Family on horseback overlooks foggy Appalachian mountains

Kentucky Appalachians Region

Explore this eastern Kentucky region rich with country music history and heritage, gorgeous natural attractions including the Appalachian Mountains and charming communities dotting the hills. See where famous stars were born along the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway before they shared their musical talents with the world, explore historical sights and museums, then relax and enjoy nature. Below we’ve highlighted a few of the many towns and attractions in the region to help you plan your next road trip!

Must-see attractions

Road view of U.S. 23 Country Music Highway

U.S. 23 Country Music Highway

Eastern Kentucky is the birthplace of several country music stars, and home to the U.S. 23: Country Music Highway, producing more hit country music stars than any other region per capita. Start your musical journey in Ashland at the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center and find the Country Music Highway crazy quilt mural in Art Alley. Travel south to the “Music Capital of Kentucky,” small town Paintsville in Johnson County to the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum. Venture over to Van Lear to Loretta Lynn’s birthplace and family home – Butcher Holler. Explore the two Pikeville sites: the Appalachian Wireless Arena and The Appalachian Center for the Arts

Trailhead with signs in Royalton

Trail Towns

The Kentucky Appalachians region is home to four Kentucky Trail Towns, places where travelers can find supplies and guides for outdoor adventures, lodging, a hearty meal and a friendly hello. Elkhorn City has some of the area’s best whitewater rapids, especially after a dam release pumps the rapids up to class V. Nestled in the northern part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, Morehead has more than 100 miles of multi-use trails. The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, the state’s longest trail, runs down Main Street. In Olive Hill, Tygarts Creek running through downtown offers floating and paddling opportunities. Royalton features the state’s longest Rails to Trails Project, the Dawkins Line Rail Trail. The trail cuts through the center of town and is a favorite for hikers, equestrians and bikers with a bike shop located next to the trailhead. 

Bourbon balls being boxed up at Ruth Hunt Candies
Mt. Sterling-Montgomery County Tourism

Ruth Hunt Candies

Visit Ruth Hunt Candies in Mt. Sterling for a behind-the-scenes tour. The business is celebrating 100 years of shaping Kentucky’s confectionary history in 2021! Watch as Blue Monday pulled candy cream bars, Woodford Reserve Bourbon Balls and other candies are made, then find some goodies to take home with you. 

Cats performance at Paramount Arts Center in Ashland

Paramount Arts Center

Take in a show at the Paramount Arts Center in downtown Ashland. The theatre was originally designed to show motion pictures, and has been used as a venue for a variety of performances since its opening in 1931. Since 1972, the center has operated as a non-profit organization offering the best of the performing arts through education, entertainment and cultural experiences while showcasing a unique historic landmark. 

Forest view of Carter Caves State Resort Park near Olive Hill

State Parks

This region is also home to several Kentucky State Parks. At Greenup Lake State Resort Park, boat, fish or paddle on the 225-acre lake, then hike, bike or horseback ride on 28 miles of trails. Go on an underground tour of one of the many caves, rappel and rock climb at Carter Caves State Resort Park. At Grayson Lake State Park, kayak to Grotto Falls, hike to Lick Falls Overlook and fish the 1,512-acre lake. The Yatesville Lake State Park in Louisa offers fun for the whole family with birding, boating, camping fishing, golfing and hiking. At Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, take a seasonal elk viewing tour, tour the nature center and explore the miles of multi-use trails at Sugarcamp Mountain or the Dawkins Line Rail Trail. Called a “Grand Canyon of the South,” the Breaks Interstate Park has the Russell Fork running through the heart of it, offering whitewater rafting and other outdoor adventures. 

Well bucket artifact from the Hatfield & McCoy feud

Hatfields & McCoys History

Learn about the notorious Hatfield and McCoy families and their infamous feud. Start in downtown Pikeville to take the self-guided Hatfields & McCoys Feud Historic Driving Tour and explore local history. Visit the Randolph McCoy Homeplace and Well, gravesites of family members, monuments and statues for both families, feud artifacts and other historic feud sites. 

Sunny day at Cave Run Lake near Morehead

Cave Run Lake

Just outside of Morehead is Cave Run Lake, known as the “Musky Capital of the South.” The 8,270-acre lake is a popular spot for fishing as well as equestrians and mountain bikers who enjoy the 100-mile trail system surrounding the 200 miles of shoreline. Plus the Cave Run Lake Loop is a great way for motorcyclists to take in the natural scenery.

Port of Ashland sculptures
Visit Ashland, KY

Public Art

Public art abounds in eastern Kentucky towns, with sculptures, murals and other art installations in small and large towns throughout the region. Don’t miss the Port of Ashland sculptures along the river in Ashland! The three bronze sculptures – Venus, Genesis and Vulcan – are by world-renowned artist Gines Serran-Pagan and represent the culture and industrial history of the city. The eye-catching Gateway Regional Arts Center on Main Street in Mt. Sterling features colorful doors, monthly art exhibits and programs, musical and theatrical performances and an art shop. Just one block down is the colorful Umbrella Alley, aptly named because of the umbrella art installation, but also adorned with murals. 

Family horseback ride in the Appalachian Mountains

Horseback riding through the Appalachian Mountains

Breathtaking mountain views await! One of the best ways to explore the Appalachian Mountains is on horseback. Book a trail ride on a scenic horse trail in Pikeville with Muddy Boots. Choose from a short, medium or long tour led by an experienced guide on gentle, trained horses. Or if you have your own horse, check out the miles of trails in the area. Other towns in the region, including Prestonsburg, Morehead and Olive Hill offer horseback riding trails, too. 

Interior of Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore & Gift Shop

Local bookstores

Looking to brush up on local history? What better place to do so than at a local bookstore? The Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore and Gift Shop in Ashland was established by local author Jesse Stuart. The foundation serves as a regional publisher and bookseller republishing his out-of-print works along with other books about Appalachian history and culture. CoffeeTree Books in Morehead offers some great local and state books, as do other small shops throughout the region.

Aerial view of Carter Caves State Resort Park at sunset

More information about the region