The National Coal Heritage Area encompasses 13 counties and is situated in the heart of the formidable Appalachian Mountains. As you journey through the coalfields of Southern West Virginia you will pass through deep valleys, follow rushing streams and rivers, and find yourself surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The glorious mountains, charming towns, and deep rooted traditions are just a few of the appeals that draw visitors to the National Coal Heritage Area and make Southern West Virginia such an enchanting place to visit.
The Coal Heritage Trail is located within the National Coal Heritage Area and winds through more than 187 rugged miles of scenic industrial heritage, where thousands of hard-working miners labored to produce the coal which created modern America. The story of the southern West Virginia “smokeless” coalfields is a remarkable legacy of working-class culture, industrial might, racial and ethnic diversity, and the creation of a unique and distinctive culture of national significance.
The coal mines along the Coal Heritage Trail produced the abundant and economical fuel which transformed rural America into an industrial power, provided jobs and homes for thousands of people fleeing persecution and oppression, made immense fortunes for those who invested in the industry, and produced a storied society with a peculiar and fascinating legacy.
Between 1950 and 2000, Southern West Virginia’s population decreased by one-third. Unemployed miners and their families left the state in droves, leaving behind remnants of a once-thriving region. In many places, these structures still exist, displaying coalfield history captured in time. In 1996, Congress passed the National Coal Heritage Area Act, thanks largely to Representative Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia. The National Coal Heritage Area recognizes Southern West Virginia as a unique cultural region where coal mining has made a significant contribution to the national story of industrialization.
As you journey through the National Coal Heritage Area you will pass through National Historic Districts and see many of the physical remnants of the coal boom such as coal miners' homes, company stores, company offices, railroad yards and other structures that defined life in the "smokeless coal fields”.
We invite you to come and explore Southern West Virginia and enjoy the many adventures waiting for you here in coal country. While you are here, you will have plenty of opportunities to take in the beautiful scenery; learn about the industry that has fueled America for more than a century; and enjoy some outdoor recreation “wild and wonderful” style.