A Wild & Stellar Link In the Great Eastern Trail

Wildlands Blog: Pine Mountain is a vital migratory path for birds, butterflies, bears and even plants! It is like a “wild superhighway,” said Preston Lacy, Conservation Director for Kentucky Natural Land Trust (KNLT). The mountain has a spring flux of returning songbirds, fall hawk migration and at times rivers of butterflies. Pine Mountain also has a backcountry trail unfolding along its ridgeline that offers spectacular hiking through some of the wildest stretches of Central Appalachia.

The Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail is part of the planned Great Eastern Trail, an 1,800-mile footpath that will run from Alabama’s Flagg Mountain to the Finger Lakes of New York. The route through Kentucky will take hikers into some of Kentucky’s most pristine wildlands from Breaks Interstate Park through Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park where the route continues south into Tennessee along Cumberland Mountain.

KNLT has been a key partner in the Kentucky section of the Great Eastern Trail securing lands along the proposed route and assisting with trail building as well as maintenance. Over half of the 110-mile Kentucky section is complete and open to hiking.

The newest stretch of the trail is on KNLT’s Kingdom Come Preserve, and the next phase of trail construction will include KNLT’s Hurricane Gap and Warbler Ridge preserves. Pine Mountain offers hikers some of the best views in Eastern Kentucky, and often with much less of a crowd than some of the Commonwealth’s other popular hiking destinations like the Red River Gorge.

“When it’s completed, the trail will connect Eastern Kentucky counties including Pike, Harlan, Letcher and Bell to communities hundreds of miles away and to the Appalachian Trail” said Shad Baker, chair of the Pine Mountain Trail Conference, an all-volunteer group that maintains the trail.

In fact, maps from the Appalachian Trail’s founder, Benton MacKaye, show he planned to include Pine Mountain as a branch of the Appalachian Trail all the way back in October 1921.

Lacy said “the already completed portion of the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail is having a positive economic impact in nearby communities like Elkhorn City, Jenkins, Whitesburg and Cumberland. Once the Kentucky section is finished the benefits of the trail will be even more significant and also impact other towns further south like Harlan, Pineville and Middlesboro. The trail is a unique tourism opportunity in the region and offers folks who haven’t visited before a way to see a whole different side of the state that really is an ecological treasure.”

Want to hike the Great Eastern Trail/Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail?
The Pine Mountain Trail Conference’s has an extensive guide for planning your adventure.

cover photo by Greg Abernathy, KNLT