Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Has Something for Everyone

While exploring Southeastern Kentucky from Berea, Kentucky’s craft capital, to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park tap your toes to mountain music, learn about America’s earliest history, marvel at the works of talented craftspeople, go canoeing along wild rivers, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Called the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway, the route starts south of Lexington and follows US 25 and KY 229. It is designated a National Scenic Byway.

The Kentucky Artisan Center

The Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea opened in 2003 and promotes the creativity of Kentucky’s artisans. The artistic versatility of Kentuckians is evidenced in Joanne Hobb’s unique goose-feather Christmas trees, Bybee pottery that has been made continuously since the time of Thomas Jefferson, the amazingly light, wooden hats fashioned by Chris Ramsey, and the whimsical Yardbirds created from scrap metal by Richard Kolb.

Kentucky’s First Race Track

Built in 1794 in the Flemish bond pattern for greater strength, the Georgian-style William Whitley House, located near Stanford, was the first brick house built west of the Alleghany Mountains. Dubbed the “Guardian of Wilderness Road,” the house was a gathering spot for early Kentuckians, including George Rogers Clark and Daniel Boone. The peaceful setting belies the fact that the house has secret “hidey” chambers designed to provide safety in case of an Indian attack.

The earliest horse racetrack in Kentucky is on the property and was unique because it was the first circular track and had a clay surface instead of turf as was common at the time. It is felt that the American practice of racing counterclockwise began at this track in response to anti-British feeling at the time. The British raced in a clockwise direction.

Rockcastle River

See Southeastern Kentucky the way the early settlers saw it – wild and pristine. Canoe the Upper Rockcastle River that runs through the heart of Daniel Boone National Forest. Surrounded by undeveloped countryside, the Rockcastle River is one of five state-protected “wild rivers.” There is slow moving water where the scenery can be enjoyed between the thrills of shooting the rapids.

Renfro Valley

Since 1939, Renfro Valley, Kentucky’s Country Music Capital, has been the venue for the famous and soon-to-be famous country performers. It is one of the three oldest country music establishments in the U.S. along with the Grand Ol’ Opry and Branson, Missouri. Today, along with it’s signature Sunday morning show, “The Gatherin’”, there are weekly shows, concerts with big-name headlines, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and the Bittersweet Cabin Museum.

Moonbows at the Niagara of the South

Near Corbin, on clear night, when there is a full moon, witness a moon bow at Cumberland Falls. It is a phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. Known as the “Niagara of the South,” the 125-foot- wide falls is dramatic even in the daylight when rainbows are common. Besides the waterfalls there are 17 miles of scenic hiking trails, fishing, golf, rafting, and other activities along with a variety of lodging.

Golfing in Kentucky

Kentucky’s State Parks are a wonderful mix of nature, history, and recreation. Pine Mountain State Park, Kentucky’s first state park, is home to a championship 18-hole golf course, Wasioto Winds, designed by Michael Hurdzan, Ph.D., and includes a first-rate First Tee youth golf development program. Every one of the lodge’s accommodations has a balcony affording sublime views of Kentucky Ridge State Forest, the perfect place to unwind after a day of hiking, swimming, and golf.

Coal is Kentucky’s Black Gold

For many Kentuckians life was determined by coal. In Benham, a former company town of the Wisconsin Steel Corporation, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum features exhibits detailing the history of coal mining, daily life in a coal camp, and memorabilia from the career of a “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Loretta Lynn. The museum is located in a building where many miners “owed their soul to the country store.” Nearby in Lynch, a new multimedia exhibition, Portal 31, features a ride through the coal mine tunnels with state-of-the-art robotrons describing the mining process.

Cumberland Gap National Park

The Historic Hensley Settlement at Cumberland Gap National Park preserves a time when life was simpler but difficult. The lanes are still fence-lined, but the blacksmith shop is quiet, the spring house has no vittles, and the one-room schoolhouse is no longer needed. In 1904, Sherman Hensley and Willie Gibbons moved high up on isolated Brush Mountain creating a self-sufficient settlement that thrived for 40 years before it was finally abandoned in the 1950s. It is a firsthand look at early life in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The historic Cumberland Gap on the Wilderness Road is visible from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park’s Pinnacle Overlook. It is through this gap that buffaloes and war parties traversed the mountains, and where Daniel Boone led adventurous settlers over the saddle of the Appalachian Mountains to a new life in Kentucky. Videos vividly recount the history of the area including Boone’s life. Ranger-led hikes and activities are available.

Leave a Comment