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Southern Kentucky: Vistas of the Heartland

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Sometimes it’s hard to go somewhere new. You have those old places that are easy to get to, you’re familiar with them, and frankly, you really haven’t had much time to do any searching for new places. I almost fell into this same trap last weekend. Becca and I had a somewhat short amount of time to get out and go do something. It wasn’t exactly fun to drive two cars for two hours, and leave one next to the interstate, but we did it. I almost fell into the cushion of going somewhere close so we could bail and come back to sleep in my bed. But, alas we didn’t and pushed our adventure southward.

I had googled some places earlier in the week and decided to try and hit a bunch of the classic views and tourist locations; that, after living in Kentucky for over 2.5 years have failed to explore. Luckily for us, we could hit a bunch of views, and waterfalls within a relatively short distance.

Stop #1 - Pinnacle Lookout Tower: I’ve always been a big fan of fire towers. There are a ton of them in New York, and it was always a good time hiking them with friends and family. I’m not sure how many fire towers there are in Kentucky, but I don’t think there are too many still standing. I’ve been to one so far in Kentucky; Tater Knob in the northern Daniel Boone National Forest. So, it was just our luck when Pinnacle Knob Fire tower was going to be open the same weekend. The parking area wasn’t very big, but there was a sign to let you know you were in the right spot. The trail was basically an old gravel road, which made for a very easy hike. The hike was around a 1/2 mile and only gained maybe 100 feet of elevation, perfect for families with youngsters. The tower offered 360 degree views, with the best view being towards the west with a little view of the Cumberland River. The tower is still set up with how it might have looked when someone was constantly on watch. I’d definitely go back in the fall or mid summer to see some more color in the trees, as it was such an easy trip.

Stop #2 - Cumberland Falls: People in Kentucky talk about Cumberland Falls being the “Niagara Falls of the south”. I just have to smile because the NY pride comes out. There really weren’t many parking spaces on this busy day, and there were lots of people out and about. Cumberland Falls really felt like a tourist attraction with a gift shop and restaurant. We checked out all the vistas, but really didn’t hang around too long because there were so many people. The falls were really spectacular, but I think I would have enjoyed it with less people crowding me on the overlooks. Definitely worth the visit though, crowded or not.

Stop #3 - Natural Arch Scenic Area: A bit more of a drive into the Kentucky woods, brings you to the Natural Arch Scenic Area. It has an auditorium area, and a few picnic areas. Note: This area does cost money for day use ($3 as of 4/2019). The access to the overlook for the arch is paved the whole way making it enjoyable for every member of your family. There is a hike down to the arch, which we decided not to do, but the trail from what we saw of it looked well maintained.

Stop #4 - Panoramic Trail: While looking at the map at the Natural Arch Scenic Area, we noticed the Panoramic Trail. It looked like a nice trail off the beaten path a little bit, and with a name like Panoramic Trail we assumed it had some awesome views. Luckily, we were right. The trail was flat and very easy to follow,. There were some spur trails that led to cliffs on either side of the ridge, but the ultimate overlook was at the end of the 1/2 mile trail. There, the ridge drops away and reveals a rolling landscape of cliffs and hills. Becca and I agreed this was our favorite place we visited. I think it was a combination of the peacefulness of the view and the area that really drew me in. I pulled out some Mary Oliver, and read a couple poems while gazing out over the expansive landscape.

Stop #5 - Buzzard Rock: Well… We actually didn’t stop here. I thought it would be well marked, but apparently it’s not. We drove past the unmarked trailhead twice, as we drove down into a holler on a gravel dirt road. We both agreed to get out of there asap so we didn’t disrupt someones moonshine operation and get chased out of there at gunpoint. Definitely put this one on your list though, and research it beforehand. Check out this link.

Stop #6 - Yahoo Falls: Yahoo Falls is one of the more popular falls in Kentucky, and is located in the northern Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. I’d seen a bunch of pictures and stories about it from a waterfalls and arches facebook group I’m a part of. There is a nice park area at the trailhead for the falls, complete with lots of spots to have a picnic or BBQ. The hike down to the falls was relatively easy and well marked. There are a lot of stairs to get down to the bottom of the falls, that might impede you if you can’t do stairs. The waterfall itself was beautiful and quaint. We went down to where the trail crossed the creek and gazed back up at the waterfall. It’s definitely a sight and worth checking out if you’re looking for something to do.

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Stop #7 - Alum Ford Campground: A couple miles down the road from Yahoo Falls is the Alum Ford Campground. There is a boat launch and a 6 spot primitive campground. It was perfect and everything we wanted. It was $6/ night for a campsite, first come first served. Each site had a picnic table, fire pit, bear food storage locker, and a leveled out gravel landing for a tent(s).

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Stop #8 - Devil’s Jump Overlook: In the morning we went to Devil’s Jump Overlook. This was one of my favorites. Rain had rolled in throughout the morning and was pelting us as we walked down the path to the overlook. It was an absolutely stunning overlook, where the river bends and exposes cliff lines on the opposite river banks. There is a rapid down in the river known as Devil’s Jump, which adds to the ambiance. The Big South Fork made this overlook handicap accessible, so it may get crowded on really nice days, but hit a gloomy rainy day like we did and you’ll have it all to yourself!

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After being soaked by the rain we went and got some brunch at the local Huddle House before driving back home. Want to see some of the same vistas?! You can get a head start on your adventure with my map below. You can toggle on the driving directions that we took with the sidebar on the left.

Happy Trails,

Nolan