Situated within a couple hours of Mt. Rogers, Smoky Mountain National Park, and Mount Mitchell, is the highest point of Kentucky - Black Mountain.
Most of Kentucky does not reach high elevation, and the state is known much more for its caves than its mountains. However, Black Mountain is actually quite large, but underappreciated for its status as the highest mountain in Kentucky. So much so that coal mining is done on the upper reaches of the mountain, and a huge high voltage tower charges within 1/10 of a mile of its summit.
The summit itself is reached via an offshoot from a long and winding mountain road. The mountain is flanked by steep drop offs and rock walls. Since it is basically used for coal mining, the road (route 160) crosses some of the best scenery in the state, without so much as an overlook to take it all in. Recently, an overlook was built on the Virginia side, which will hopefully give visitors a good view of the mountain.
It is for reasons like this that public outrage has emerged, and efforts to preserve the mountain and open it up to hiking have been strong for many years. Despite public outcry, coal mining is very profitable in this region, and Black Mountain perhaps holds the most profitable energy resources of any state highpoint.
The summit of Black Mountain can be reached, even though it is not a tourist destination. At the summit area is a large energy tower, that makes it look more like a construction site than a mountain top. But before you despair, you should know that beyond Black Mountain you can find many hiking areas in the Cumberland Mountains, with a variety of trails.
This page is not in any way a political call to preserve Black Mountain, but just a reminder of what to expect when you visit the highpoint.
Black Mountain is on the border between Kentucky and Virginia. It can easily be found via a standard road atlas, but the closest interstate is I-81. From the interstate, it can be approached from a variety of roads between Bristol, Tennessee and Marion, Virginia. Getting there isn't too difficult. Black Mountain is listed on most road-maps. The key is to get to Route 160, near Lynch, Kentucky. Route 160 is a winding mountain road that is fun to drive. In fact, it is a far prettier drive than it is a hike. The road to the top is actually easy to find because it sits directly in between the "Welcome to Virginia" and "Welcome to Kentucky" signs. Coming from Virginia, the road is on the left, and you can park at the base. When I visited in 2002, it was unmarked, but once on the road it is easy to find. To ensure it is the correct road, check to see if it goes up! There is a tower at the summit, so it is easy to find.
For most of the year you can take the road and drive near the summit, but in the winter, the road gets icy and it is better to walk the 1.5 miles, and 250' to the summit.
A waiver is required to hike to the Black Mountain summit. It can be downloaded HERE. Print this out, and have it on your person when you do the hike. Do not try and hike Black Mountain without it, because it is a "No Trespassing" area, that only gives special permission to hikers and highpointers. While the waiver is still valid, and allows visitors to the highpoint, there is still potential for further mining at and around the mountain.
It is far better to hike here in the winter, because less work is being done up at the summit. The scenery is better in December/January as the ice forms on the rock walls.
Prime Hiking and Camping is available at Kingdom Come State Park several miles away from the highpoint.
Kingdom Come State Park
See Area Weather
Thank you to Jacqueline Coldiron for her photos. Please visit her site if you want more information on the area around Black Mountain at: http://www.mountain-breeze.com/mountains/.