World-class vacation spots, like Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, Snowshoe Mountain Resort and the Cranberry Wilderness, draw tens of thousands of tourists to Pocahontas County every year. And – right in the middle of it all – lies a sleepy little town that is an attractive and often overlooked destination in its own right.
Marlinton doesn’t offer bright city lights (except at Christmastime) noisy dance clubs or bars that stay open all night, but it has something special that many places have lost – unspoiled beauty, peace and quiet, and genuine, small town hospitality.
Gail Hyer, Marketing Specialist with the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a visit to Marlinton is like a trip back in time.
“The interesting thing about Marlinton is – it’s laid back, it’s calm, it’s quiet,” she said. “If you want to get away from the craziness of the concrete buildings and chemical valleys, this is really the place to come. Many people who we talk to tell us that their grandfather or father brought them here fishing 50 years ago, and then they always follow up with, ‘It hasn’t changed much.’ So, we’re one of the places that has kind of stood still in time. The old-time values are the things that we have here and what we’re most proud of.”
Surrounded by the million-acre Monongahela National Forest, Marlinton is a great place to get away from it all. National Forest roads and trails are accessible directly from town and offer excellent hiking and biking through the mountains. The Greenbrier River Trail – ranked in the top 10 hiking trails in the U.S. by Backpacker Magazine, follows the scenic river for 78 miles.
“We have cell service with AT&T and the lodging places have free wi-fi, so, if you want to stay in contact with back home, you have that option,” Hyer said. “But, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. You can say you’ve gone away to the mountains.”
Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith said springtime is a great time to visit.
“I feel that Marlinton has a lot to offer,” he said. “The River Race is a great one-day activity that pulls a lot of people to Marlinton. It has vendors and it’s comfortable and it’s laid back – it’s a nice day. But we have several springtime activities that people can do here. They can hike and look for the early spring flowers and foliage. We have the Greenbrier River Trail, that caters to biking and hiking and leisurely walks up and down the river. We always have something going on at the Opera House almost every weekend. It’s a real hometown atmosphere with some really good entertainment.”
Marlinton is situated at the confluence of the Greenbrier River and Knapps Creek. The Greenbrier is the longest unblocked river in the eastern U.S. and an excellent site for relaxed canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Knapps Creek is a popular trout stream. Beginning as early as January, fly fishermen can be seen wading in the cold creek water, so beloved by the tasty trout.
“Fishing is a big thing in this area,” said Mayor Smith. “A couple years ago, local businesses got together and started stocking the Greenbrier River in March and April. That’s gives young kids easy access and the opportunity to do some fishing. We have some tremendous trout streams within two or three miles.”
The mayor said visitors can expect a friendly welcome.
“I was born and raised in Marlinton, and I’ve seen Marlinton change,” Smith said. “The tourism industry is a major factor for Marlinton now. I really believe people see tourists as a benefit to our community. It’s nice to read letters and hear from people who were just passing through and came back to say, ‘We really like your hometown.’ Residents and businesses and social clubs really make an effort to make people feel welcome.”
Katie Workman, with outdoor sports outfitter Appalachian Sports, said visitors to Marlinton are looking for something real.
“People who come to Marlinton are looking for an organic and authentic type of create-your-own experience, rather than a commercialized, tourist trap, like the beach or things like that. That’s who we try to cater to at Appalachian Sports.”
Old Clark Inn owner Nelson Hernandez echoed Workman’s comments that the town offers something genuine.
“Marlinton is a real town, as opposed to a tourist town,” he said. “There’s just nothing very tourist-y about this area. Many of my guests are looking for adventure and reality, as opposed to going to Dollywood or Pigeon Forge. That’s not real – none of that is real. Here is real and that’s why they’re coming here.”
Visitors are amazed how easy it is to strike up a conversation.
“They get to meet people,” Hernandez said. “There’s not a lot of other tourists around. I hear over and over again from my guests about how they met somebody or how, ‘So and so told me all about you.’ Or they’ll go to Richardson’s (113-year old hardware store) and talk for an hour with one of those guys down there. They’ll always come back with stories like, ‘Do you know so and so? We were just talking with them,’ or ‘We just met them in a restaurant. They were telling us about this and said we should go there. Can you show us how to get there?’ That’s a very common thing that happens all the time – and that’s what they’re looking for.
Workman recommends a multi-day stay.
“There’s a lot more to do in and around Marlinton than can be done in just one day,” she said. “With the River Race, you get a taste of it because you get to bike and canoe and all that. But if you really want to enjoy all those experiences to the fullest, you would want to have a day to canoe, you’d want to have a day to bike, and you’d want to have a day to see some of the other attractions.”
There are no big chain hotels in Marlinton, but comfortable lodging is available at the Old Clark Inn, Locust Hill Bed and Breakfast, Marlinton Motor Inn, Jerico Bed and Breakfast and Cabins, The Greenbrier Grille and Appalachian Sport. See the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.pocahontascountywv.com for contact information or call 800-336-7009.
Very incomplete list of fun stuff to do in Marlinton in the springtime – in no particular order:
1. Have a picnic and go birdwatching along the nature trail at Stillwell Park.
2. Try out the climbing wall and get a workout at the Wellness Center.
3. Rent a canoe at Appalachian Sports and go paddling down the Greenbrier River (shuttle service available).
4. Visit 113-year old Richardson’s Hardware and hear some local gossip.
5. Feed the ducks on the river from The Greenbrier Grille deck – buy birdseed at Southern States.
6. Rent a bike and ride the Greenbrier River Trail as far as your legs will take you.
7. Barbecue burgers and pitch horseshoes at the Marlinton Municipal Park next to the river.
8. Visit an historic newspaper office and see the printing press at The Old Times Office Store and Museum
9. Search for $1 antiques at yard sales and local thrift shops like Suds and Duds.
10. See a performance at the Pocahontas County Opera House –pocahontasoperahouse.org
11. Visit the historic Marlinton Rail Depot and McLaughlin House.
12. See interesting exhibits at the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum and visit the Confederate Cemetery – opens May 1.
13. Buy seasonal produce and crafts on Saturdays beginning in May at the Farmers Market.
14. Check out artwork and crafts at the Fourth Avenue Gallery and Mason’s Jar.
15. See Civilian Conservation Corps murals at the Marlinton Post Office.
16. Read a book from the Special Appalachian Series at McClintic Library.
17. Hike the Allegheny Trail and see how many wildflowers you can identify.
18. View Molly Must’s mural on the Malcomb Building on First Avenue.
19. Sample delicious home cooking at Rayetta’s Lunchbox, Dories, The Greenbrier Grille and Locust Hill Pub.
20. Go fly fishing on Knapps Creek and the Greenbrier River – gear and advice at Appalachian Sports.