Autumn comes early to the Bluegrass State, and most years it lingers long. Typically,
fall color changes begin in October, and continue well into November or beyond.
Leaf hunters by the thousands take to the road every weekend of this season. Reservations
are required in every prime foliage area, and in most of the backwater areas as
Remember, too, that there’s more to see than leaves. Fall is one of the more interesting
seasons, with harvest festivals, farm stands well-stocked with autumn goodies
like apple cider and sorghum, and creative Halloween decorations that abound.
Finding color in the Commonwealth is easy. Just point your car in any direction,
and step on the accelerator. Here are some particularly fine viewing areas:
Natural Bridge & Red River Gorge: A 45-mile loop takes you from Natural
Bridge State Resort Park through Red River Gorge on one of Kentucky’s most spectacular
drives. Numerous overlooks are available right off the roadway, and short walks
take you to scenic climaxes such as Chimney Top.
Don’t forget the forested trails in the park itself, all of which lead to the
huge namesake arch. The view from the top of Natural Bridge rivals any found in
Accommodations can be found at Hemlock Lodge, in the park, or at several nearby
bed and breakfasts.
Contact: Natural Bridge State Resort Park, 2135 Natural Bridge Rd., Slade, KY
40376, (606) 663-2214.
Cumberland Valley: Using the Old Schoolhouse Inn in Benham as your headquarters,
first explore the trails and overlooks in Kingdom Come State Park. From there
the mountains lie at your feet. Be sure to take the drive up Black Mountain, where
you can stand on the highest point in Kentucky.
A few miles east is Bad Branch State Nature Preserve, which has the prettiest
hiking trail in the Commonwealth. And if time allows, go all the way east to Breaks
Interstate Park. But be warned: Breaks is deserving of a weekend of its own.
Contact: Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, (606) 589-5812.
Pine Mountain to Cumberland Gap: Several roads traverse Pine Mountain State
Resort Park. For the more ambitious there are nine hiking trails ranging from
.5 to 1.75 miles.
A few miles south is Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. As you drive through
Middlesboro, pause and look at the mountain ridges that surround you. You’re actually
in the bowl of a huge meteor crater – one of the largest found on earth. The ridges
you see are the edge of the crater. Be sure to drive to the Pinnacle, an overlook
that lets you view three states.
Lodging is available at Pine Mountain State Resort Park, or in numerous motels
Contacts: Pine Mountain State Resort Park, 1050 State Park Rd., Pineville, KY
40977, (606) 337-3066; Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, P.O. Box 1848, Middlesboro,
KY 40965, (606) 248-2817.
The Trace (Land Between the Lakes): You’ll find some unique fall color
shows traveling The Trace, the main highway traversing the region north to south.
But be sure to poke down all the side roads that project, like fingers, to either
For a more intimate view of the foliage, there are numerous trails throughout
the park. These range in length from 14 to 60 miles, but a couple of short trails
can be found near the Woodlands Center. The Hematite Lake Trail is especially
appealing, as it loops through several ecosystems.
There is no lodging in Land Between the Lakes itself. But there are dozens of
motels and resorts lining the shores of the two lakes.
Contact: TVAís Land Between the Lakes, 100 Van Morgan Dr., Golden Pond, KY 42211,
Ancient Forest: Although not a drive tour, perhaps the grandest color show
in Kentucky can be found along the Fort Thomas Landmark Tree Trail, which preserves
some of the last old-growth forest in the state. There are 15 species identified
along the .82-mile trail, at least one of which is more than 350 years old.
In addition to the old-growth forest, the trail loops through a unique geologic
area. The hill country of northern Kentucky is a glacial outwash. Just north of
here, the ice reached equilibrium; that is, the face of the glacier melted at
the same rate the ice advanced. Ground rock picked up by the iceís travels was
deposited in a ridge-like formation called a glacial till. Later erosion carved
the hills and hollows we find now.
Contact: City of Fort Thomas, 130 North Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, KY 41075,
Day Trips & Short Stops
Jefferson Davis’ tower
One of the many ironies of the War Between the States is that Jefferson Davis,
president of the Confederacy, and Abraham Lincoln, president of the Union, were
born near each other here in Kentucky. Only eight months and less than 100 miles
separated the two.
Although Lincoln soon moved to Illinois, Davis was raised near Fairview, where
a monument to the soldier/statesman rises 351 feet over the hills and woods he
roamed as a boy. In fact, the memorial, which resembles the Washington Monument
in Washington, D.C., is considered to be the tallest concrete monument in the
The obelisk resulted from a decade’s worth of fund-raising, in the early 20th
century, by Confederate veterans and Davis supporters. Construction began in 1917,
and was completed in 1924. Stone was quarried and crushed on-site to form both
the limestone foundation and the walls, which are 7 feet thick at the base and
taper to 2 feet thick at the top.
Between May 1 and October 31 an elevator carries visitors to the observation area
at the top of the tower. From the observation deck you can take in panoramic views
of the surrounding countryside.
Now a Kentucky State Historic Site, the obelisk sits in the middle of a 19-acre
park, which was the source of the limestone from which it was built. This is an
ideal location for a picnic lunch, as you muse on the great contributions made
For information, contact: Jefferson Davis Monument State Historic Park, P.O. Box
10, Fairview, KY 42221, (270) 886-1765.
Kentucky’s deer woods will fill with the smell of smoke and a taste of brimstone
later this month, as more and more hunters take up muzzleloading.
One factor behind the popularity of black powder hunting is the long season. A
total of nine days is allocated to the use of muzzleloading arms: the two-day
early season, October 28-29, and an additional seven days, December 9-15.
The number-one contributor to the growth of muzzleloading hunting is the widespread
availability of in-line ignition systems. Rifles using such systems look and feel
just like the modern-style rifle hunters are used to. There are models that replicate
the feel of both bolt- and lever-action smokeless rifles.
The typical setup for an in-line hunter is what amounts to being a bolt-action
rifle with a scope mounted to it. This rifle shoots jacketed pistol bullets encased
in a plastic sabot. And very often, the propellant is not black powder, but a
There’s a growing controversy over the use of such arms, however. Many believe
that such a rig runs counter to the very idea of muzzleloading seasons, which
were designed to be primitive in nature.
Growing numbers of hunters are returning to traditional side-hammer rifles, in
either percussion or flintlock. Of the two, flintlocks are more challenging, both
because their ignition system can be less reliable, and because their performance
can be weather-sensitive.
The ultimate challenge is to hunt with a flintlock smoothbore. In addition to
the above problems, they do not stabilize the ball, accuracy can suffer, and most
do not have rear sights.
In short, armed with a smoothbore flintlock, you have to depend more on your own
skill and woodcraft to harvest a deer. And therein lies the challenge.