Experience miles of nature’s wonder
Adventure, vibrant fall colors and beautiful scenery will take your breath away if you hike along Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail in October.
So far, 52 miles of the trail have been completed in three sections on the crest of Pine Mountain—the Birch Knob section, the Highlands section and the Little Shepherd section. As the trail approaches 3,200 feet in elevation, hikers and backpackers are treated to incredible views of the Appalachian Mountains. When finished, the trail will encompass 120 miles from Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County south to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Bell County.
The completed stretch passes through some amazing places, such as Letcher County’s Bad Branch Falls, named for the 60-foot waterfall tumbling down onto boulders the size of small houses. Kentucky’s largest old- growth forest, Harlan County’s Blanton Forest, is along the way. Here trees soar to 100 feet. Some are so old Daniel Boone may have passed by them. The trail passes through Kingdom Come State Park, also in Harlan County. Here the hiker can take in fabulous mountain views from the park’s eight overlooks.
The construction and future completion of Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail is a monumental undertaking. Kentucky State Parks manages the trail, but funding, land acquisition, preservation and maintenance involve a multitude of nonprofit organizations and agencies—the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, the Kentucky Land Heritage Conservation Board, Breaks Interstate Park, The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission and the Pine Mountain Trail Conference.
Granted, that’s a mouthful. The main thing to remember is how lucky we are to have the trail. I’ve walked it, and I’ve stood on the edge of giant rock outcroppings gazing out in wonder upon distant mountains fading into hues of blue. This trail will make you realize just how tiny you are compared with the grandeur of nature—and that’s just 52 miles of trail. Imagine what it will be like when the whole 120 miles are completed.
The finished trail will provide a human pathway through practically the entire length of the 125-mile Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor. Unbroken forest corridors are important for the protection of rare and endangered plant species as well as the forest itself. Corridors also connect tracts of wildlife habitat that are critical for the movement of animal species, including the American black bear, deer and migratory birds.
This October, I plan to revisit the Pine Mountain Trail and hopefully see some of those animals—and trees so vivid with fall color that I am overwhelmed. My mind becomes one with the mountain and all the stressful thoughts of day-to-day living disappear, at least for a while.