Big Holler

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Tips & Resources

SOME OF THE COUNTIES in this region never got around to repealing Prohibition, so expect to go through some dry spells during your stay. For travel information, contact the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association (877-868-7735,, which serves as a clearinghouse for local tourism boards in the region.

ROUTE: Manchester to Breaks Interstate Park, Kentucky
ROADS: Daniel Boone Parkway, Kentucky 118, U.S. 421, U.S. 119, Kentucky 805, Kentucky 197, Kentucky 80
MILES: 175

This is not the Kentucky of white fences, manicured horse farms, and mint-julep parties. This is the Kentucky of Daniel Boone, Appalachia, and the 3,000-foot Cumberland Mountains, a serrated plateau of sheer ridgelines and deep valleys. The friendly folks you meet will immediately peg you as a "furriner," and any attempt at blending in will be futile at best. Just relax and enjoy the sinuous stretches of narrow two-lane as they wind alongside lowland streams running through what you might be tempted to call gullies or ravines but Kentucky locals fondly dub "hollers." After a few days, you'll know why the local "mountaineers" wouldn't dream of trading places with you, city boy.

Mountain Biking the Redbird Crest Trail: This 52-mile loop traverses the Daniel Boone National Forest west of Hyden. Strenuous climbs open onto ridgetop vistas, and multiple trailheads let you tackle smaller sections, but watch out for the ATVs and motorbikes that share the doubletrack trails. (Redbird Ranger District Office, (606-598-2192,
Hiking Bad Branch State Nature Preserve: Ten miles southeast of Whitesburg, off U.S. 119, the 7.4-mile High Rocks loop takes you through mixed hemlock and hardwood forest and past the cooling spray of 60-foot Bad Branch Falls as you make your way to the summit of 3,273-foot Pine Mountain. (502-573-2886,
Paddling Breaks Interstate Park: The Russell Fork River runs through The Breaks, a 1,600-foot-deep, five-mile-long gorge—the largest canyon east of the Mississippi. Come October, when water is released from Virginia's Flannagan Dam, Class IV-V rapids form in the gorge, and playboaters descend en masse. (Breaks Interstate Park, 800-982-5122,

Home to high ceilings and classically furnished guest rooms, the brick Benham School House Inn was built by Wisconsin Steel in 1926 as a school for coal miners' children. (Doubles, $70; 800-231-0627,

Feast family style at the Wendover Big House, a 1925 log cabin four miles south of Hyden where it's five bucks for all-you-can-eat vittles—biscuits, 'kraut and wieners, corn bread, cole slaw, and sweet tea. (606-672-2317,

At Pikeville's Hatfield-McCoy Festival (June 12-15), featuring Appalachia's famous feuding families, you'll find everything from world-class quilts to unmatched banjo picking and clogging. For details, contact Pikeville Tourism (800-844-7453) or

Tune in to "the Voice of the Hillbilly Nation," Whitesburg's WMMT 88.7 FM, for homegrown bluegrass.