Prospector’s Ridge - Hiking the “Grand Canyon of the South”
Take a drive along scenic country roads and switch back up the mountain for great day of hiking at Breaks Interstate Park in Breaks, Kentucky, sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the South.”
Remote and formerly inaccessible, the area that is now the Breaks Interstate Park was practically undiscovered by the public until after World War II when the coal-rich mountains began to be developed and roads were built. The 5-mile-long canyon that makes up the bulk of the park is among the deepest east of the Mississippi River, carved out of sandstone by the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River. The park gets its name from the local term for the passes though the mountains called "The Breaks." Known for spectacular views and thick tangles of rhododendron and mountain laurel, it makes for interesting hiking at any time of year and Prospector’s Trail gives a different perspective on the canyon than the rest of the trail system.
What Makes It Great
While modest in length, the mile and half Prospector Trail delivers big fun. Catch views of the canyon while ducking beneath the sandstone outcrops and winding your way around giant boulders. This trail twists around the base of the cliffs about 350 feet below the overlooks above, giving a different view of the canyon below. Surfaces are hard packed dirt and rock, and are maintained with steps, handrails and benches along the way making the hike accessible for most.
Anyone with an interest in geology or botany will have a field day here. 180 million years ago, a massive inland sea receded leaving fertile ground that has blossomed into a lush and diverse wonderland. In the spring and summer it is worth picking up a local plant guide and hunting along the trails edges for the two types of rhododendrons, ferns, galax, coltsfoot, tea berries, and a wide variety wildflower, fungi, and moss species that call the park home.
To add a little challenge to the day consider adding the River Trail which spurs off the Prospector Trail. A difficult one mile descent to the bottom of the gorge and that follows along the river. In autumn hikers are rewarded by getting to watch the rafters and kaykers play.
Make a full day or weekend out of it by combining a hike on the Prospector Trail with fishing, boating, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities offered by the park.
Who is Going to Love It
Botany enthusiasts of all kind will love an outing to Breaks Park with more than 60 species of trees and a wide variety of wildflowers to identify and enjoy. Most notable is the Dutchman's Breeches spring wildflower which grows along this path. The flower is only 6-12 inches in height and has white petals in the shape of loose trousers hanging upside down. Climbers who appreciate an interesting approach hike will want to choose the Prospector trail, as it winds through numerous rock outcrops a couple of warm up bouldering projects might be in order. Rock climbing is open in a total of 5 zones in the park and they have put together a complete list of climbing rules and guidelines.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
The park is located in northern Dickenson County, where Dickenson/Buchanan County, VA, and Pike County, KY, converge. From Haysi in northern Dickenson County, Take VA 80 eight miles north to the park entrance on the left.
All the trails in the park are color coded. Follow the orange blazes for the Prospector Trail.
Difficulty: (3) Moderately difficult, the trails follows along the contours of the land until it gets a bit rocky the last half mile or so.
Time to Complete: 2 hours
There is a patch of hiking along a steep embankment and a few rocky areas that require extra attention.
Distance: 1.5 Miles
A popular choice is to link the Prospectors Ridge Trail up with the Overlook Trail (.75 mile) to make for a nice 3 hour loop hike which will take visitors around much of the park and along the side and top of the ridge line.
Seasonality: (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
The park is open year-round to visitors, but it’s particularly spectacular from late May to July when the mountain laurel, magnolias and other native plants bloom profusely throughout the park.
Note the restaurant and some park activities aren’t available during certain times in the off-season and open hours can vary - it’s best to call prior to a visit to see what’s open.
Fees: A $2 day-use fee per car for admittance; $10 per bus (15-passenger or more). Season gate passes may be purchased at the Park Visitor Center for $26.
Dog Friendly? On leash only
GPS Coordinates: Lat: 37.2858170047 Lon: -82.2945729923