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West Virginia / Virginia
State Routes 16

Two drives in one: the southern part of WV-16 and the northern part of VA-16. Two very different characters, too: Densely forested, hilly twisties versus open-valleyed, big-ridge-crossing twisties. The ridge-crossing twisties on VA-16, in particular, are not to be missed!

Section Covered:
Sophia, WV to Marion, VA

197km / 122mi

Ratings:   Rankings:
Scenic Impact 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Overall Score: 8.8
Twistiness 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Fun-to-Drive: 9.3
Surface Quality 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10  
Traffic 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Rankings and ratings explained

Before heading down to sample the twisties of Appalachia, I did a fair bit of research. Over and over again, I saw references to a really good bit of road between 'Marion and Tazewell'. And, in general, route 16 (both the Virginia and West Virginia portions) were consistently rated highly. Had to be checked out, then, now, didn't it?

West Virginia Route 16 starts in the far north of West Virginia and goes all the way through the state to the Virginia Border, where it then continues south as Virginia 16. In West Virginia, pretty much all of Route 16 runs on the Appalachian Plateau. The nature of the terrain is of an endless maze of little, steep-sided wooded valleys. The highway continually jumps between these little wooded valleys, and it does so in a way that the lay of the land is followed. In other words, it has lots of twisties!

I've only done the southern part of WV-16, from Sophia southwards. I've also heard good things about portions in the north, but have not yet had time to explore them.
courtesy LWard
courtesy LWard
Roadside building in Uri
Coal Country Crossing
Sleepy Mullens building
Heading south out of the Beckley area, route 16 passes through the small town of Sophia, then starts to get good, with an immediate dose of nice uphill, then downhill twisties. This sets the stage for a pattern of up-twisties, down-twisties, some flat motoring, a small town, a bit more flat motoring, then repeat. We passed through many interesting communities, including the curiously named 'city of war', and passed by many curious things: rusted-out old gas stations, minimalistic little churches, half-abandoned coal mines. All of these things are nestled in steep little valleys and separated from each other by forested ridges -- and all connected together by the delightfully winding highway.
South on WV-16
Nestled amongst the curves
WV-16 Hairpin
The pavement quality is generally excellent, although for some reason I found the pavement between the towns of Welch and War to be a little bit less grippy (seemed a little 'greasy', somehow -- easier to get the back to come out). Nice, tight twisties, though!! (generally in the 20-25mph yellow-advisory-sign range), and a few nice hairpins.
courtesy LWard
Old Coal Complex
Old Coal Complex
War Twisties
The City of War
Curves and shacks
courtesy LWard
The Livelystone Church
Transitioning to VA-16
Old time gas station
Eventually, the highway crosses into Virginia, and continues south as VA-16. Soon the terrain, the scenery, the roads, and the towns -- they all change! The highway crosses into a different physiographic province -- the Valley and Ridge province, and the land changes from short ups and downs and closed-in valleys to long, high parallel ridges, and broad, open valleys. The towns, too, were different. Tazewell, for example, seemed much more well-to-do and upscale than anything we had seen along WV-16. Pavement quality and twisties continue to be excellent, although there are more pronounced non-twisty sections as the highway crosses the open valleys and through the towns.
VA-16 is gold
Tidy Tazewell
Beautiful ridge approach on VA-16
The open valley bottoms of this region are quite pretty. The Thompson Valley, in particular, is quite nice, especially in beautiful late-day light. The road winds beautifully through rolling countryside in the bottom of the valley, then starts to climb up to cross the one of the many high, parallel ridges that characterize this region (There is an excellent lookout along this climb of the valley).
courtesy LWard
courtesy LWard
Virginia Creeper attacks!
Luke rides through beautiful valley
Beautiful open sweeper
Soon after the lookout, you reach what I consider to be the real 'gem portion' of this route: as soon as the ridge is crested (heading south), VA-16 starts a wonderfully tight forested descent into the next long valley. Then, incredibly, it immediately starts climbing up to cross the next high ridge, and this time, it gets REALLY twisty -- I mean super tight. I found it a chore to attempt to maintain the speed limit, and in many cases, you simply couldn't. The turns are very tight, back and forth, back and forth. After you've driven this for a bit, a pattern emerges, no doubt some result of some underlying structure or erosional pattern, and you can almost predict what type of twisty comes next. Tight stuff, really tight stuff, over, and over and over again. Definitely the best part of this whole route (from a twistiness perspective -- and in fact this section is what gives this route it's 10 on the twistiness scale).

The road does this incredible twisty dance up and down a few more ridges, and then suddenly straightens out as it approaches the broad valley containing I-81 (once you've gotten to Hungry Mother State Park, heading southbound, the fun stuff is over). In a few minutes you are at I-81, glad with the knowledge that you got to experience this bit of motoring excellence.
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Route Data - WV/VA-16 Drive, Sophia to Marion
Start Time: 2:35p.m.
End Time: 6:41p.m.
Duration: 4h5m
Distance: 197.35 km (122.63 mi)
Average Speed: 48.3 km/hr (30.0 mph)
Start Elevation: 2339ft (713m) *
Max Elevation: 3429ft (1045m) *
Min Elevation: 1283ft (391m) *
End Elevation: 2206ft (672m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 7118ft (2170m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 7254ft (2211m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph

[ Introduction & Day 1 | Day 2 - Journeying South | Day 3 - Exploring West Virginia | Day 4 - Dragon's Tooth and Yet More Twisties | Day 5 - Final Twisties and Drive Home | Related Presentation: The Dragon's Tooth Hike | Ranked Summary of Twisty Roads | PA-549 | PA-144 | WV-72 | WV-20 | WV-16 & VA-16 | VA-311 | WV-39 & VA-39 | US-250 | US-33 | PA-125 | Road Rankings Explained ]

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