111 miles of camera candy; charming, historic towns along the most bio-diverse river on the continent, The Clinch.
The Clinch River is the crown of the Heart of Appalachia flowing southwestward from its origin near the town of Tazewell, the Clinch travels some 135 miles, reaching portions of Tazewell, Russell, Wise, and Scott counties on its way to the Tennessee state line. Named after an otherwise forgotten explorer, the Clinch played a major role in the exploration and settlement of Southwest Virginia. Many early settlers made their homes along its eastern shore, while others crossed the formidable flow and explored the wilderness beyond its banks. Probably the most famous explorer to pace the banks of the Clinch and challenge its currents was Daniel Boone. Boone resided for some time near Castlewood, and negotiated the river during his many trips through Southwest Virginia. The Clincher Route treks through some of those settlements and crosses those paths taken by the pioneer explorers before us.
Considering the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority is the lead organization in the development and promotion of the Appalachian Backroads, we’ll use our Visitor’s Center as the starting point and hub for your exploration. Of course, you may start your journey at any point along this fabulous route. Nestled in the geographic center of the Clinch River Valley, on the border of both Russell and Wise Counties, is St. Paul. Located along the banks of the Clinch in the center of a region filled with natural treasures, from our southern rolling hills, to the mountain peaks and coalfields of our north, St. Paul’s history has moved with the gentle flow of the River, and their future is defined by the environmental riches the River continues to provide.
That said, the Heart of Appalachia Visitor’s Center is located in the center of the historic downtown district in St. Paul inside the second oldest home still standing in town – Historic Hillman House. We hope you’ll drop in and say hi as you travel! St. Paul, a Virginia Main Street community, is considered both an economic and ecological model for progressive thinking small towns throughout the south. St. Paul is home to the Spearhead Trails Mountain View ATV/OHV Trail System so you may share the roads in town with side-by-sides or dirt bikes because St. Paul is ATV-friendly with permit. St. Paul is also home to world renowned Wetlands Estonoa, host of the annual Clinch River Days Festival celebrating life on the Clinch, trailhead to the famed Sugar Hill Hiking/Biking Trail (part of the state’s Heart of Appalachia Scenic Bike Route), a stop on the world-famous CSX Santa Train and so much more. If off land adventure is part of your plan, Clinch River Adventures can handle your Clinch River float needs from tubing, canoeing and kayaking and they even have shuttle and guide services.
From St. Paul, you may head southeast to Castlewood or west toward Coeburn. Either way will get you going in the right direction!
Castlewood, originally Castle’s Woods was once home to Daniel Boone and spans gorgeous rolling hills and fertile valleys cradling farms rich in produce and cattle. The karst topography hints at the caves that riddle the region as you wind your way through the eastern portion of Russell County. Your visit to Castlewood isn’t complete without a stop at Ma & Pa’s Restaurant. Not only are they the local’s choice for a burger and shake, they are a Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail affiliate with live music jams nightly and concert venue on the weekends. Their Sunday Gospel Jam is inspiring!
Nickelsville is located at the State Rt71 and Rt680. First settled in 1814, the town was named for James Nickels who opened the first mercantile store. At an elevation of 2,000 ft., Nickelsville is located at the highest elevation in the county. The Sugar Maple Inn on Rt71/Nickelsville Highway, the Kilgore Fort House (between Nickelsville and Gate City) and Bush Mill off Rt680/Twin Springs Road at Bush Mill Road, are three of the historic landmarks to be found in and around this quaint township and offer hours of exploration in their own rite. Just up the road from the historic Bush Grist Mill is the home of Alan Hicks, luthier and proprietor of one of the Crooked Road’s newest venues – Hick’s Friday Night Jams. You’ll find him as well as a lively group of musicians, music lovers and flat-footin’ dancers at the intersection of Bush Mill Road and Bethel Road (north of Nickelsville off Rt71.
Between Gate City and Nickelsville is a whistle-stop of the past called Snowflake. Creation Kingdom Zoo is located on Snowflake Road. Warning, Snowflake Road is gravel and not especially motorcycle friendly but is a great stop for our travelers in cars. Creation Kingdom is dedicated to the preservation of endangered species and is a breeding zoo.
Gate City /Weber City is on the border of Tennessee in Kentucky and is considered the “Gateway” to Virginia from the Kingsport/Bristol area. The county seat of Scott County, Gate City is named after a gajp in the Clinch Mountain, a “gate” through which both pioneers and Native Americans passed… is now commemorated with the Daniel Boone Wilderness Driving Trail. Gate City also hosts the annual Grillin’ at the Gate BBQ Competition! If a Bed & Breakfast is to your liking, check into the Estillville B & B on Park Street in Gate City (gatecityinn.com). The Estillville is the closest B & B to the
famed Carter Family Fold in Hiltons and Natural Tunnel State Park.
Clinchport is at the western tip of the Clincher Route. Rt65 runs through town and parallel to the Clinch River. The Clinch River Highway/Rt65 is a popular route due to its numerous twists and turns and it’s also a stop on the Daniel Boone Birding and Wildlife trail. Incorporated in 1894, Clinchport started as a port for loggers transporting their timber down river to Chattanooga. Given its proximity to the confluence of the Clinch with Stock Creek, Clinchport also became a thriving railroad and agriculture center. In 1977 the Clinch surged over its banks and washed most of Clinchport’s homes and businesses down river. The town never recovered from the tragic flooding. In February 2015, the Clinch River reminded us of the event of 1977 when the river swelled over 20 ft. its norm in the area rendering Rt65 underwater until the waterway returned to normal. Proceed with caution as the road may be in ill repair in spots.
From Clinchport, you have a choice to continue on Rt65 north east or head south on one of our back road arteries to a treasured location just over the VA/TN border – Kyle’s Ford and home to River Place on the Clinch. Rt600 to Route 621/Fisher Valley Road to TN State Rt33 delivers you to River Place. Continuing from Kyle’s Ford on Rt33 brings you back to the VA/TN border where VA Rt70 will take you to Rt 617 on the Stone Face Chase Route. Continuing from Clinchport on Rt65 to Rt72 brings you to Dungannon.
Dungannon is also located on the Clinch River and is the Scott County gateway to High Knob, Wise County’s highest point at 4,223 ft. above sea level via Rt72 curviest upward segment. Dungannon is a tiny town, population just over 300, at Scott County’s northeastern tip. It’s a great place to gas up and grab a snack before ascending Stone mountain toward Coeburn. Originally known as Osborne’s Ford, the town was settled by Scotch-Irish and English immigrants who traveled from North Carolina in search of land. The settlers were largely self-sufficient until the 20th century brought industrialization and the name change to present-day Dungannon. The original Osborne’s Store is a historic landmark near Hanging Rock in Dungannon. Though no longer open, it serves as a gentle reminder of the pioneer spirit. Dungannon has excellent access to the Clinch River and is also home to the Scott County Regional Horse Park. The Horse Park Association is active in recruiting visitors to the area and expanding the wonderful equestrian trails throughout Scott County.