Southeastern Kentucky and the Witch's Knuckle - Day One

Our kind of road - broken pavement, gravel, steep switchbacks, and no traffic. KY 74 west of Middlesboro. Not the Witch's Knuckle.

Looking westerly on KY 74 from Middlesboro.

Lots of wrecked guardrail on KY 74

Near the top on KY 74

View from high point on KY 74

KY 74 downhill towards Tennessee

Corners and rock outcroppings on TN 90 near White Oak

TN 90 switchback at county commissioners residence

Heading easterly on KY 190 towards the Witch's Knuckle

Chenoa Lake Red Bull stop on KY 190

Nearing the Knuckle on KY 190

On the Witch's Knuckle
Nancy and I took off for three days in July just to take a break. We had been working so hard that we hadn’t ridden in a month or more. We had heard about the Witch’s Knuckle in southeastern Kentucky and thought we’d check out along with some other interesting looking roads in the area.


In an unusual move we headed-out without have a particular destination planned. We thought there would be a couple of State or Federal Parks where we could pull the Fun Mover in for a night or two. We arrived at Corbin which looked to be about the center of the roads of interest. We had seen two Kentucky State Parks, Cumberland Falls and Pine Mountain. With no Internet connection we decided to head southeast to Pine Mountain.

While enroute we noted that there were no RV Parks or campgrounds along the way. Arriving at Pine Mountain we discovered there was no camping at the upscale state park with cabins, lodge and swimming pool. We were directed to the next nearest campground at Cumberland Gap.

We arrived at the Wilderness Road Campground off US 58 in Virginia, part of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park It was drizzling, but we found a great, secluded site; not many people were staying here on a Monday afternoon in the rain. This campground was well maintained, had new, clean bathrooms and showers, and very friendly rangers, one of which stopped by to chat as we were unloading our KLR 650s. Sites with electric were $17 a night. Tent sites with no electric were $12.

It was still early afternoon and the rain cleared so we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out to run the Knuckle. We decided to take another route west and then double-back to run the witch’s Knuckle on KY 190 near Pine Mountain.

We zipped through the tunnel which divides Tennessee and Kentucky and took a left in downtown Middlesboro onto KY 74 west. The mountains in the distant gave us some prospect of good riding. In the next 6 miles the road deteriorated and became more and more dusty. We encountered a couple of large trucks and saw that the dust was dragged onto the roadway as they pulled in from side roads. The roads were dry now, but we could see how the dust could be more of a hazard in the rain.

Suddenly we were in some tight twisties and even a couple of switchbacks having some fun. The pavement was unmarked, somewhat rutted with a washout or two, but on the KLRs it adds to the excitement.. We crested the mountain and found some great views looking off into the valley below. Coming down on KY 74 west we entered Tennessee on TN 90. We passed through several small crossroad towns where the local’s status is inversely proportional to the number of rusting cars/trucks/RVs in the yard.

Five or six miles into Tennessee on sweepers and then we found a great section of twisties with good pavement. There was one heave in the road just east of White Oak which got our attention traveling in both directions. Hitting this with some speed could be disastrous.

There were five miles or so of good riding all the way to US 25W at Morley as we chased one of the locals in a car exhibiting impressive driving skills. There was very little traffic here as we turned-around and enjoyed TN 90 in the easterly direction. It seems one of the local sporting events is hit the curve sign with a shotgun blast so be ready to dodge.

Heading back to the east we passed through Hamlin Town and took a left onto Tracey Branch Road (paved), slowing for a horseback rider. This back road climbed to the Kentucky State Line and the beginning of KY 190. For the next 11 miles we toured through gentle sweepers with bucolic, rural views. One rather large project was the Henderson Settlement, a Methodist Church work camp founded in 1925.

Passing through a section of the Kentucky Ridge State Forest we stopped at a scenic lakeside pull-off for a Red Bull. The route then entered the forest for some seven miles and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. We assume we rode what we had heard was the Witch’s Knuckle. There were a couple of short sections of fairly tight twisties with guardrails and so-so pavement, but nothing that we’d travel 50 miles to ride. Needless to say we were disappointed with the Knuckle.

Hopping back on US 25E we headed south through Middlesboro and the tunnel. Since the weather was still holding we played tourist and stopped in the Historic Town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. This quaint town is now well off the main road since US 25 was relocated through the tunnel in 1996. To us it made the town even more interesting because of the absence of traffic. We strolled Main Street and Nancy peered into a couple of the gift and craft shops. We spied Webbs Country Kitchen which had an interesting looking menu on the front door, but it was closed on Mondays.

US 25E was rerouted in 1996 to help restore this historic area to its original condition. It is the route that Dr. Thomas Walker and friends first explored in 1750 and where Daniel Boone began to lead settlers enroute to the west in 1769. From 1776 some 250,000 settlers passed this way because of its easy access through the Cumberland Mountains. The old highway US 25E which followed the early wagon train route was unaffectionately known as “Massacre Mountain” because of the number of motorists killed on it. You can read some of the history and see some photos of the old highway before it was destroyed at

Back at the campground it came a downpour with lightening and even a little hail. It quickly passed and we fired-up the BBQ and campfire for a quiet evening before a big Tuesday of riding.



TOTAL TIME: 2.5 hours

Covered Bridge in Cumberland Gap, TN - part of a pedestrian walk

More of the walking trail in Cumberland Gap

Webb's Country Kitchen, Main Street, Cumberland Gap, TN