Boasting magnificent natural landscapes, Pine Mountain State Park is regarded as one of the finest parks Kentucky has to offer. Located on 1,500 acres along the crest and south facing slope of Pine Mountain, it also encompasses the area adjacent to Kentucky Ridge State Forest. Much of Kentuckys’ First State Park, also serves as a dedicated State Nature Preserve since its inception in 1926 guarding tracts of a precious old growth hemlock forest.
This park is most famous for a very large chunk of mountain rock that appears to be balancing at an angle, about to topple over onto the town of Pineville. In 1933, the "Chained Rock Club”, aided by a pack of mules, dragged a 1.5 ton steamboat chain up to the top of the mountain and connected it to the rock, creating this areas first roadside attraction, Chained Rock.
We spent our entire first day exploring this park, hiking the scenic trails starting near the bottom of the mountain while slowly working our way up. From admiring the small stream of Honeymoon Falls, hiking the Laurel Cove Trail to find Powderhorn Arch, and finally taking a leisurely stroll through a 200 year old forest surrounding the prehistoric rock shelter, Rock Hotel. We saved the iconic hike to view Chained Rock for the start of our last day visiting Pine Mountain.
Waking bright and early, we were greeted by a dense fog so thick we could barely make out the cabin next to us just a few hundred yards away. It was just the sight I was hoping for, as I was really looking forward to getting some photos of fog rolling through the valley on our way up to Chained Rock. Along one of the many overlooks heading up towards the top of the mountain, I pulled off to witness exactly just that. The sight left me giddy with excitement.
Once we arrived at the Chained Rock Trailhead parking lot, I headed off in the direction of the Pineville Overlook, just up the hill. From this vantage point, its easy to see just how secluded this small town is, surrounded by sprawling mountain ranges on all sides and the Cumberland River flowing right through its front door. What set Pineville apart from all of the other smaller outposts along the 200 mile long Wilderness Road, is its location within "The Narrows", the only breach of the mountains formidable features. Following along the banks of the Cumberland River from Virginia, pioneers were able to easily cross the shallow waters of the Cumberland Ford in the area adjacent to the present day city of Pineville.
Leaving the overlook, we made our way down the steep staircase in the direction of the hiking trails. From here, the trail to Chained Rock is supposedly 0.5 miles, but it seems almost double that. Many fellow hikers on several outdoor platforms made the same remark, so I was glad to not be the only one.
There are so many features along this trail that maybe all of the stop-and-go, trying to check everything out, was really responsible for the trail seeming longer. This path winds its way through several large boulder fields, eventually reaching a long staircase following a small cascading stream.
Reaching the bottom of a small ravine, we found ourselves in a large rest area, where this trail meets the north end of the Laurel Cove Trail. To the front lay a behemoth sized boulder, no doubt a part of the mountain top. Just across from that, a small bridge led over a creek into a slanted roof rock shelter, marking the beginning of the descent onto Laurel Cove. After exploring this area for some time, we walked the last few hundred yards down a winding staircase, dropping us off right edge of the mountain.
Stepping through the thick woodland brush, as we climbed up the carved stone steps, the first thing one feels is the warmness of the morning sun whilst the cool mountain breeze caresses your face as it brushes past. We finally made it, and it was more beautiful than we could have imagined it. To the left lay a steep cliff, part of the ridge that makes up the stone landmark. We decided to climb it, doing our best to stay low and avoid the strong winds, in order to get a better view of the surrounding valley.
Although the angle of the climb was quite steep, it was not as scary as it looked. My two young children managed it without a single issue, and even seemed to revel in the act of doing something so daring. Once on top of the ridge, the views really began to open up as far as the eye could see. We spotted large cloud banks receding farther north into the valley, escaping the suns warming rays. Behind us, an even better shot of Pineville than we saw from the overlook earlier.
Directly below us though, was the star of the show, Chained Rock. The massive stone block really seemed to be teetering on the brink of falling over, despite the fact that it is fully attached to the mountain. Its heavy, rusted chain stretched out across a wide moat, connecting the rock to the mountainside just a few feet in front of us. Even though the links weight only 7 pounds each, the total sum of the chain equals over a thousand pounds.
Heading back down the cliff, I made my way back on the dirt path leading over to the slanted rock at the edge of the mountain. A slip on this trail can easily turn deadly. A large, fading placard in front of Chained Rock explained the history of the landmark. Just beside it, another dirt trail, hidden from above, led behind the mountain cliff into a small rock shelter.
This is the bottom of the moat which the chain traverses over, on its way to the mountain above us. The trail cuts a steep and slippery path between the cliffs edge and mountain above, to come out on the ridge we originally climbed onto.
I don’t know that we would have enjoyed this hike as much, had we not saved it for last. It was a truly spectacular experience to reach the summit first thing in the morning and enjoy the scenery all by ourselves. Originally, I planned on being here with the valley fully immersed in a thick cover of morning fog, but it was still a magical experience nonetheless. I was glad to be able to share this experience with the people closest to me, and show them why I keep chasing the call to adventure. For as long as the mountains keep calling…... I will continue to go.