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Pine Mountain

Pine Mtn Trail
Little Shepherd Trail
Kingdom Come State Park
Lilly Cornett Woods
Kingdom Come Plateau
Cumberland Valley
Breaks Interstate Park
Pine Mountain State Park
Blanton State Forest
Bad Branch
Big South Fork National Recreation Area Kentucky Ridge State Forest Pine Mountain Settlement School Kentenia State Forest

There is not a lot of lodging on or along Pine Mountain. The mountain itself is state or federal land, and the area at its base is remote and rural. Most visitors come to hike and backpack and consider camping part of that experience. And the camping here is among the best in the nation. However, the few lodging options are excellent, and they're spaced out from one end of the mountain to the other so that no matter what part of it you choose to explore, there's good lodging in that vacinity. Rates are reasonable. The only problem is you have to make reservations well in advance. None of these facilities are large. In Spring and Fall they fill up on weekends and during the Summer they fill up every night. Most of them also include restaurants.

Beginning on the Eastern end of the mountain, there are excellent accommodations at The Breaks Interstate Park. Shown here is a cabin on the lake. These feature screened in hot tubs, three bedrooms, living room gas log fireplaces, complete kitchens, washers, dryers and flat screen TVs. Up on the hill are smaller but still very nice two bedroom units. One bedroom contains a queen sized bed. The other bedroom contains bunk beds for the kids. There are fully equipped kitchens and cozy living rooms but no fireplaces. The main lodge sits on the edge of the Russell Fork Gorge, known as The Grand Canyon of the East. Each of the 81 rooms has a patio looking out over spectacular scenery. There are suites available with kitchenettes but there's also a very good restaurant. There's also excellent camping. The 138 sites are split between spacious tent sites either on grass or in the woods, or fully equipped RV sites, with a well stocked store and laundry facilities. The Pine Mountain Trail begins here, so this is a fine place to stay either the night before or the night after you backpack it.

If your focus is either Kingdom Come State Park or the historic coal country attractions, the Benham Schoolhouse Inn is your best bet. The high school was closed in 1992 (the kids are now bused to Harlan County High School). The building was lovingly converted to an inn. The former gymnasium is now the Apple Room Restaurant. The 30 former classrooms are now guest rooms, half of which have gas log fireplaces. You check in at the original school office. The original green lockers still line the hallways, and the original hardwood floors are still in place. This is an odd experience but you'll talk about it for a long time. Benham is in a deep valley looking up to the north at Pine Mountain and to the immediate south at Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky at 4145 feet. The Schoolhouse Inn is right across the street from the Kentucky Coal Museum, a half day experience in its own right.

Laurel House is a lodge on the north slope of Pine Mountain at Pine Mtn Settlement School, just off Route 221 in the northeast corner of Harlan County. Even though the building is historic the facilities inside have been kept up to date. Arrangements have to be made ahead of time because the office closes at 4 pm. The campus is worth visiting in its own right, particularly for Old Log and the Chapel. There's a nature preserve right next to Laurel House, trails go up to the Pine Mountain Trail, and an access road winds up to the Little Shepherd Trail. Route 510 heads East along the base of Pine Mountain into the heart of the Kingdom Come Plateau. You can come down from Hyden on Route 421 and turn left onto 221; come down 7, 699 and 221 through Leatherwood from Hazard; over 221 from Pineville; or West on 510 from Kingdom Come State Park. Regardless, gas up at Hyden, Hazard, Pineville or Cumberland, and allow plenty of time, because all these roads are narrow and winding and if you meet school buses or coal or log trucks it'll be a tight squeeze. Pine Mountain Settlement School runs a fine dining hall but it's only open when groups are visiting the school. This is almost every week during the school year, and they run various camps all Summer, but if there's no camp in session you'll need to cook your own meals. There are picnic tables outside but no store within an hour's drive, so you'll need to bring your own stove, fuel and groceries.

Herndon Evans Lodge at Pine Mountain State Park just above Pineville has 30 very nice rooms with great views looking South toward Cumberland Mountain and Cumberland Gap. The park entrance is on Route 25E just south of Pineville and the road up the mountain is four miles long. There's a good restaurant in the lodge. You can also rent cabins here. There are nine one bedroom log cabins with stone fireplaces and decks. Or there are 11 two bedroom cottages. Both cabins and cottages have outdoor grilles. The two bedroom units have full kitchen amenities. There's a nice pool, a miniature golf course, hiking trails, deer wandering the premises, and mountain air cool enough that on most Summer nights you won't need the air conditioning. This is the closest Pine Mountain lodging to Lexington and the most luxurious accommodations, although it's still rustic and isolated and not what you would find at a Holiday Inn.

If you were to backpack the entire Pine Mountain ridge and come down at the far western flank, you would reach America's Best Value Inn at Jellico. Right on I-75 at the Kentucky-Tennessee line, this motel has 46 rooms, free internet and an outdoor pool. It's not fancy, but it's clean and well run and rates are reasonable even in the peak Summer season. You could drive down, stay one night at Pine Mountain State Park, and your ride could head back to Lexington. The following weekend they could pick you up in Jellico, spend a night, and head home.

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