Kentucky Roadtrip: Elkhorn City & The Russell Fork River

Last weekend, I spent some time camping along the banks of the Russell Fork River. It’s one of my favorite spots in all of the Commonwealth even though my whitewater kayaking days are over!

Nestled in the mountains, just south of Pikeville, is a little town called Elkhorn City. You won’t find the latest and greatest in retail establishments, there, nor will you find a movie theater or concert hall for entertainment. Instead, what you’ll find are friendly people, a world-class river and beautiful landscapes all around you. Friendly locals help with the loading of extra firewood into your pickup and also serve up a mean pork tenderloin breakfast at the Rusty Fork diner.


Whether you are a whitewater enthusiast or not, the river is beautiful. For those who know what a boof is or how to catch an eddy, you probably also know that the USA Wildwater National Team held their trials on the Russell Fork in 2011.

Even if you don’t know what those terms mean, but you think you might like to, the Russell Fork is the place for you! Each Spring, the Lexington-based Bluegrass Wildwater Association holds their annual clinic for new boaters. Camping on the banks of the river, those looking to get into the sport of whitewater kayaking are treated to small class sizes, lots of on-water instruction and a fun weekend party. This year, the event even boasted a “women’s only” class.


If you aren’t quite ready for that scene, Elkhorn City is also only about 5 miles from The Breaks Interstate Park. This park’s 4600 acres straddle the Virginia/Kentucky border. It’s absolutely gorgeous, especially in the fall.


The Breaks park features tent camping, RV/Motorcoach hookups, a lodge and restaurant on site, in addition to lots of other amenities. The hiking in this area is superb with trails ranging across all skill levels in and around the park. Most notably, the Pine Mountain Trail begins inside the park. With 42 miles of the trail completed, it’s well on its way to connecting the Breaks to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

I feel like Elkhorn City and the Breaks are an undiscovered treasure in our own backyard. The town’s Heritage Council is working hard to capitalize on the rich music heritage of the area (the town’s main street is called Patty Loveless Drive for a reason!). and the natural beauty and resources offered by the river and the gorge it has formed. Work has already begun to provide 4-lane access to this little gem along US 460. It won’t be long until many people across the state will know what the Southeast’s kayakers already have stickered on their bumpers: It’s Always Sunny in Elkhorn City.