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Music & Nature Meet in KY’s Eastern Highlands



By Kathy Witt

Three words: mountains, lakes, music.

Here, in the 15-county Eastern Highlands North region of Kentucky, is one of the richest vocal gold mines anywhere in the country: the 144-mile Country Music Highway, a National Scenic Byway that winds through the Appalachian hills and hollows – from Greenup County to Pikeville and Ashland to Mt. Sterling – each mile connected like a note in a country music or bluegrass tune.

A Region in Harmony

It is a place of legendary names: Loretta Lynn, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Billy Ray Cyrus, Dwight Yoakam, Larry Cordle, Keith Whitley, Hylo Brown. At least one country music star has hailed from each county in the part of Kentucky, stretching from the Ohio border north to the Virginia border south.

At the top of your list should be a stop at Butcher Hollow in Van Lear to see the Loretta Lynn Homeplace, where Lynn grew up and sister Crystal Gail was born. The historic shanty sits in the mountains beyond “Silk Stocking Row” (where coal company bosses and their wives once lived) and near the opening of Mine Number 5, where Lynn’s daddy “shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar.”

It is a place of ruggedly dramatic landscapes, a paean to the handiwork of Mother Nature, with no less than six state parks: Carter Caves, Greenbo Lake, Yatersville Lake, Paintsville Lake, Jenny Wiley and Breaks Interstate.

Here, too, is the outdoor adventure paradise Cave Run Lake in Daniel Boone National Forest and the engineering marvel Pikeville Cut-Through and its mountaintop overlook. You can picnic here, enjoying splendid views, playgrounds and a five-mile hiking trail.

Land of Feuds & Fun

You’ve heard of their famous feud; now see the monuments, gravesites and homeplaces that figure into the narrative of the Hatfields and McCoys – even Asa Harmon McCoy’s bed at the Big Sandy Heritage Center. Do yourself a favor and buy the audio driving tour – it really enriches the experience as you follow the timeline of the ever-escalating feud.

Ruth Tharpe Hunt took a different path to fame. As confectioner extraordinaire, she is the name behind Ruth Hunt Candies in Mt. Sterling, famous since 1921 for Kentucky Pulled Cream Candy and Bourbon Balls, but most especially for the Blue Monday Bar, a decadent concoction of a Kentucky Pulled Cream Candy center covered in rich, dark chocolate. It’s the perfect sweet treat for any road trip through the region.

Arts and history aficionados will want to visit the US 23 Country Music Highway Museum; the historic Paramount Arts Center, made famous as the site of the filming of Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” video back in 1992; and Mountain Homeplace, which winds the clock back to 1850s Appalachia.

Unique attractions include Steen Cannons in Ashland, one of the few authentic cannon reproduction companies in the world; StoneCrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg, which stretches out on reclaimed strip mining land on a mountaintop; and Ashland’s Central Park, a 47-acre jewel that is home to fountains, gardens, 1,100 identified trees, an ice rink (November through mid-March) and Adena Indian Burial Mounds.

Add your voice to the song that fills Kentucky’s Eastern Highlands North region. For more information on its music, mountains and lakes, visit

If You Go

Big Sandy Heritage Center, 606-218-6050, website

Breaks Interstate Park, 276-865-4413, website

Carter Caves State Resort Park, 606-286-4411, website

Cave Run Lake, 859-745-3100, website

Greenbo Lake State Resort Park, 606-473-7324, website

Hatfields and McCoys Driving Tour, 800-844-7453, website

Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, 606-889-1790, website

Loretta Lynn Homeplace, 606-789-3397, website

Mountain Homeplace, 606-297-1850, website

Paintsville Lake State Park, 606-297-8486, website

Paramount Arts Center, 606-324-3175, website 

Pikeville Cut-Through, 800-844-7453, website

Ruth Hunt Candies, 800-927-0302, website

Steen Cannons, 606-326-1188, website

StoneCrest Golf Course, 606-886-1006, website

US 23 Country Music Highway Museum, 606-297-1469, website

Yatersville Lake State Park, 606-673-1490, website