As I mentioned in my last post, Fall has come to Kentucky. It’s October and the leaves are in color. My family and I took a drive up US 25E this past weekend, and it got me to thinking about scenic drives. Kentucky has so many beautiful scenic routes, I thought I would mention a few you might want to explore.
Kentucky is such a beautiful place, it isn’t difficult to find a scenic byway. Even much of our interstates are scenic. But I’m not going to talk about the interstates. I want to talk about the secondary roads, roads that were, in their day, the main arteries for visitors and locals alike. Some of them still serve that purpose.
On the 45 miles via US25E from Middlesboro to Corbin, you see some of the best mountain scenery Kentucky has to offer. Even though this road has been greatly improved in recent years and certain dangerous sections rerouted, most US25E still ambles through the same mountain passes and river valleys that Daniel Boone once explored, following the path of the old Wilderness Road. You’ll see gorgeous views of Pine Mountain and the Cumberland River, and pass through towns that are still major hubs of commerce in their areas, Middlesboro, Pineville, Barbourville, and Corbin.
The approximately 130 miles of US421 from Berea south to the Virginia state line is another beautiful drive through some of Kentucky’s most scenic forested hill country. Just south of Berea, you’ll see the interesting knob formations of the aptly named Bighill area. A couple of miles further and you’ll approach a deep pass cut from the rock. For you geology buffs, the 80 ft high man-made cliffs contain fascinating striations. There are also some amazing long distance views from this stretch of 421. Continuing south you’ll travel over ridges and through winding valleys. US421 courses atop a ridge through Sand Gap, and at 1400 feet elevation you can relish some fantastic views. Leaving Sand Gap, the road descends into a valley carved by Birch Lick Creek. Allow yourself to be transported back to a simpler time as you pass homes, barns, and abandoned store buildings straight out of the 1950s. You can see the effects of our society’s move from local to national economies, from small family owned businesses to one stop big-box mega stores, from made-in-America to made-in-anywherebut. The next town, McKee, the Jackson county seat, lies in a valley, so you’ll need to look up to enjoy the Fall colors. As you approach Grayhawk, the terrain begins to open up, and the hills have a gentler slope, granting wider vistas. Then the hills begin to rise again along the 22 mile drive to Manchester, the Clay county seat. Continuing on US 421, a 30 mile drive through the mountains will bring you to Hyden, the Leslie county seat. Hyden is a beautiful little mountain town of only about 400 residents, yet it is home to the Mary Breckinridge Hospital and the Frontier Nursing University. From Hyden to Harlan and on to the Virginia state line, you are in Eastern Kentucky coal country. You’ll pass through communities like Harlan, Grays Knob, Chevrolet, and Cawood each steeped in coal history.
US460 from West Liberty to Prestonsburg, via Salyersville, is a beautiful 50 mile stretch of highway full of gorgeous mountain views. On this route you see the mountains from the valley below. The highest peak along this route is 1500′ Stuffley Knob. The best view of this peak is to turn right about a half mile past KY825 on Salyer Fork Road, and look up to your left. But note that this is a dead-end road, and you must turn around to get back on US460. Continue on 460 about five more miles. Just before you reach Paintsville, you’ll turn right to stay on US460. Continue south about 15 miles past more mountain scenery, to Prestonsburg. If you like the trip to Prestonsburg, you may continue south on US460 to Pikeville, where US460 joins with KY80. About nine miles past Pikeville at Belcher, 460 splits from 80 and bears east through some spectacular mountain scenery. Some of the best views are of the 1600′ peaks at Mouthcard, where 460 bears right, heading south once again. Leaving Mouthcard you’ll get a real treat from the 1800′ peaks when the Fall colors are at their best. At this point you’ll be just a few miles from the Virginia state line.
Let me know if you get the chance to travel any of these scenic Kentucky roads. Good travels to you.