My wife and I went on a couples getaway and spent four days exploring what The Kentucky Wildlands has to offer. We found so much to do from coal mines to railroad history to leaf peeping to waterfalls to natural arches and bike trails. My wife has mentioned many times that this was one of the most memorable getaways we’ve ever had. Our trip was in the fall of the year but you can enjoy these activities any time of the year.
Coals Mines and Railroad History
The Big South Fork Scenic Railroad to the Barthell Coal Camp which was established in 1903 as part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company. It is amazing to step back in time to learn about the history of Coal in southern and eastern Kentucky. The train ride is approximately 30 minutes from the Stearns Depot to the camp. What made this excursion even more spectacular, is doing the ride in the fall of the year. The leaves are beautiful. Once at the camp you can take a tour of the mine. It is amazing the harsh conditions the miners endured on a daily basis. Don’t worry, the tour does not experience any harsh conditions. The Big South Fork Scenic Railroad is a must see when visiting The Kentucky Wildlands.
Cumberland Falls is considered the “Niagara of the South” and it truly lives up to that name. The hike is a short one from the entrance to park to the falls. There are multiple viewing sites and you can even walk down the rivers edge to see the falls. Cumberland Falls is the only place in the western hemisphere that have a “moonbow.’ Which is a rainbow cause by a full moon. Unfortunately, we were a bit early and did not get the witness the “moonbow” but we will definitely go back for the experience. The falls are located in the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, which offers many hiking opportunities, camping, cabins and a lodge.
Eagle Falls trail is a great moderate 1.5 mile trail leading to Eagle Falls. This trail follows the cliff line and has fantastic views of Cumberland Falls. This is a great hike with plenty of photo opportunities to document the memories in The Kentucky Wildlands.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park offers many outdoor activities located in the Daniel Boone National Forest near the Red River Gorge Geological Area. Our mission was to see the Natural Bridge Arch which is a rock bridge that spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. You are able to access the bridge from different hiking trails or you can take a sky lift to the top. You access the sky lift close to the park entrance and the ride ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge. I’ll be honest we took the sky lift for nothing more that it looked fun.
Our trip was during the fall so the leaves were gorgeous. The path to the arch was an easy trail with spectacular views. You can spend 30 minutes there or an entire day soaking in the views. My wife and I have been fortunate to see leaves all across the east coast and The Kentucky Wildlands offer some leaf peeping in the county.
Make sure you bring along a picnic lunch. After spending time on the trails and experiencing Natural Bridge, enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the many picnic areas along the road and in the park. It truly makes the trip!
Prestonsburg Passage Rails-to-Trails
We ended our trip with a wonderful bike ride on the new Prestonsburg Passage bike trail. The 8.6 mile trail occupies a former CSX railroad bed, beginning in Prestonsburg and winds through the countryside including the Middle Creek National Battlefield and ending in the former coal town of David. The asphalt path features six restored bridges and one of them is a former school bus which is definitely a photo spot.
One of the best ways to enjoy all The Kentucky Wildlands has to offer is to experience it while camping. There are many campgrounds and cabins scattered throughout the region. With that being said, there are some necessities you must bring along.
Must have to experience The Kentucky Wildlands
- An adventurous mindset to experience some of the most surprisingly beautiful scenery in the county.
- Hiking Boots
- Map (because you may not always have cell service)
- Trekking poles
- Campfire recipes
- Campfire songs and maybe even a guitar
There is one thing that you can definitely leave behind and that is your busy schedule. Take your time, relax and enjoy all the beauty The Kentucky Wildlands in southern and eastern Kentucky has to offer.