Estill County: Where the Bluegrass Meets the Mountains
By Brooklyn Walters
Photo: J. Stephen Conn
If you ask me my favorite places in the world, Estill County, Kentucky is at the top. My family has lived there for generations, and I’d love to continue that trend. To me, it is more than just home, but also a peaceful place that I go to get away from the pressures of my fast-paced life as a student.
With all the charm of a Hallmark movie, the twin cities in the county--Irvine and Ravenna--hold such significance to me. From summer days at Kiwanis Ballpark in Ravenna to marching with the band in the Christmas parade in Irvine, some of my most fond memories growing up are held there.
Filled with history, hiking trails and folks who will make you feel at home, Estill is one of the most beautiful parts of the state to me. It is affectionately deemed “Where the bluegrass kisses the mountains,” and there are some of the most wonderful sights of the Appalachian Mountains there. It’s a great place to raise a family, to grow up in and to take a day trip to.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Estill, Kentucky:
1. Mushroom Hunting in the Spring
Morel mushroom hunting is like a sport where I’m from. These small brown mushrooms taste delicious and are widely looked for while they’re in season. There’s nothing like loading up in the truck and driving back in the mountains to scope out morels. I highly recommend researching more about this fun tradition and its roots, and maybe even participating for yourself!
2. The Mushroom Festival
Estill County loves morels so much that there is an entire festival dedicated to them in late April called the Mountain Mushroom Festival. It’s one of my favorite annual events the community puts on, and I look forward to it every year. They have live music, booths set up down the streets in town, and many inflatables and fun activities for kids. My favorite part about this event is getting to see so many people in the community gathered in one place enjoying themselves.
This year, the Mushroom Festival will be held April 29-30.
3. Visit the Furnaces
Fitchburg Furnace, Cottage Furnace and Old Furnace are no longer functional, but they each hold decades of history. Made and used in the 19th century, these structures are remarkable to see. Each is unique in looks and story, so I love seeing them all.
Fitchburg Furnace is very accessible, and you can drive up to it. Cottage and Old Furnaces require a bit of a hike, but they are well worth it, in my opinion. If you have trouble with mobility, Fitchburg Furnace may be the best one for you.
4. Try Local Restaurants
Burger Barn, The Twin and the Wig-Wam are a few classics that I love! Hippie Hutt and Backstreet Grub are newer, but they also have sweet treats and great food. Here are my favorite things to order at these places:
Burger Barn: pizza bread, hot fudge cake, chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream
The Twin: chicken salad sandwich, cherry and chocolate dipped ice cream cones
Wig-Wam: blueberry pancakes
Hippie Hutt: bubble tea, frozen hot chocolate, shaved ice
Backstreet Grub: chef’s salad, corn nuggets
5. Swing by the Estill Springs
There are a set of sulphur springs in the county that are said to have healing properties. There was a hotel that stood near the springs until it burned in 1924 and was never rebuilt. A trip to the springs will take you back in time and is a great opportunity to explore another historical site.
6. Take a Hike
While the Red River Gorge is a popular attraction bordering Estill, this county has some beautiful, less busy parts of the Daniel Boone National Forest that make for a great hike. I love learning to identify plants and mushrooms I see along the way.
7. The Railroad Festival in the Fall
This event happens around the beginning of September, and it’s so much fun! If you have kids that love trains or if you love them yourself, this is a great event to attend. There is also live music, a car show and local vendors set up. Estill county was built on the railroad, so it’s an important part of the culture of the county.
This year, the Railroad Festival will be held Sept. 9-10.