We first noticed the signs welcoming visitors as we drove into Harlan County, Kentucky. In between the natural beauty of the towering, yet sleepy mountains and green valleys, other signs began to appear welcoming adventure lovers and even off-road riders. We should have expected that from a group of residents that have long shared so much with so many. Their struggles and victories have been the nation’s as well. Coal has been the county’s driving economic force for decades, but there is also history here. From the revolutionary war, to the civil war, and even through battles for workers’ rights, much of the nation’s history was hammered out in these quiet, yet ever imposing mountains. For thousands of years, Black Mountain has stood watch over all other peaks in the county, and it was our destination as well. Welcome to Harlan County and the home of outdoor adventure.
Adventure Area Report
Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Area is more than just a few trails that wind through the mountains. They take the “adventure” part seriously, and in addition to the trails, they’ve got the fastest and highest zip lines in the state, and possibly the entire country! At over 500’ high and 60mph, it takes more than a little courage to step off the platform, but once airborne, you’ll soar like a Falcon after its next meal. Called the Black Mountain Thunder, there are 11 zip lines to try, and the entire course takes a couple hours to complete. Racing down the mountain and far above the tree canopy was a thrill we’ll never forget. We were there for a little more down in the dirt fun though.
Highlights of the Black Mountain Adventure Area:
- Open all day, all year-round
- Approximately 8,000 Acres of Mountainous Terrain
- Elevations up to 3,300 feet high
- Detailed trail maps available
- Beginner, Intermediate and Extreme Trails
- Two Convenient Trailheads
- Minutes from rental cabins, RV Hookups and other amenities
- Lowest Rates Nationwide!!!
The off-road trails at Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Area wind up and down the sides of the mountain, and the entire area is over 8000 acres with over 2000’ of elevation change. Many of the trails were former mining and logging roads and there are over 200 miles of marked trails to explore. Some of the trails feature wide, winding sections that snake along the edge of the mountain, but there are also very tight, technical sections chock full of rocks, ruts, and logs to climb over; some have become so famous they’ve even earned a name. Names like “The Can Opener”, “Damnation”, and “The Lion’s Den” leave little doubt about trail difficulty, and the consequences of a mistake -but we like a challenge. The Rock Garden is a particularly challenging section that has become a favorite trail for many, especially for jeep and 4x4 rock crawlers. In fact, Black Mountain holds the only trail we’ve ever turned back from after one look at the boulders and challenges ahead. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of trails for riders of all skill levels and park managers have wisely labeled the trails for their level of difficulty. A general use permit is required for each vehicle entering the area and both yearly ($40) and monthly ($25) permits are available at either trail head.
Waterfalls both large and small are common throughout the system with some flowing out from between the rocks. This creates not only washouts but also lots of mud, but most riders don’t mind; the mud only adds to the fun. At the end of a full day of riding, we were ready for a good meal and a comfortable place to stay, and the very hospitable towns in Harlan County came through once again.
Play and Stay
Harlan County Campground is located just 8 miles from Cumberland, Black Bear Capital of Kentucky. With the campground located at the Putney Trailhead, it’s super easy to make this your home base for a couple nights and ride right from your camp site or cabin during the day. The family owned campground has everything from cabin rentals that sleep up to nine people, camp sites either with or without electric, and even RV sites. It’s a great base for your adventure. In the Tri-Cities of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, you will find attractions including Kingdom Come State Park, and the Kentucky Coal Museum.
Still One of the Best
We’ve called the Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Area as possibly the best riding area in North America. Our opinion hasn’t changed. It’s a unique and beautiful place to explore and we can’t wait to head back again someday.
Direction & Info
The northern trail head is at Harlan County Campground and if you’re not staying at the campground, a very reasonable $5 gets you all day parking privileges. The southern trail head is by the general store and the store carries maps, trail permits, snacks, supplies, and pretty much anything you could need on the trail.
Harlan County and the Black Mountain Off Road Adventure Area are located in southeastern Kentucky where US Highway 119 and US Highway 421 meet. For more information, please contact:
Harlan County Trails
Phone: (606) 837-3205
Office: 711 Bailey Creek Road, Evarts
Stephen Foster - Owner
8331 Hwy 119 N
Putney, KY 40865
Special thanks to:
Stephen Foster – Harlan County Campground
Ken Crider, manager of Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Area
Charlotte’s Hoagie Shop in Cumberland, Kentucky
Al Feher, Curator of the Coal Mine Museum in Lynch
Brandon Pennington, Director, City of Harlan Tourist and Convention Commission
The City of Harlan
Gabriel's Pizzeria in Cumberland
The City of Evarts
The Dairy Hut in Evarts