Rural Riviera: Kentucky’s Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Park

Destinations, East, Midwest, South — on November 6, 2007 at 12:00 pm

You know you’re in unusual country when you see a sign in someone’s front yard advertising a daily snake show. Yes, it’s a little different in Kentucky, but dig in, stay a while and you’ll find welcoming locals, rugged scenery and exceptional mountain riding.
Rural Kentucky has a few surprises up its sleeve for folks who’ve never had the pleasure of stopping in for a visit. Impromptu snake exhibitions aside, the southeastern corner of the state is home to Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Park — a world-class riding area located in the heart of Kentucky’s coal country. The New York Times has previously called the park, located in Harlan County, an “off-road autobahn” — we call it one of the largest, most challenging and most scenic ATV riding areas in the country.

Riding the Coal Trails
Kentucky’s Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Park has two main entrances to the park’s 150 miles of trails. Our convoy of three well-informed guides and myself entered from the trailhead in the small town of Evarts. Coming from the west, as most visitors do, you’ll technically pass through 11 villages in less than 9 miles. You may not spot them all, but you won’t miss the soaring hills and rushing streams that will stoke your excitement to get riding.
The steep entrance road, which heads up past the snake exhibit, leads to an endless network of trails that crisscross the mountain. This is not a place to wind out your quad on straight stretches — they don’t exist at Black Mountain. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to go much faster than 30 mph on any of the tight trails. This park’s appeal is technical sections that reward riders with great views of the Appalachians, wildlife and the small towns below. You might even spot a black bear along the way.
Mining camps originally cut the vast system of trails on and around the mountains. On Black Mountain, the veins of coal have been largely exploited, leaving behind trails that were turned over to local ATV and 4×4 clubs that transformed the area into a breathtaking riding destination.

Getting Technical
There are plenty of beginner and intermediate trails on the 6,000-acre system, but you’re selling yourself short if you miss the dramatic elevation and very steep hills of the so-called extreme trails that reach as high as 3,300 feet above sea level.
Lean back, hang on tight, use that engine braking and let the machine take you down the hills. The trails may be slow, but this is what off-road riding is all about. Bring a map, though, because the surroundings all look the same to the unfamiliar eye.
Best of all, the trails are open all day and all year-round. The guides say the best riding is had in the fall, where turning leaves can clash with high-elevation snows that, they say, can really make things technical.

Southern Hospitality
If you stay nearby, especially at the trailhead’s campground, you’ll surely receive a southern-style welcome. All area businesses cater to visiting riders and trail clubs will jump at the chance to put a personal touch on your stay.
At the end of the day, head for the big fire pit where riders share stories and recoup spent energy. It’s not unheard of for nearby church members to stop by the fire and invite riders to breakfast the next morning, or for local officials to stop down, either. This area defines southern hospitality. Be advised, though, Harlan County is dry — Prohibition-style.
If camping’s not your thing, there are hotels located in Harlan, a larger town 15 minutes to the west on Route 38. There are other attractions, like the Portal 31 coalmine tour in nearby Lynch, the Cumberland Gap Historical Park and the tumbling waterfalls along the Kingdom Come Parkway.
Black Mountain is more than a great riding park; it’s a story of how an area suffering from the decline of the coal industry used its best asset — its incredibly challenging terrain and network of mountain trails. And, if you don’t see any during your ride, stop in and check out the snake show.

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