Harlan County, Kentucky...I kept hearing about this place through e-mails and word of mouth. "Dude, you've got to check that place out!" So when Stephen Foster, proprietor of the Harlan County Campground & RV Park, offered me a free cabin and Denny Pace, of Trail 45 Snack Shack and ATV Rentals, threw in the use of a rental quad, we were as good as there. When we pulled off Highway 119 into the campground on the Putney trailhead, we had no idea how great this place would be.
Appalachia is quickly becoming famous for churning out gold in the form of quality off-road entertainment. Harlan County is carrying this "coal mine to gold mine" trend a little further by offering 7000 acres (200-plus miles, with rumors of more to come) of awesome riding at an awesome price: FREE! That's "free," as in no fees or permits required. An officer has recently been assigned to patrol the Black Mountain Recreational Park, but riders are basically left to police themselves. There is a $5 charge each for parking and maps. But in our opinion, that's a small price to pay compared to the $15-$35 other areas charge in fees alone.
Located in the extreme southeast corner of Kentucky, Harlan County is within a day's drive of anywhere east of the Mississippi. We made the trip from north of Memphis, Tennessee, in 6.5 hours. The trails were originally blazed by 4x4 trucks, and through lobbying by the local ATV club (H.C. Ridge Runners), the truckers welcomed ATVs and dirt bikes into their utopia. See what happens when off-road factions work together instead of against each other? Black Mountain has since been leased to and become sanctioned by the state of Kentucky as an official OHV area.
After unloading our gear into the cabin, we were ready to hit the trails. The trailhead is, literally, one step from the front porch of the cabin. About the only complaint we can muster is that the well water at the cabins has a high sulfur content. It doesn't taste bad, but you might want to bring bottled water to drink. It's even safe to shower in. The smell didn't stick to us-we did a "smell check" afterward. Speaking of water, there is a spigot next to the shower house that everyone uses to wash the quads. Again, this is free too.
And how 'bout them trails? In a word: superb! The two-way trails are marked well and offer three levels of fun: green for novices (family trails), blue means moderate difficulty and red translates to challenging (even gut-check-time difficult). I turned around on one of the rock crawler sections, which was marked red. Everything from mud bogs to awesome hillclimbs are available, and the scenery is breathtaking. Although mostly dirt, the trails do offer some cool rock obstacles and loose shale hills. There are plenty of fast sections, with jumps thrown into the mix. We had a couple of sport quads riding with us and they stayed entertained. The ridge-top trails offer up views of the surrounding towns of Evarts and Putney, as well as the ample mountainous beauty of this area.
Our limited time on the trails was enough to get a great impression of this place-Black Mountain is well on its way to becoming a destination for trail riders of all kinds. The combination of superb riding, friendly locals and an enthusiastic Chamber of Commerce add up to what could become one of the top three Eastern ride spots. See you there!
Place visited: Black Mountain OHV area, Harlan County, Kentucky
Riding season: Year-round
Maps recommended: Yes, 200 miles of trails is plenty to get lost on. Buy one atthe trailhead; you can get maps for 4x4 trucks or ATV/dirt bike
Area information: Harlan Tourism, 606/573-4156; www.harlancountytrails.com
Permits/licenses required: None required, none issued
Critters: Harlan county is the No. 1 blackbear region, elk, deer, bobcat, coyote,someclaim wolves and mountain lions, too
While you are there: Pine Mountain Settlement School, Kingdom Come StatePark, Kentucky Coal Mine Museum, Portal 31 Underground Tour, Martins For Lake and hiking in the Blanton Forest
Road-trip CDs: Fall Out Boy; Panic! At The Disco; Johnny Cash's "The Legend ofJohnny Cash"; plus a custom-burnt CD
Best local beer: This is Kentucky, it's all about sour-mash bourbon whiskey! Just kidding. Harlan is a dry county, andunless you are willing to drive to Cumberland,the only wet town in the county(eight miles from Putney), bring your own
Digs: Harlan County Campground &RV Park: 606/573-9009; www.harlancountycampgrounds.com.The town of Evarts has some camping and RV hookups and rental houses.
Local ATV club: Harlan County Ridge Runners; www.kyoutdoors.com/hcrr.They're greatguys and offer free guided tours of the park.
Good eats: Apple Shop of the Benham Inn, Charlotte's Hoagie Shop inCumberland, Dairy Hut in Evarts
Useful links: www.kymc.org; www.harlancountytrails.com
|Quality of riding ||8.9 ||Scenery ||9.3 ||Food ||8.0 ||Lodging ||9.2 ||culture ||7.5 ||overall Rating ||9.0 |
|Something for everyone, well maintained ||Ridge-top views, waterfalls and wildlife ||Local diners to chain restaurants ||Awesome cabins, nice motels, rental houses and RV hookups ||Americana! Southern hospitality and numerous attractions ||From family riding to freak-you-out fun, Black Mountain rates as a top three in our book! |