Harlan County KY. Known for being rowdy. There's two trades in this wonderful slice of Appalachia: coal mining and moonshining. It's a heck of a place.
Okay, so I effectively described most of eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, NC, VA, WV... Point being: Harlan County is that one particular place where if you ask an outsider you'll get a very similar answer to that above.
If you mention Harlan County KY to somebody in the OHV world there's a very good chance they'll be able to tell you about a visit that they've made. It's almost as iconic as the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in West Virginia, and for good reason. Black Mountain Offroad Adventure Area is a staple for offroaders east of the Mississippi and is Kentucky's premier ATV park by far.
I, however, had never ridden there. Ever. I've known folks since I was a kid that rode 4wheelers from home to Harlan all of the time. It's actually not too far by 4wheeler, we just never owned anything that I felt comfortable taking on an all day ride like that. Even with mines closing, gates being put up and trails eroding away, it seems like people are making the trip more often than ever. Good news for SxS manufacturers.
There will be a couple other write-ups about the weekend in Harlan County so I'll try to get right to the point in this Trail Guide.
I broke the trail day into a morning ride and an evening ride. The morning ride started from my camp at Black Bear Campground and covered some of the west side of the park. The plan was to do as much of a loop without doubling back as I could. The general route is as follows:
25 -> Malfunction Junction -> Tombstone/Windmill/Upper Grace -> 31 -> 36 -> Cliffhanger -> 38 -> 29 South -> 34 to The Stadium -> 29 -> The Soup Bowl to 32 -> 27 to The Little Stadium -> 26/Fuquarwe/Fly Trap ->12 back to Black Bear
The evening ride started from camp just past White Tail Campground and covered the east side of the park.
15 -> Pappy's Pass -> 45 (briefly) -> 15 -> 25 -> 12 -> Profanity -> 18 -> [got a little turned around, looking for 17 and Old Mine] -> 17 -> 11 -> 10 and back to camp.
I have to admit, there were a few times that I got pretty frustrated with the trail map, trail markings and lack thereof. It's a tale as old as time: they keep cutting trails but the maps are already made. It's a good problem to have but still frustrating out on the trail.
Honestly, the trails all felt relatively similar for a dude on a dirt bike. I don't say that as a knock on the park, it's just the way it is. I enjoyed the hell out of it and put in 5.5 hours of solid seat time while there. The problem for me is that this is more tailored to 4wheeled machines - but I knew that before I went. If you've got a 4wheeler, SxS, or the most badass Rock Bouncing V8 powered sum-bitch in the nation, this is definitely the place for you. The buggy trails they have there are absolutely insane and there was plenty of those guys there over the weekend. Seriously, if you have a SxS I highly recommend Black Mountain Offroad.
That being said, I do intend to visit this place as many times as I have the opportunity - even on two wheels. I wish I could have checked out more of the red trails but with this being my first time, and with no real frame of reference, I just wanted to knock out as big of a loop as I could.
-Since I had never been, I went to the Evarts Trailhead to buy my map and based my trail and camping time from that side of the park.
-Zipline! I didn't, but it's an option.
-The southern tip of Grace Trail takes you to Harlan Overlook (not on the trail map) - highly recommend it.
-Cliffhanger was steep, rocky, and rutted. I would hate to climb that bastard on a dirt bike but fortunately I was going down.
-There is an old mine office or bathhouse where Trail 34 makes a sharp point on the map. Makes for a good photo-opp.
-Just before Trail 34 starts to head north toward The Little Stadium there is an old deep mine that's still open. You can see the roof bolts hanging out of the top. It's pretty surreal and I've always been interested in these old mines. I didn't take the time to climb back in there but from what I could see from the trail you can definitely get a feel for what it was like. I haven't seen an open mine face in years so that was really neat for me.
-Trail 34 at the bottom of The Stadium is a real fun climb out. The Stadium looks more impressive on the map and in old pictures but it was slightly disappointing. The climb all the way from the bottom was really good though. Grab a handful.
- The Soup Bowl looks like a great spot for 4wheelers to cool off.
- The Little Stadium... I'll have to go back and spend some time. Seems like it's grown up an awful lot but I didn't spend much time there.
-17 and Old Mine were technical. I was going in a direction that took me down them but there were definitely some good ledges and ruts.
-Budd's Bypass. I assume wasn't meant for moto bikes. You either need a trials bike and some skill or a rock bouncer.
- Keep your eyes peeled for overlooks. They're plentiful and each is well worth stopping and admiring.
Basically I didn't want to be stuck in an RV lot surrounded by drunkards (this weekend...). I asked the guy at the trailhead if my truck could make it up the Truck Class 2 (Green) trail to Black Bear Campground for the first night. He said definitely. I took Trail 12 up the mountain, got stopped by some locals that doubted my intentions, and made it without issue. However, I would not recommend this without some decent all-terrains and even with that I would not recommend heading up the mountain if there's a chance you'll be coming back off after a good rain. This shit is steep and you gain a lot of elevation, there's no gravel here. I also travel very light with just a dirt bike so anything more than that is out of the question. The campgrounds are little more than flat spots so don't go looking for grills and gravel tent pads. Primitive to the max.
Black Bear would probably be incredibly scenic after the leaves fall. Regardless, this was the perfect spot to get away from the crowd. The campground is down the hill off the trail but not very far. You're secluded but still not far from traffic which you'll have occasionally. The pull-off spot is barely big enough for one truck but with a lifted truck you can probably pull on down the hill. Or if you're all in SxS's you're good.
White Tail Campground has a small shelter to camp beneath. Seems like a relatively happening spot so if you're down to slam some beers this would be a good one. I wanted a more peaceful spot so I went on around the hill and there happened to be a large field. This is on the far east side of the map so you won't seen much, if any traffic. Fortunately I happened to pack in some firewood for night 2 because there wasn't anything around there to burn.
Black Mountain Offroad Adventure Area is a fantastic place to spend a weekend. You have so much trail to hit that even if you aren't wanting to get technical you have plenty to keep you very well entertained.
That's about enough for now. There's so much more detail that I can go into but they have quite a bit of information out there. Check out their website: http://www.blackmountainoffroad.com/