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, 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. 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.
Whatever the reason for visiting this state park, the accommodations here are plentiful, as you have your choice of either staying in the 30 room lodge, which acts as a hotel, or staying in one of the 20 cottages nearby. For those not terribly interested in the outdoors, this resort also has a swimming pool, golf course and mini golf course. The park offers 12 miles of hiking trails, some of which lead to spectacular natural landmarks such as Chained Rock, Powderhorn Arch, Rock Hotel, and Honeymoon Falls, just to name a few.
One can’t escape the jaw dropping beauty of these mountains, even from the comfort of the lodge. Head on over to the second floor dining room and on a clear day, your eyes can gaze out over 12 miles away along the Log Mountain valley, stretching out into Tennessee. Many of the hiking trails are located just a short distance from here, so after checking into our cottage, we headed off along the main road to begin our adventure filled weekend.
After much debate, we decided our first hike would be to locate Honeymoon Falls. The trailhead lies along the main road, just past the intersection leading to the cottage area. First you’ll pass the return trail, so continue a few hundred feet until you reach the sign pointed uphill towards the falls, just across from a grassy pull off where we parked our car. As the central feature of this trail, Honeymoon Falls is the best known waterfall in Pine Mountain State Park.
This 1.50 mile trail begins its uphill climb while following a deeply cut ravine. A dam, situated at the start of the trail, serves to control the creeks flow as it descends into the valley below. After climbing up several earthen trestle steps we reached the first of several creek crossings along a fresh pine bridge. This dense hemlock, rhododendron, and mountain laurel forest is quite overgrown and in need of a little TLC. Stacks of previously cut fallen trees litter our path on both sides.
As we slowly work our way up, the hillsides raise higher and higher above us until we encounter ourselves amidst towering boulders and rock shelters along the creeks edge. With only a bit of dappled sunlight peeking through the overhead canopy, not many wildflowers flourish here with the exception of culvers root and some blazing, red cardinal flower. While taking a closer look at some of the wildflowers, I stumbled onto one of the most peculiar wild mushrooms I have ever seen.
Coral Fungus can be found growing in woodland leaf litter or in mossy grassland. Its habit of growing by extending itself through branching, give it the similar appearance of underwater coral. This variety was a pale off-white, but others can range from neon purple to magenta. They’re found growing pretty commonly at the base of beech trees, just like this one. Several feet ahead we discovered what at first looked like a Chanterelle, but later decided it to possibly be a Blueing Bolete.
After crossing a small stream by jumping from rock to rock, we began another uphill climb. We could hear the splashing and rushing sounds of water as we turned a bend to discover the falls in a ravine beside us. The water pouring over the cliffs edge seems to appear from out of nowhere. Its a little hard to describe the scene here as the small, boomerang shaped canyon is unusually shaped. Below and beside the falls are several small caves that cut deep beneath the hillside, creating a sizable rock shelter.
Even though the water is pouring steadily over the edge, its splash is nothing more than a mild trickle on the stones below. At 25 feet, its nearly half the size of its larger neighbor Moonshine Falls, which is hidden a little further up this trail. Walking behind the falling water, peeking into the caverns, we made our way up the rock shelter onto some towering boulders.
From up here, you get a much better appreciation for just how secluded this area is. It all fits neatly tucked into a small bowl shaped canyon that would make it an ideal place for a small Native American village to exist. This area of eastern Kentucky is well known for its cliff dwellings that were once used as burial grounds by early Native peoples.
From here, the trail continues another 0.75 miles, looping back towards the main road. Around the halfway mark, you can opt to take a shortcut via the Devils Gulch, or even take a detour onto Fern Garden Trail.
The trails in this area are all intertwined and can easily be joined together for an entire day of hiking. Next up we will be headed up to hike the short, but exciting trail to Rock Hotel in the upper reaches of Pine Mountain. Stay tuned and see y’all on the trails!