Outdoor Adventures in Paint Bank, Virginia
By Debi Lander | Photography courtesy of Debi Lander and Potts Creek Outfitters
Big experiences await travelers in the small town of Paint Bank, Virginia, thanks to an enterprising couple who saw its potential.
)Travel writers delight in sharing hidden gems with their readers but hope that divulging the secret doesn’t promote crowding. The benefits these little-known destinations offer often include reasonable rates, fewer visitors, and unique activities and lodging choices.
Paint Bank, a tiny southwest Virginia town that resembles an old-time movie set, is one of those ideal places, offering distinctive lodging and exciting outdoor adventures. The tiny rural hamlet includes a general store, gas station, depot lodge – the converted train station, fishing cabins, and a herd of buffalo.
Paint Bank’s current population has risen to around 130, still outnumbered by its 200 bison and numerous Galloway cows, known affectionately as “Oreo Cows” because of their broad bands of white running around their bellies. Although it is now an up-and-coming landmark in the Potts Valley, Paint Bank nearly died after the railroad left.
Fortunately, Wall Street financier John Mulheren and wife Nancy gradually purchased properties and brought them back to life. They spared no expense renovating buildings, adding new ones, and even bringing in a red caboose and glamping tents to offer rustic, yet luxurious overnight accommodations.
You’ll find Paint Bank a perfect location for fly fishing, whitetail bow hunting, eastern gobbler hunting (with shotgun or bow), float trips on the Greenbrier River, or simply escaping the city for a mountain retreat. Hunters prowl and fishers angle in an ideal site surrounded by 800 Virginia acres, adjoined by another 800 in West Virginia. A bordering National Forest expands the untamed land to 3,000 non-fenced acres. Potts Creek Outfitters arrange private guided gobbler hunts and bow-hunts for guests staying at the Depot Lodge or the other lodging options.
Danny Walsh, manager of Potts Creek Outfitters, welcomes all sportsmen levels, noting that, “We teach beginners the skills they need to become successful outdoorsmen.”
His team gets visitors to the starting point for a float trip powered by the pace of the current. Eco-minded guests appreciate the catch and release program. Depending on the time of the year, drifting with the stream will provide catches of rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, musky, and other native fish.
Hunters greet the challenge of pursuing white-tailed deer — for many, the quintessential Appalachian hunting experience. Potts Creek Outfitters focuses on guiding participants through every step of the hunting or fishing encounter, including packaging the prize up to take home. “Guests always leave rewarded,” Walsh says.
Area visitors and lodging guests dine at the Swinging Bridge Restaurant, rear addition to the Paint Bank General Store. The dining area incorporates indoor trees and a second-story rope bridge intersected by a narrow brook. Nancy Mulheren explained that the life-like trees were constructed from foam, like many Disney imitations.
“John wanted a creek for indoor fishing,” she wryly observes, “but it turned into more of a stream with taxidermized animal displays.”
Restaurant cooks follow recipes handed down over many years, preparing everything from scratch. Visitors may choose a juicy bison burger or steak from the grass-fed herd raised down the road (touring by appointment). It’s all old-time, Southern, stick-to-your-ribs good cookin’.
John and Nancy Mulheren stumbled upon a dilapidated Paint Bank back in 1986. The scenic beauty and calming atmosphere captivated John, who imagined big plans for the small town. Unfortunately, John passed away far too young in 2003. Nancy continues the work, honoring his memory and for their large family of adopted children, and now grandchildren. Considering Paint Bank a second home, Nancy has left her artistic touch everywhere.
A personal experience
I stayed in the 5-star glamping creekside tent with its ultra-comfy king-size bed and top-of-the-line bathroom featuring a separate toilet and shower enclosure. Glamping here means a flat-screen TV, artwork on the walls, reading material, and a chandelier, making the oversized shelter feel like a posh apartment. Best of all, a breakfast basket of goodies and thermos of coffee came to my door the next morning.
I loved the luxurious tent but would have been equally impressed by a night in the authentic caboose or one of four cozily decorated rooms in the 1909 Depot Lodge. The renovated Section Foreman’s Cottage provides an excellent alternative for visiting families, offering two bedrooms and a full kitchen. A picturesque fishing log cabin tucked at the edge of a four-mile private trout stream sleeps six. The interior is nothing short of grand. An authentically refurbished 1967 Airstream “Land Yacht” Overlander Trail offers still another bedding option.
Wherever you stay, expect antiques, period photos, and modern accent pieces like those seen on interior design magazine pages.
Meandering Paint Bank’s grounds will eventually bring you to the renovated Tingler’s Mill. Swings and benches beg you to sit a spell by the river. Expanses of grass lure picnickers and kids needing to run, and rocking chair devotees just looking to pass the time. Weekends often bring craft demonstrations and live music. A fascinating state-run fish hatchery operates nearby.
Paint Bank beckons as a wonderfully quirky getaway that should please a wide variety of discerning travelers from romantic couples to motorcycle and biking groups, hunting and fishing diehards, family reunions, or singles. Best of all, you’ll find it very affordable.