By Kathy Witt
Mountains, forests, ancient stone arches, raw beauty. This is exactly the place one would expect to find pioneer and coal-mining history alongside outdoor adventures like whitewater rafting, rock climbing, zip lining, hiking, fishing and ATV riding.
Welcome to Daniel Boone’s former stomping grounds and the rugged grandeur of Kentucky’s Eastern Highlands South region. Stretching over 18 counties in the southeastern part of the state this is where, 150 years ago, inexperienced soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies fought fiercely at Camp Wildcat Civil War Battlefield and, today, where wild elk roam – and lots of ‘em!
Just like Boone himself nearly 240 years ago, adventurers come to drink in the region’s pristine, natural beauty. Cumberland Falls, where on some moonlit nights you can see a moonbow arc over falls called the “Niagara of the South” … Cumberland Gap, the “first great gateway to the west” … and within the 708,000-acre Daniel Boone National Forest, the geologic marvels of Red River Gorge with its 80-plus natural stone arches and Natural Bridge with its massive, million-year-old sandstone arch.
Scrapbook-worthy photos guaranteed!
But not all of the region’s breathtaking sights are above ground. At Portal 31 – the world’s largest coal camp nearly a century ago – visitors can don a coal miner’s protective gear and head underground to tour a coal mine by rail car. This historic complex also includes a 1920s lamphouse, bathhouse, L&N train depot and a memorial to those who died in mining accidents.
Also here is Kentucky Reptile Zoo and its wide-ranging collection of animals, including Fluffy the alligator. Two of its residents, the reticulated python and gaboon viper, sound so fearsome that the prairie rattlesnake sounds downright folksy by comparison. Don’t get too close! This is one of the world’s largest collections of venomous snakes – and one of the few places you can watch a live venom extraction.
Don’t get so swept away by the region’s natural splendor that you miss its musical charms, though. The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum honors the state’s storied music traditions and its distinguished contributors, including pioneers Bill Monroe, Tom T. Hall, Rosemary Clooney and Loretta Lynn, among others.
At Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, hear everything from gospel jubilees and country music jamborees to tribute shows featuring industry giants like Roy Orbison and Willie Nelson to the last Barn Dance Show playing in the United States, a merry mix of comedy and traditional country, Southern gospel and mountain bluegrass music.
If you have an appetite for nostalgia, head to the Harland Sanders Museum and Café in Corbin. Kentucky Fried Chicken is now served in 110 countries, but it all began here more than 70 years ago with a determined Colonel and a secret Original Recipe® blend of 11 herbs and spices. There’s a great photo op with the kindly Southern gent, always resplendent in white.
See the natural beauty that has mesmerized explorers to the region since Daniel Boone first pushed through the Cumberland Gap. For more information about places to visit and things to do, call 800-348-0095 or visit www.laurelkytourism.com.
If You Go
Camp Wildcat Civil War Battlefield, 606-864-9776, website
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, 606-528-4121, website
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, 606-248-2817, website
Daniel Boone National Forest, 859-745-3100, website
Harland Sanders Museum and Café, 606-528-2163, website
Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum, 877-356-3263, website
Kentucky Reptile Zoo, 606-663-9160, website
London-Laurel County Tourist Commission, 800-348-0095, website
Natural Bridge State Resort Park, 606-663-2214, website
Portal 31 Museum and Underground Mine Tour, 606-848-1530, website
Red River Gorge Geological Area, 859-745-3100, website
Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, 800-765-7464, website