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Pine Mountain State Resort Park (The First State Park in Kentucky)

 

Laurel Cove Trail to Chained Rock Overlook

 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

 

 

 

Soapbox – feel free to ignore:

 

I don’t know why it is, because I’m already extremely conscientious of how I act toward others while no one else on the road seems to give a damn, yet on every one of these drives the Lord seems to feel the need to remind me again of what I think he wants me to do – assist in destressing people.  That’s because on every drive I seem to have a string of ridiculous encounters with other drivers who are either too obsessed with reaching their destination as quickly as possible or who are too stressed out to realize or care how their actions affect others on the road.  Why do I constantly need to be reminded of this, and why am I cursed to be so darned sensitive to it?  It’s already driving me to distraction (no pun intended!)!  Guess I’ll just have to deal, won’t I?   This life isn’t supposed to be fair and I’m sure the Lord wouldn’t put me through this if he didn’t think I could handle it.  ‘Nuff said…

 

Stepping off now:

 

 

I hesitate to mention it, but this was not the trip that I’d at first intended for today.  In fact, as I do mention it, I’m a little embarrassed!  This trip wouldn’t play “second fiddle” to any I’ve ever done!  It’s one sweetheart of a hike!  In fact, this entire location is pretty amazing.  There’s a really unique amphitheater to check out, an endearing little creek to walk up and through, and an outstanding vista as impressive as any I’ve ever seen.

 

Originally, though, I was headed out to the Cumberland Gap to do the Pinnacle Trail from the Sugar Run Recreation Area.  When I arrived out at that trailhead, however, I was told by a ranger that the trail was closed due to ice storm damage.  Although the number of downed and cut trees by the side of the road was obvious to me on my return, I had not noticed it on the drive in (I’m beginning to think that I’m so overcome with anticipation as I near my trip destinations that I’m almost totally oblivious to certain details of my drive!).

 

Anyway, while Northern Kentucky had apparently escaped ice storms this year, the southern part of the state obviously had not, and clearing the trails had been - and continued to be - a challenge.  I was forced to consider doing something else.  Luckily enough, I had passed right by a sign on my way in that had looked really familiar…  “Chained Rock?   Hmmm…  Seems I’ve heard that name before…”  

 

I always bring a trail guidebook with me on trips that I’ve not done before, and in this particular case I’d brought the Falcon Guide to hiking Kentucky (http://www.globepequot.com/globepequot/index.cfm?fuseaction=customer.product&product_code=0%2D7627%2D3650%2DX&category_code=).  Thank you, Michael Brown!  There it was on page 96, and so I headed back toward Pineville, KY after briefly checking out the visitor center at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  This is a really nice place with interpretive exhibits, books, and all kinds of memorabilia for the Cumberland Gap.  I get the feeling that I’d be quite at home spending a couple weeks down here paddling and hiking this area.  There are 70 miles of hiking trails alone!

 

Anyway, once I did arrive at Pine Mountain State Park, I turned into the trailhead parking lot right at the point where there was a little stone and log cabin on the right side of the park road (full directions below).  As I drove in I was in a very pleasant, lush area beside a little stream.

Although clearly a very popular place with an outdoor amphitheater and pavilion just ahead, on this particular day there was no one around, and I began my hike by walking back down the road from where I parked to get a better look at the cabin. 

 

There I noticed another trail heading uphill on some mossy steps (the Azalea Trail), and since a sign indicated that it was only .5 miles long I decided to get this one in too.  What it did was wind up a hill on one side of this ravine out here and then it essentially sent me back the way I’d come, overlooking the road I’d just walked.  I soon passed by a rock face, followed by a descent to the back side of the pavilion, and from this point I continued forward to check out the amphitheater. 

 

This one’s unique – an incredibly picturesque location.  The stage, in fact, is a bed of moss and grass!  As I look at the pictures I took now, though, I’m a bit disappointed.  None of them, in my eyes, do it justice!  I’ve decided to put up 2, but it really begs to be seen rather than just be pictured! After viewing this, I headed back to the Laurel Cove trailhead for the main part of the hike (I had effectively done a complete 360 by this point). 

 

You can’t really miss the start of Laurel Cove Trail – there’s a large sign with a picture of a black bear on it!  The path begins on a steady zig-zag climb up Pine Mountain.  The ascent here would probably be moderate except that it really doesn’t let up much.  I wouldn’t say it’s strenuous exactly, but there won’t really be any breaks until you’re about ½ way up the mountain.  Then you’ll resume your climb.  So for that reason I’d say this one is, to me, a little notch above moderate even though it’s only a 3.5 mile out and back.  There is, however, a shorter and easier option from a roadway atop the mountain.

 

Anyway, you’ll zig, then zag, then zig again to wind up at the stone arch which just about marks the half way point.  For most of this section I was in the midst of what I’d call a “sparse-for-this-time-of-year-due-to-lack-of-foliage” woods, although you’ll come close to a stream just at the “zag” which is a bit more lush with pines (I think this steam is the one which eventually runs through the parking area below).  All this time you’ll get some great views below, yet even though it was obvious that I might get a better vista ahead, I kept taking pictures just in case.  Bottom line:  the views are great, but there will be clearer and more far reaching ones ahead.

 

Once I’d arrived at what I’ll now call the Half Way Arch over the trail, fate would prove – once again – just how wrong I could be, because I at first thought that this might actually be Chained Rock itself.  Why didn’t I just read the guide, you ask?  I would have known…  Well I like to be surprised, you see, so I only ever look as far as the directions to the trailheads – and I’ve already mentioned how I miss obvious things in the midst of these trips.  Were this not the case, I would surely have realized that I’d only traveled about ½ of the trail and was not yet even close to Chained Rock in the first place! 

 

At any rate, there really do seem to be veins of mineral in this arch which could be said to resemble a chain.  The picture below was shot looking back at it, and you can kind of see what I’m talking about underneath.  Even if that is a bit of a stretch, this is a quite a spot in and of itself!  I stayed a while.

 

That was ½ the trail.  I’d say the next ¼ or so was along a nice little streambed, and this was so picturesque that I ended up taking a ton of shots, so what I eventually just decided to do was to post the video below.  These always show up small for whatever reason, so I’ll include a picture too…

 

 

 

There’s one point at which you’ll cross over the stream, and if it isn’t dry you’ll really have to watch your step on the moss covered rocks.  Once on the other side there will be a trail junction, and if you follow this left it will deposit you on top a huge rock outcrop with some nice vistas.  I’d check this spot out, but the main trail will continue to the right and pass through an area that surely seems like a larger version of one of those little relaxation/meditation fountains that you can buy (this shows up in the video).

 

Presently you’ll pass through a rocky area along the streambed (they’ve done a great job with stone steps out here!), and then launch into the last ¼ of the trail as it passes through more of the  “sparse-for-this-time-of-year-due-to-lack-of-foliage” forest along the top of this mountain.  With the altitude, of course, the vistas just keep getting better and better.

 

Just before Chained Rock you’ll reach a junction with another trail (the shorter version of this hike I mentioned before), where you’ll make a right turn, winding down and around the rock on a very slight grade along some stairways.  The rock, along with its incredible vista, comes up very quickly.  All of a sudden – BOOM!

 

Once again, I thought I’d gotten some great pictures, but none of them seemed to come close to capturing how stunning this place is.  For example, I tried to get a picture looking down the chain as I stood somewhat precariously atop the rock – yet I’d swear the pictures were swapped out for worse ones – really!  Above and below are what I consider to be the best of the lot.

 

Try as I might, I could not tear myself away from this area.  I must have stayed a good 20-30 minutes before feeling compelled to move on.  I never stay too long because I know that someone might come by who wants to enjoy the area in private as I have.  I took my time heading back down the path to my car though, as I tried to let the experience fully sink in and envelop me.  What a great park!

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

The entrance to the park is right off US25 East just south of Pineville, KY.  If you’re heading south on US25E it’ll be on your right side and it’ll be accompanied by a sign with arrows to Laurel Cove Amphitheater and Chained Rock Overlook.  Take this right and continue not quite a mile until you see a little stone and log cabin on the right side in the midst of a tight curve left.  Make a right turn here and park almost immediately.  The trailhead will be just ahead of you, as will the amphitheater.