Editor’s note: The 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention will hold its annual meeting this November in the heart of Appalachia. This article is part of a series looking at some of the things Kentucky Baptists might want to see and experience in the days before and after the annual meeting.
PIKEVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Look any direction from the rim of what has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the South,” and you see only tall, rugged mountains towering skyward.
Stand on one of the overlooks atop those mountains, and you see one of the deepest canyons in the eastern United States, preserved in Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky-Virginia border, 30 miles southeast of Pikeville.
The Breaks is one of a litany of parks that showcase the beauty of the Appalachians with hiking trails that give you an closeup view of the mountain splendor, of lakes and streams for fishing and boating, of campgrounds, cabins and lodges for extended stays.
“If you want to envision what the area looked like to the early explorers and settlers, the Breaks is as good an example of untouched wilderness as you’re going to find in central Appalachia,” said park Superintendent Austin Bradley. “All around the park is just extremely rugged and beautiful terrain, and really, the ruggedness and inaccessibility of the terrain is what has protected the Breaks all these years.”
The famous frontiersman Daniel Boone is credited with discovering the Breaks in 1767. Drawn by its majestic beauty, tourists have been rediscovering it for more than 200 years. It consists of 4,500 acres of unspoiled Appalachian wilderness with trails for day hiking and plenty of spots to rest weary heads at night.
The Breaks park also is a starting point for long-distance hikers to explore the Appalachians on the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which stretches more than 100 miles to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park just outside Middlesboro on where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge.
The rise in popularity of eco-tourism and adventure tourism has been a boon for the Breaks park, which was recent features in National Geographic Adventures as one of the five adventure lodges where, Bradley explained, visitors can have adventure without breaking the bank.
“We have put a real emphasis on eco-tourism and adventure tourism,” he said. “We’ve developed a collection of adventure-based activity, whitewater rafting, kayaking, guided horseback riding, mountain bike rentals, paddleboats, canoe rentals on lake, fishing, a waterpark, and, because we’re right in the middle of the Kentucky and Virginia elk restoration zone, we lead elk viewing excursions. By the way, we have a 100 percent success rate with those. We’ve never taken a trip without seeking elk. We’ve added a zipline that goes from overlook to overlook along the rim o the gorge, providing a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise get.”
Other parks offer similarly beautiful scenery and focus on the historical and cultural importance of the region.
Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, named for a pioneer woman who survived captivity by native Americas, is 30 minutes north of Pikeville. Kingdom Come State Park, about 60 miles southwest of Pikeville, got its name from the 1903 novel The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by the late Kentucky writer John Fox Jr.
Yet others are named for their chief features: Carter Caves, Cumberland Falls, Natural Bridge and Pine Mountain, Buckhorn Lake, Yatesville Lake, and Greenbo Lake state resort parks.