Did you know that 1 of 13 remaining large old-growth forests is located in Harlan County? In fact, there are only a handful of old growth forests in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Blanton Forest happens to be the largest but it is also one of the largest in the Eastern United States! This means that Blanton Forest is a diverse ecological treasure with many of the trees being 3 feet to 4 feet in diameter while standing over 100 feet tall and you can experience it all right here in Harlan.
In 1995, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust obtained the old growth forest surrounding Camp Blanton and turned it into Kentucky’s most beautiful nature preserve but the history of the forest and the camp that serves as the entrance to this ecological treasure is just as diverse as the forest itself. The land for Camp Blanton was gifted from the Blanton family in 1934 to serve Harlan County and scouts. The camp grew considerably throughout the years but it was in 1988 when a group of local business and community leaders forged the Camp Blanton Trust to preserve the camp for future generations. Today, the camp serves as the entrance to Blanton Forest but is also a staple for weddings and other private events while surrounded by a pristine backdrop of the forest, beautiful cabins for overnight stays, and much more.
When you step foot into Blanton Forest one of the first things you will notice is that it has a diverse forest canopy comprised of many tree species such as sugar maple, tulip poplar, oaks, beech, hemlocks, and various magnolias. There has been evidence to show that several of these trees have even been dated to the late 1600s. The forest is awe-striking with the trees towering above you. Blanton Forest also has several unique forest communities including mountaintop wetlands known as acid seeps and mixed-mesophytic deciduous forest. This forest unequivocally provides some of the best hiking in Kentucky. Blanton Forest consists of two loops that lead to points of interest on the south face of Pine Mountain comprised of around 4.5 miles. The first loop to Knobby Rock is moderately strenuous but leads to an incredible view of the forest from a bird’s eye perspective. The more strenuous loop to Sand Cave and the Maze takes visitors higher into the Watts Creek and Big Branch watersheds. There is also a shorter half mile trail that leads along Watts Creek and provides a scenic but much less strenuous route to enjoy the forest.
Camp Blanton is not only a treasure trove of trees, flora, and fauna but also with wildlife. Depending on the time of year, visitors to the forest have a unique opportunity to experience a large variety of wildlife in the Commonwealth’s largest old-growth forest.
We have said it before that Harlan County is one of those places in the commonwealth where you can have experiences that boast the title “Only.’ Harlan is the only place in Kentucky where you can take an animatronic tour in an underground mine. Harlan is the only place you can stand in the highest point in Kentucky. The Blanton Forest is one of these. Blanton Forest is the ONLY place in Kentucky where you can hike 1 of 13 large old-growth forests.
For more information on Camp Blanton or Blanton Forest visit: https://www.campblanton.org/