year there would be a Hatfield-McCoy visitor and information center at the trail head. Nearby, Jon Rall from Kawasaki was making sure everything was ready for the day’s ride.
Brute Force on the Pocahontas Trail
We’ve always liked the Kawasaki Brute Force 750 ATVs. They strike a perfect balance between being powerful yet nimble, and power delivery reminds us very much of a big-bore sport quad. The Pocahontas trail would be a great opportunity to try it on rocky Southern trails with plenty of big hills to test our nerve and its power.
Climbing aboard the Brute Force 750 brought a familiar feeling we’ve come to love. Everything feels natural. We flipped on the key, grabbed the brake, and fired it up. Only a short distance from the edge of town, the trail began and we pointed the Brute Force up a steep hill and hit the gas. The EFI equipped motor responded instantly and the CVT transmission effortlessly shifted up as we tackled the first of Hatfield McCoy’s endless hills. The trail also felt familiar; it was good to be riding the West Virginia trails once again.
The new Pocahontas trail system has only been open for a short time, and much like the rest of the Hatfield-McCoy system, it’s a good mix of tight, winding trails and open mining or logging haul roads. Total mileage of the Pocahontas trail system is approximately 57 miles with about half being rated easy enough for beginners or new riders, and the rest at various levels of difficulty. Thankfully, the trails are well marked with numbers and color coded tags that represent what you can expect. A green tag means an easy, casual ride; blue is a little more adventurous, and black signifies challenging. A red/black tag means off the charts difficultly, which should probably include the symbol for a winch, rock falls, seismic activity or just about any other natural phenomenon, and a few broken parts, possibly yours. There are also orange tags which represent single track trails for motorcycle riders. Whatever your skill level, we guarantee you’ll find plenty to like on the Pocahontas system. As with nearly every ride our group begins, it didn’t take long before we went looking for a challenge.
The Brute Force 750 is a supremely capable performer, and that’s all the inspiration our group usually needs. With a “run and gun” powerband, it was a blast to shoot from corner to corner on the trails. We really like the digital display on the Kawasaki which is very easy to read even when underway, thanks to the large digits. A couple handy storage boxes are also welcome features for bottles of water, maps, a few tools etc. Larger items are easily strapped down to the front and rear racks and we love the tie down loops welded to each rack. Fortunately, Kawasaki gave the Brute Force 750i a new, grippy seat cover last year and it does a great job of holding you in place, even when it gets wet from mud or water. It’s not easy to get much water up on the seat, however, due to the excellent splash protection from the bodywork, but one rider in our group managed it after spending considerable time sloshing through a huge mud hole on the trail.
Most of the Pocahontas trails are relatively dry, but depending on the season, you can expect plenty of mud and water holes. One connecting trail has plenty of standing water and we had to test it. The Brute Force 750i is a capable swimmer, but the tires are designed more for a smooth ride on dry trails rather than all-out mud racing. They’ll get you through all but the deepest water crossings, but you’ll want to pick your lines carefully. We had no problems with the tires in rocky sections, however, and the large surface pad on each lug seems to get a good grip for rock climbing. The cast aluminum wheels are practically bullet proof as well, and about the only way to damage one is to run it with a flat tire. The Brute Force 750i was capable of climbing over any obstacle we found on the trail from loose rocks to downed logs, and the fully independent suspension delivered a good ride. Ground clearance is listed at 9.4 inches and we never did bottom it.
While charging up any of the Pocahontas hills is an absolute blast, inching your way down requires a steady hand and quick reflexes. Luckily, power steering takes the kickback out of any front wheel feedback and we believe the Kawasaki Power Steering system is the best in the business. It provides the perfect amount of steering assist to make all day trail rides a breeze, yet it still allows for good feel. One feature we would like to see Kawasaki work on, nonetheless, is the braking characteristics of the Brute Force 750i.
The Brute Force brakes feel a little spongy at times. We like very aggressive, responsive brakes for any fast trail riding or for stopping a heavy load. It is possible to lock up the brakes on the Brute Force 750i and the engine braking system is excellent, but when the hill is covered with loose gravel and stones, the tires will slide; at those times, it gives one’s relatives cause to worry.
The Kawasaki Brute Force 750i is an awesome explorer and trails like Pocahontas show just how capable it is. It has 4wd for any serious mud play, the ability to work like a rented mule all week, electronic power steering for effortless day-long rides, and plenty of power on tap. It’s a serious work and serious play machine. We’ll ride one at any of the Hatfield-McCoy trails anytime!
Besides great riding, another great feature about the Pocahontas trail is the connecting sections that link it to both the Indian Ridge and Pinnacle Creek trails. Mike explained that by connecting all three trails, they had created the largest continuous official trail system east of the Mississippi River. Only Utah’s Paiute trail rivals the Hatfield-McCoy system, but Hatfield-McCoy is very accessible to east coast riders and within a day’s drive of major east coast population centers. As with all the Hatfield-McCoy trail systems, access to gas, food, camping and lodging is extremely easy, and in most cases, you can drive right up to the pump or restaurant. It’s a great feature and local communities warmly welcome riders. Some places, like the Cowshed Motel and Ashland ATV Resort, even cater specifically to ATV and Side x Side riders and will fix you up with everything you need.
Every year more riders sample the Hatfield-McCoy trail system. It offers great riding, beautiful scenery, and warm, West Virginia hospitality. It really is “Trail Heaven!”
SPECIAL THANKS to MIKE, MAYOR STOKER, and JON RALL for your hospitality and for this ride! We appreciate all you do!
Address for the Pocahontas trail: 174 Simmons Ave. Bramwell, WV 24715
GPS Coordinates for Pocahontas trailhead: Latitude N 37 19 40 Longitude W 81 18 47
www.cowshedmotel.com(304) 732- 7000