The preserve is 2,343 acres that includes Bad Branch Gorge, the Presley House Branch watershed. the upper reaches of the Bad Branch watershed and a small portion of the north face of Pine Mountain. The preserve contains large concentrations of about 30 species of rare and uncommon flora and fauna as well Kentucky's only known nesting pair of common ravens. A few of the rare species are enchanter's nightshade, Fraser's sedge, painted trillium, and the long tail shrew. Black bears frequent this area. Bad Branch is classified as a Kentucky Wild River.Bad Branch flows down the south side of Pine Mountain through hemlocks and rhododendron-lined banks emptying into the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River. The area was logged in 1940 but a few old growth hemlocks were spared and thrive above the ssecond growth trees. Several old roadways are found through the area. Old rusted automobile remains may be seen along the old roadway. Large boulders can be seen all along the the mountain slopes. On the top of Pine Mountain is a big sandstone slab known as High Rock. From the top of High Rock you can see the Town of Whitesburg and the valley cut by the North Fork of the Kentucky River. A 60 foot waterfall is created by a plunge of water of Bad Branch over a sandstone cliff.
Bad Branch Hike
Early travelers used parts of the trail as a means to transport supplies to Whitesburg on the north side of Pine Mountain. The trail loops to the top of the mountain and High Rock, an extensive sandstone outcrop extending along the mountaintop. A panoramic view of the Cumberland Plateau and Black Mountain can be seen from the top.
The trail is a 7.2 mile out and back partial loop with a side trail to a waterfall. The trail begins at the parking lot and leads northeast on an old road passing a roofed bulletin board with a map and a history of the preserve. The path crosses Bad Branch and cuts through a grove of old-growth hemlocks that escaped the loggers and then recrosses the stream again.
The trail parallels the stream for 0.7 mile where the trail branches leading to the waterfall. The trail is marked with orange blazes as it begins to narrow as you go up the hollow through second growth hardwoods and hemlocks. At many locations you pass through rhododendrons that form long tunnels. After you travel 2.2 miles you reach a high ridge and begin to start the loop and you will go over a small outcropping and curve around a boulder and onto an old logging road. Of the two arms of the loop the longest loop of 1.8 miles to the High Rock is the best to take to the top. After several old roadway and ridge crossings you come to the slab at High Rock atop Pine Mountain after 4.2 miles. On top of Pine Mountain you have a panorama to the north that includes Whitesburg and the palisades made by the North Fork of the Kentucky River. Here a large slab of stone follows the edge of the rock for 0.2 miles. The trail sharply descends back down the loop to its beginning and then to the parking lot.
Rock slab on top of Pine Mountain
On top of High Rock
View of the Town of Pikeville
Along the trail you pass a short side path to a lovely spot where the Bad Branch takes a 60-foot plunge over a cliff. This side trail goes down to a ravine and then climbs steeply through rocks before dropping to the base of the falls 0.9 miles from the branch. The cascading water makes a soothing sound as it plunges to the rocks below. If you save the falls for the end of the hike the sound of the plunging water on the rocks magically washes away all of the days hard climbs and threatens to ease your mind into a deep relaxing state.