Black Mountain - 4,139'

Black Mountain - Kentucky Highpoint


State highpointing is an interesting pursuit. It has taken me to portions of numerous states that, in all likelihood, I would never have visited were it not for the high ground contained therein. Kentucky’s highpoint, Black Mountain, is most certainly one of these places. Located deep within the Cumberland Mountains of southeastern Kentucky, barely a mile from the Virginia line, Black Mountain isn’t crossed by any major trails nor is it contained within any type of park. In fact, up until only a few years ago, the entire mountain was privately owned by a coal company based in Pennsylvania. At that time a free waiver had to be obtained from the company to legally access the summit. More than any other reason, this extra bit of paperwork had left me uninterested in a visit. Especially in regards to a mountain with few, if any, views. I was pleasantly surprised then, when I discovered earlier this year that the summit was now owned by the state and waivers were no longer required! So it was I found myself driving through the backwoods of southern Appalachia in search of my 22nd state highpoint.

Black Mountain is actually quite easy to reach if you have a good map and/or good directions. In fact, with the exception of low-slung sports cars, most any vehicle can drive to within 1/10-mile of the top. That seemed a bit too much like cheating to me, however, so I made plans to park on the nearest main road and walk the 1.7-miles from there to the summit. Whether arriving from Virginia or Kentucky you’ll be using Highway 160 to climb to the crest of the ridge (and the state line) where the dirt road to Black Mountain is located. It’s easy to spot, it’s the one with the flurry of No Trespassing signs tacked to numerous trees surrounding the junction. There’s space for a few vehicles right at the start of the road or, a couple hundred feet into Virginia along 160, there is a beautiful overlook with room for many more. If anything, make sure to enjoy the scenery from the overlook before you head out…it’s the only view you’ll enjoy along this short trek.

Black Mountain Ridge Road, as the summit road is called, departs Highway 160 with a briefly steep climb past the aforementioned torrent of No Trespassing signs. Don’t be scared off by these, as long as you remain on the road itself you’re permitted here. The gravel road soon levels out some, passing a few overgrown, gated roads which you certainly won’t confuse with the main route. The forest along the ridge is beautiful, it’s surprisingly open understory allowing for distant looks through the trees. You’ll also pass numerous signs warning you to keep a look out ahead for trucks. This is an active logging area so truck traffic on this narrow road can sometimes be heavy. Just under a mile in the grade steepens again as the road begins to climb the eastern shoulder of the mountain. You probably won’t notice the climb in a car but, if you’re on foot, it’s the steepest single ascent of the route. Topping out above 4,000-feet at a grassy knob the road descends gently to a forested Grassy Gap before resuming its ascent. A quarter-mile from the summit you’ll pass a large clearing where a massive FAA radar dome is located. It’s an odd sight this deep in the forest, but fascinating none-the-less. Shortly after passing the dome you’ll reach a split where the Black Mountain Ridge Road bears right past a locked gate and a two-track cutting up the hill on the left. Bear left onto the two track. After a couple hundred yard climb you’ll break out into a large open field populated by numerous communication towers. Welcome to the top of Kentucky!

The two-track makes a small loop around the towers at the summit. On the backside of it you’ll find a small stone monument topped with a simple plaque. A rock outcrop alongside is the location of the USGS benchmark denoting the summit at a remarkably precise 4,139.247-feet. Oh, and there’s no view. I have heard rumors that the state is planning on building a tower at the summit but, as of my visit in the summer of 2021, there’s no evidence of these plans being started. After you’re finished at the summit, simply retrace your steps back to Highway 160.

Overall, this isn’t the most scenic or enjoyable hike. It’s pleasant enough, I suppose, but a road walk to a summit with no views and covered in radio towers is never going to make it on any ‘recommended hike’ lists. It’s a highpoint, however, which to folks like me means it’s a required visit at some point. Luckily, there isn’t much effort required whether you walk it or drive it. If for any other reason than that, if you find yourself in this corner of Appalachia, you may as well check it out. With that it’s now my pleasure to invite you along with me as I make the quick and easy hike to the highest point in the Commonwealth of Kentucky…Black Mountain. As always, I hope you ENJOY!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  36.91495, -82.87133

Route Type: Out-and-back      Difficulty: MODERATE (Petzoldt Rating 4.30)      Hike Length: 3.4 miles      Hike Duration: 1:30      Trailhead Temp: 60'F                    Trail Traffic: 1-5 people      Min. Elevation: 3,700'      Max. Elevation: 4,139.247'      Total Vertical Gain: 450'      Avg. Elevation Gain/Mile: 132'


GPS MAP, TRACK, & DATA

(Gaia GPS login required)

8-6-2021