Thurmond is a great near-ghost town to visit, when you’re exploring southern West Virginia’s coal-mining history. Prince is a tiny community on the railroad tracks with a funky, art-deco train station near Beckley. Why not take McKendree Road, the shortest route between the two? I’ll tell you why not.
Thurmond is located in the New River Gorge, east of Oak Hill, West Virginia. From US 19, exit onto WV Route 16 in the Glen Jean area (south of Oak Hill), then watch for signs that point toward County Route 25 and Thurmond. When you arrive in Thurmond, cross the railroad/automobile bridge and park at the Amtrak station.
To get from Thurmond to Prince, you can take McKendree Road, but I don’t recommend it. From the Thurmond train station, cross the bridge then turn left. You’ll pass the boat ramp parking area and continue on to the Stone Cliff area. Take the Stone Cliff Bridge across the New River and continue south. It’s 4.5 miles from the bridge to Thayer, and then 7 more miles to WV 41 at Prince. This final seven miles should be considered a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive-only road.
Alternatively, to get from Thurmond to Prince, you can drive back to Glen Jean, then head south to WV 16/61. Turn onto WV 61 at Mount Hope, and follow it to WV 41.
On the way out of Thurmond, I knew I wasn’t far from Prince, West Virginia, and I knew I wanted to take some pictures of the old art-deco train station there. So, I looked at a map and saw a very clearly-marked county road that seemed to make a direct connection between Thurmond and Prince. What could go wrong, I thought! Well, it turns out McKendree Road, County Road 25, is NOT a road you want to take — at least not after the first part.
Just south of Thurmond, on the west side of the New River, the Stone Cliff Bridge takes McKendree Road across the river. I figured they wouldn’t have put up a nice bridge like this, if the road wasn’t in pretty good condition, right?
Thurmond to Prince, on McKendree Road
After the bridge, the road was dirt, but okay, for a while. It followed the New River, but it was up the hillside, and there never were any good views of the river from the road.
At the community of Thayer, there are a few homes, and a very rustic church. A side-road led down to the river, and I really should have driven down it to see what was there, but instead I decided to press on.
Just beyond the turnoff to Thayer, I found a very scenic patch of Kudzu, which was quickly overtaking a very old and abandoned house. I stopped and took a few pictures, then continued.
And it was around this time when I realized I was in for a very difficult drive. McKendree Road was quickly turning into a very rough Jeep trail. Fortunately, I had a Jeep – albeit a low-end kinda-sorta Jeep SUV, and since it was a rental car I wasn’t too concerned about its long-term survival. But I did question whether I’d make it all the way to Prince, or be forced to turn around.
I splashed through some pretty epic mud puddles without a second thought, but I did stop when I reached this obstacle. The photo doesn’t really do it justice — but trust me, there was just enough room to squeeze by that giant rock and stump, while bumping over rocks and dirt.
Beyond that tight squeeze, the overgrowth became even more dramatic, with bushes and trees hitting the sides of my car and delivering a few blows to the Drivelapse cameras mounted on the roof. It’s kinda fun to watch that video and look for the low-hanging limbs. You’ll find the video below.
McKendree Road delivered one more challenge when I finally arrived at WV 41, near the Prince train station. The dirt road ended on a blind curve. After waiting a minute, I hoped for the best and floored it.
Here’s a look at the drive from Thurmond to Prince on McKendree Road:
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3281XunXdY”]< video >[/su_youtube]
The drive from Thurmond to Prince on McKendree Road is slow and rough, and offers very few scenic opportunities. I don’t recommend it, unless you’re just in the mood to have a 4-wheel experience in the middle of nowhere.