by Deborah Burst
Along the Appalachian Ridge, pioneers braved the Kentucky wilderness in what became the first great gateway to the west. James Clark burned the first trail in 1813, journaling the region’s virgin forest, mountain streams and waterfalls dispersed with infinite prairies filled with grazing herds of Bison.
Later, Daniel Boone blazed the trail from the Northeast. Seeking a new frontier by winding down the mountains to a narrow corridor called the Cumberland Gap, he opened a pathway of hope for nearly 300,000 Americans. On a trail of tears and hardships, men, women and children, many barefoot in the middle of the winter, cut their way through dense forests and climbed rocky terrain to claim their new home in Kentucky.
Today, you can enjoy the same pristine forests our ancestors discovered, and at the same time escape to the luxuries of the 21st century inside the spacious state lodges in Southeastern Kentucky. A network of interstates move you quickly to highway 25E, which follows the same historic trail carved by Indians and early settlers. In 1996, the state restored the Cumberland Gap to its original 1860 look. .
The Pine Mountain State Resort Park is a convenient hub for exploring the Cumberland region. Resting on the mountain tops of the Kentucky Ridge State Park, the resort offers 30 lodge rooms overlooking a mountain range draped with hemlocks, hardwoods and an understory of mountain laurel, red azalea and wild blueberries. Nestled inside these magical forests, 20 country cottages provide families with a full kitchen, separate bedrooms, 12 miles of self-guided trails, recreational opportunities with naturalist programs, an amphitheater and a rec room chock full of video games.
Traveling 40 miles northwest, the Cumberland Falls State Resort offers trails for every skill level from one-quarter of a mile to nearly 11 miles in length. Hike inside an umbrella of hardwoods laced with wildflowers alongside a rippling river or follow a trail of sandstone bluffs for spectacular views of four waterfalls. Soft or hardcore adventurers join the fun canoeing, kayaking, rafting or cruising on a riverboat down the Cumberland River. Start your journey at the visitor’s center and feel the spray of a 68-foot wall of water as Cumberland Falls pounds the river and splashes a misty rainbow against the sun’s piercing rays. Schedule your trip around the full moon and witness a rare moonbow, an arc of white light above the river.
Head 50 miles south to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park where seventy miles of trails dice their way through 20,000 acres of forests layered with springtime blooms and a blaze of color in the fall. Hike or drive to Pinnacle Overlook where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together in a panoramic vista of the Southern Appalachian Mountains filled with cascading mountains and valley hamlets. Enter the underground world of Gap Cave with lanterns in hand and follow the park ranger for a close look at exquisite cave sculptures and creatures of the night, including bats, salamanders and cave crickets.
Visit these state parks and follow in the footsteps of American pioneers. Walk along wildflower trails and be serenaded by a lullaby of mountain streams.
For more information:
Kentucky offers a network of 52 state parks, 17 featuring lodges with the comforts of home inside the state’s raw wilderness, and 32 with campgrounds for those who want to get personal with nature but stay close to modern conveniences. There are no admittance fees to the parks and the lodges offer reasonable rates, many under $100 a night with a buffet or restaurant-style dining. The parks hold championship golf, marinas, multi-use trails, tennis courts, swimming pools and educational/entertainment programs.
State parks www.kystateparks.com, 1-800-255-PARK
Pine Mountain State Resort Park www.pinemountainpark.com, 1-800-325-1712
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, 1-800-325-0063
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park www.nps.gov/cuga
To use this article in your publication, click here.