If you're a fan of the Mothman legend and haven't visited its alleged lair, also known as the TNT Area, you owe yourself the hair-raising experience, says the executive director of the Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"And if you really want to experience Mothman, you've got to be in the TNT area at night," Denny Bellamy insists, referring to the vine-draped woodland in which the winged creature was reported in 1966.
As the story goes, two young couples parked in what was by then an abandoned ordnance works was chased out of its maze of bunkers by a red-eyed humanoid that flew low to the ground on enormous wings.
At the same time, residents of nearby Point Pleasant, West Virginia, began to report a barrage of strange phenomena—oddly behaved pets and malfunctioning electronics.
Chroniclers later reported that men dressed in black suits had visited, urging locals to downplay the events. Like the Mothman, the "men in black" became part of one of the most intriguing legends in modern American history.
The Mothman has since appeared in books and films and most recently in a video game, Fallout 76, which has helped increase its fame worldwide.
Organizers of the 18th annual Mothman Festival at Point Pleasant are expecting a record crowd of more than 12,000 visitors as a result of the game, and one of the highlights of the festival is a bus tour that carries visitors in air-conditioned comfort eight miles to the TNT area and back.
Jeff Wamsley, the curator of the Mothman Museum and the nearby Mothman Gift Shop, says the tours are growing in popularity, though organizers have managed to keep up with the demand.
"We started off with a few small buses, but now we're up to large buses, and we're making it work, Wamsley said.
"One of our biggest concerns is having to deal with traffic backing up on the bridges, but so far that hasn't happened."
While the festival itself and the silver Mothman statue off Main Street—a stage for countless selfies year-round—continue to draw crowds, Bellamy said the TNT area is becoming the real highlight of the Mothman travel experience.
"You'll never forget a night in the TNT area," Bellamy says, encouraging visitors to explore the site on their own if the bus tours are sold out or if they're not able to make the wagon rides available at night during the festival.
"Because it's in the wildlife management area, you have permission to go on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though it's easy to get lost. Everything looks the same, and by late summer the place has grown up so much that the roads through it are just big black tunnels.
"It's just a maze of roads and old TNT bunkers and canals—filled with wildlife and waterfowl, and there's nothing like a deer crashing through the brush at night to get your heart pounding."
Though the area can be unsettling any time of day and terrifying any night, Bellamy urges visitors to take the hayride through the maze at night during the festival, when actors in costume will be ensuring the guests have a few good scares and its likely that the Mothman itself will make an appearance.
"It's a great time, and we offer the hayrides all night until everyone's done, even if that's two in the morning," he said.
Discover the top five monsters from the West Virginia hills
West Virginia is renowned as the abode of monsters. Whether it's because the rugged and remote mountains could support cryptids, marooned aliens, and other strange beasts or because West Virginians are naturally good storytellers, here are five of the best-known monsters to haunt its hills. Read the list.