Day four of the Unbridled Adventure Tour, and a hike down to the river and back on the agenda. Believe it or not, I’m still looking at Pine Mountain. The same Pine Mountain that overlooks Pineville 110 miles west of here! It’s the Russell Fork that has carved a “break” at this point, creating the largest canyon east of the Mississippi.
This would be no easy hike to the bottom. It never is when you have to deal with a 1900 foot elevation change. It looked easy on paper, save for the squiggly line on the map that I knew would be a switchback. That meant an upcoming drop. And oh baby what a drop.
Signage at the trailhead warned of a four hour allowance for the four miles of upcoming trail. The experienced hiker that I am expected the four miles to instead take just over one hour, as most hikes that length do. I would be wrong.
Mom and I set out on the Prospector Trail to later junction with the River Trail, covered in rhododendron, ferns, and sheer rock cliffs. Trail blazes painted on rocks in places where a tree wouldn‘t do. Trail on the same rocks for several yards here and there. Lots of rocks, especially when staying alert for snakes! Honest to goodness, there were spots in the trail where I would cock my head to one side and think “really?“ And still looking at the ground to cover till the bottom. This is a national park caliber trail in a state park. Little wonder the original plan for the area sixty years ago was to make it a National Park. It has the overlooks, it has the whitewater, and by-golly, it has the hiking!
But instead of holding court as National Park, it can reign as big dog among state parks. In my six years of slogging, this series of trails has got to be one of the more challenging. All along the switchback down to the river from up top I wondered how in the world one could get back up the mountain. The map showed not another squiggly. It showed a straight line. Not good. Believe me. Not good.That straight line was a straight shot up the mountain on the Laurel Branch Trail. A 45 degree incline sort of straight shot. For a solid half mile, it was slow step after slow step. Then rest, and repeat. In places we were even on all fours! Again, the head cocked to the side as I would squint up the face of the mountain and exclaim “you’ve got to be kidding me!” This kind of hiker nonsense continued for another hour. We were 3 hours into that one hour expectation. But smiling. I love a good challenge.
Once back up top near the Stateline Overlook staring back towards Pike County, we had the option of hiking the way back to the lodge via the Overlook Trail, but settled for a road walk instead, the last 1.2 miles on the certainty of asphalt. The water back at the room couldn’t have tasted any better. Four hours indeed.
America is Beautiful, and on this Fourth of July, I am glad to have seen portions of it by way of woodland trail. Happy Independence Day to you and yours. Back on the road tomorrow to elk country.
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601