Breaks Interstate Park: Grand Canyon of Virginia

What is the Grand Canyon of Virginia and Kentucky?  Breaks Interstate Park.  In fact, Breaks Interstate Park is so grand that they claim to be the Grand Canyon of the South.

Tom and I headed to Breaks Interstate Park on one of our last days off at Cumberland Gap.  We didn’t intentionally save it for last.  Breaks Interstate Park is so far off the beaten path that there just isn’t any good way to get there.  And it really isn’t on the way to anyplace else we went during the summer.  To get there we had to drive 2.5 hours on the north side of Pine Mountain.  The road was scenic but twisted and turned and went up and down.

The park itself is a resort park with all kinds of recreational opportunities. There are miles of hiking trails along rugged cliffs and through dense forests.  You can boat on Russell Fork River or Laurel Lake.  There is a lodge, cabins, and a campground.  A waterpark is very popular in the summer.  If you like zip-lines, the park has one.  There is a full-service restaurant and a snack bar.  The park looked like a great place to spend a week’s vacation with a family in the summer.

Unfortunately, we visited two days after Labor Day.  Because the park has a lodge that is open all year round, I made the mistake of assuming the restaurant was also open every day.  As soon as Tom and I reached the park, we headed in to the lodge for lunch.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is only open Thursday – Sunday after Labor Day.  The Visitors Center was also closed.

We bought a couple of packages of crackers in the tiny gift shop in the lodge, then headed out to see the Grand Canyon of Virginia and Kentucky.  Breaks Canyon is one of the deepest gorges east of the Mississippi River.  I found an interesting article about deep gorges in the Appalachian mountains and you can read it here.  Is Breaks Canyon the deepest gorge?  No, but it is pretty deep and there are parts of it that are very steep.  There are some impressive cliffs and one section of the Breaks Gorge climbs 1,300 feet in half a mile.

Breaks Interstate Park is located on the northeastern terminus of Pine Mountain.  Pine Mountain is a ridge that parallels Cumberland Mountain.  Pine Mountain runs for 125 miles through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.  The park is administered by a partnership between Virginia and Kentucky.  Although we entered Breaks Interstate Park in Kentucky, all the developed parts of the park are in Virginia.

Towers overlook
Stateline overlook

We checked out all the overlooks and walked along some of the ridge trail.  I must confess that our lack of lunch dulled our enthusiasm for the park somewhat.  We did not do any of the longer or more strenuous hikes because we were hungry.  The closest town to the park with restaurants was Elkhorn City, which has a Subway.  As soon as we left the park we headed there for a late lunch.

Breaks Interstate Park deserves the title of Grand Canyon of Virginia and Kentucky.  I’m not sure it deserves the title Grand Canyon of the South.  There are some other pretty spectacular canyons in the southern part of the Appalachian mountains.  If you decide to visit Breaks Interstate Park, I would suggest a longer stay during the summer.  If you go outside the summer season, you will need to pack some food.