In March of this year, we decided to attend a guided hike! We’ve always wandered through trails on our own, and thought that it would be super interesting to get a “professional” point of view on hiking, local wildlife, and our abundant forests.
We decided on a hike lead by Gerry James of the Explore Kentucky Initiative, and Preston Lacy, Stewardship Director of Kentucky Natural Land Trust. It covered a short portion of Blanton Forest, which is a tract of the 100 mile stretch of Pine Mountain, from the Breaks Canyon System in Kentucky and Virginia, to Jellico, Tennessee. Learn more about Blanton National Forest Preserve here.
Tickets for the guided hike were super reasonable, at $15 per person. There was no advanced skill required, and only basic equipment was needed. We packed a sturdy, medium size backpack, (The North Face Borealis), stocked with rain gear, trail friendly snacks, a good camera, plenty of water, and extra layers in case of inclement weather. It was pretty chilly at first, but after a mile or two, we warmed right up!
I wore trail friendly clothes, and plenty of layers! I opted for my New Frontier Outfitters “Appalachia” shirt, find it here, a thick button up, moisture wicking leggings, wool socks, and my favorite Ahnu hiking boots, which you can find here. I also packed a puffer vest, which I ended up alternating between. In the shaded areas, it was pretty chilly, so I’d slip it on, but once we reached the ridge top, there was no need for it. Sunglasses are a must, and of course, I had none. I never remember sunglasses.
The trail head at Blanton Forest Nature Preserve was a neat place to explore, prepare for the hike, and use the restroom. The grounds were well maintained, and pretty quiet. We met up there with our fellow hikers.
Our guides, Gerry and Preston, were very knowledgable about the area, its wildlife, and the terrain. The ecosystem along the mountain system was very unique, and much different than that of Rowan County. Blanton Forest is considered an “old growth forest”, with some of the trees dating back to the late 1600’s.
Afterwards, we headed into Harlan with our guides for a hearty dinner at Pizza Portal. The Harlan area is traditionally known as coal country. So the restaurant was coal themed. The walls were lined with historic photos, and the theme continued into every dining area. It was interesting to read about all the history in the area, especially inside this local favorite!
The Explore Kentucky Initiative is always hosting guided hikes, river runs, workshops, and other adventure activities. You can check out their calendar of events here, or read up about the Kentucky Natural Land Trust here.
Check out the gallery I’ve put together below of some of my favorite pictures from the hike.