If you want to get a feel for more of the coal mining area in the Appalachian Mountains but don’t want to get too far from the Blue Ridge Mountains, try this route. Of course the route has twisty fun curves, but to get to the first part quickly, you will have to ride 35 miles on US-23 North from the west/north end of I-26 to Big Stone Gap, VA. This part of US-23 N is not totally boring but it does feel like a major highway. Once you are in Big Stone Gap, the fun begins.
The first curvy road you will take is VA-160/KY-160. It has plenty of switch backs, blind curves and coal mountain scenery on Black Mountain, the highest mountain in KY. There is only one look-out point on the top of the mountain on the VA side close to the VA/KY border. Heading towards Cumberland, the turn-out will be on your left. We just rode VA-160/KY-160 June 2017, and unfortunately KY-160 between the VA border and Lynch, KY is in very bad shape. There are a LOT of very big potholes especially around the curves so unless you have amazing motorcycle skills that I don’t know about you will probably have to ride this section slowly. It is worth it in order to get to US-119 because that is a really awesome road unlike any others in the area. I am wishing for a repavement of KY-160 soon because in the past without the potholes, it has been a really fun ride. KY-160 passes through Lynch, KY, the home of well-known coal-related miners’ strikes in the 1930s. You can even see a coal miner’s museum if interested.
Once you get to Cumberland, KY, take a right onto US-119 N. The ride is really a blast with tons of curves and scenery once you head to and get on the top of Pine Mountain. The fun part of this section of US-119 N will end at the stoplight near Whitesburg, KY. There will be a McDonald’s restaurant on your left just before this stoplight. You can get gas if you continue straight at the stoplight, or if you continue to follow the route description, there will be a gas station on your right about a mile after you make the right hand turn to stay on US-119 N.
You will get back on US-23 for a brief time and then take US-23 BUS towards Pound, VA. This sign for US-23 BUS, Pound is small so as soon as you see it prepare to make the left hand turn into Pound. Once in the outskirts of Pound, take the left onto VA-83 and then go ~7 mi and turn right onto VA-72. VA-72 is full of twists and turns and it has been recently repaved (we rode it June 2017). Follow the route instructions for getting through Coeburn, VA or you can follow signs for VA-72 S but that is a slightly longer route. There will be gas with a Subway sandwich shop straight ahead if you stop at the second stoplight in Coeburn. You can see it from the stoplight. VA-72 south of Coeburn is even more fun that the section north of Coeburn. There is even Hanging Rock recreational area in Jefferson National Forest for a stop if you want a short nature break.
After the recreational area, VA-72 straightens up and becomes a fairly quick ride back to I-26. When we rode it in June 2017, this section of VA-72 was under road construction, but I am hoping that the construction crews complete the improvements quickly. I would sure like to get back out there on these roads when they are not under construction.
The maps for this route has been broken up into three sections. Section 1 is the start and end of the route.
Section 2 is the middle part of the route with US-23 to Big Stone Gap and VA-72 back to I-26.
Section 3 is KY-160, US-119 N, VA-83, and VA-72.
See the detailed route instructions below for details.
Big Stone Gap, VA, VA-160/KY-160, US-119, VA-83, VA-72, 185 miles from Shell Station at TN-36/TN-75
From Shell Station at intersection of TN-75 and TN-36,
Left onto TN-75 S Go 2.5 mi
Right lane and merge onto I-26 W Go 0.3 mi
Head northwest on I-26 W Go 12.6 mi
Stay in left lane and I-26 turns into US-23 N
Merge left onto US-23 N entering VA Go 36.3 mi
Take first exit on right for Big Stone Gap Go 0.2 mi to stop sign.
Left onto US-23 BUS N Go 0.3 mi
Left at stoplight onto Neely Rd (same road to get to McDonald’s restaurant)
Go 0.3 mi passing McDonald’s restaurant
Then turn right onto road after McDonald’s. Road leads up to shopping Center with Little Mexico Mexican Restaurant.
After lunch, go back to Neeley Rd. Turn Left onto Neely Rd and go 0.3 mi to stoplight.
Left onto US-23 BUS N/US-58 ALT W Go 1.0 mi to stop sign.
Right onto E 5th St S. Go 0.2 mi.
Straight onto US-23 BUS N/ E 5th St N Go 2.8 mi to stoplight in Appalachia
Left onto N Inman St Go 0.2 mi
Right onto VA-160 W/ N Inman St Go 7.9 mi entering KY
Straight onto KY-160 N Go 10.8 mi through Lynch, KY into Cumberland, KY (76 mi to here)
For a gas station or restaurant in Cumberland, continue straight to see them.
If you went into Cumberland, turn around on KY-160 , Left onto US-119 N Go ~0.2 mi
If you didn’t go into Cumberland, Right onto US-119 N. Go 0.2 mile to stop yield sign.
Merge right onto US-119 N. Go 21.2 mi to stoplight (has McDonald’s restaurant on left).
If you continue straight at this restaurant, there will be a gas station ~0.1 mi straight ahead.
Right/East at stoplight with McDonald’s restaurant to stay on US-119 N. Go 10.3 mi.
Merge Right onto US-23 S ramp to Pound, VA. Go 4.6 mi entering VA.
Left onto US-23 BUS to Pound (only a small sign with arrow) Go 1.2 mi into Pound, VA.
Left onto VA-83 E towards Clintwood. Go 7.3 mi.
Right onto VA-72 S. Go 17.5 mi to Coeburn, VA.
About 500 ft before 2nd stoplight in Coeburn, Left onto Tate Ave/VA-158 (Follow detour sign, if there, for 158)
Go 0.2 mi to stop sign.
Left onto Front St E/VA-158. Go 0.6 mi passing through Coeburn’s downtown (See old GE Electric sign on left).
Right onto VA-72 S at stoplight. Go 30.7 mi following VA-72 S signs to stop sign in Gate City.
If you want a nature break, turn right into Hanging Rock Recreational Area, ~9.5 mi south of Coeburn. See picture above.
Right onto VA-71 S/ E Jackson St. Go 1.0 mi to New Peoples Bank on right.
Left onto Jones St. Go 0.3 mi to stoplight getting into one of the two left lanes.
Left onto Kane St. Go 0.2 mi to stoplight getting into left lane.
Left onto US-23 S/ US-421 S Go 4.0 mi entering TN.
Stay right on US-23 S following signs for I-26 E/ Johnson City. Go 3.2 mi
Merge onto I-26 E/ US-23 S. Go 13 mi to Exit 13 for TN-75. Right on TN-75 to head towards TRI Cities airport/ Shell station.