Historic Stearns, in Southern Kentucky is a place frozen in time. If you’re a history buff like myself and enjoy taking a step back while spending the day imagining you’re from another time, Stearns is the place to go. My Mom and I took my two boys (ages 3 & 5) on a day trip to Stearns to ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, because they had never been on a train before, and isn’t every little kid obsessed with choo-choos? Needless to say, they were absolutely thrilled.
I will just be the first to tell you, I was a little hesitant about the train ride. I was afraid it would be miserably hot, that my boys would cry the entire time, and that I would be stuck for three hours with strangers on a train in close proximity who would want to literally toss me off the caboose because my kids wouldn’t hush. The ride had the exact opposite effect. River slept almost the entire time, and Greyson was so enthralled he never made a peep except to point out the scenery, or comment on how much fun he was having.
I really enjoyed the fact that you were actually going into the original depot and company stores when you arrived at the railway. The staff members were so friendly and accommodating and everything went very smooth when we arrived. I pre-ordered my tickets online, and they were waiting for us at the depot window, which was convenient so we could head on to the Whistle Stop and picked up our pail lunches.
The tickets I ordered were 11 extra dollars because they included a coal miner’s lunch, which was a turkey club, chips, a pop or water, a HUGE piece of chocolate cake, and apple sauce. The lunches were packed into cute little red commemorative lunch boxes for us to take on the train so we could eat lunch at Blue Heron mine when we arrived. The train wasn’t cramped at all, it was a cool, beautiful day with the windows down and friendly, fun loving people ready for some history and scenery.
The train ride itself was 14 miles of old track that passed along tunnels cut so close you could reach out and grab rocks, blanketed by beautiful, lush farm land, and decades old mining towns and coal camps that could be toured if you wanted to. The train descends 600 ft into the South Fork Gorge, and offers up gorgeous river views! We passed bath houses, commissaries, and general stores on the way. It was wonderful explaining the rich culture and history of our region to my kids, because I think that sometimes we get caught up in this busy, crazy world that it’s easy for us to forget our heritage and where we come from. Today, my kids were amazed with all they saw and were willing to soak that knowledge and history up like a sponge.
When we arrived at the Blue Heron mine, the boys were absolutely thrilled to learn they would be able to walk across the coal tipple on a wooden bridge. The bridge was connected to the tipple and was accessible through a very short hike up one of the trails. Once you get to the top, you can cross the bridge and look down on the South Fork River. It was a beautiful view, and if you have kids, it’s definitely one to impress them. Blue Heron also had beautiful shaded places to eat your lunch, ghost structures where churches, homes and stores used to be during the boom town days, with trails and outfitters if you want to go hiking, tubing, kayaking, etc. I wish we would have had more time, I would have loved to of went tubing!
All in all, I believe the trip lasted around 3 hours and I paid 130 dollars for four of us to go, complete with a museum visit and lunch. From Hazard, it took us right at 2 hours to get there, so it’s honestly the perfect day trip. It’s also right around the bend (about 25 minutes) from Cumberland Falls, so you can run down there and take a peak or go hiking after you are finished with plenty of time to spare! We took the boys down for a quick visit and some ice cream!
I wanted to share this adventure because I think that teaching our young East Kentuckians about our heritage is important. Even though the trip was so much fun, and we had a great time, I wanted to make sure my boys understood that I also wanted to teach them about our history and about the industry that has helped shaped our region for over 100 years. I would certainly recommend taking a day trip to Stearns and enjoying a little town frozen in time to remind us all of days gone by.