Globetrotting- Pikeville, KY- Day #1 Hillbilly Days

Pikeville, Kentucky, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Lexington and home to the Hatfields and McCoys.  This was the destination of our most recent trip a couple of weeks ago.  Go ahead.  I know you dying to ask… Why Pikeville?  Well there were two very specific reasons for this adventure.  First, my niece, Jessica, moved to Pikeville last fall to attend KYCO, the Kentucky College of Optometry, where she is studying to become an optometrist. The other reason, we just couldn’t pass up, was the annual Hillbilly Days festival that takes place each April.

Naturally I wanted to visit my niece and provide support since she is so far away from home.  But when Mike and I heard there was a festival celebrating the Hillbilly lifestyle, I knew we couldn’t miss it.  So off we went on the third Thursday in April with my Mom and nephew Christian, in tow, to find out what  Hillbilly Days was all about.

We decided to fly into Cincinnati because the flights were quite a bit cheaper and we were told that Lexington and Cincinnati were about the same driving distance from Pikeville.  To be quite honest Pikeville is in the middle of nowhere, so you can’t avoid several hours in the car no matter where you land.  However, in the end we could have saved about a hour of drive time had we landed in Lexington rather then Cincinnati.  But hindsight is always 20/20 (note the optometry reference), right? So once we landed in Cincinnati after our 4-hour flight, we still had to drive 3 1/2 hours to get to Pikeville. 

Besides the fact that it was a long drive, and we were eager to get to our destination to see Jessica, the view was beautiful so the drive wasn’t all that terrible.  I’ve never been to Kentucky and I so enjoyed the scenery which is completely different from California.  What we all found surprising was the sun still up at 8:00 pm in KY in April, but happily that meant plenty of light outside of the car window instead of 3 hours of driving in the dark   The winter hung around a bit longer in the US this year, so the hills and trees were a bit brown but the grass had grown in giving the hills a beautiful lush green carpet. By the time we found ourselves meeting Jessica at the local Buffalo Wild Wings in Pikeville it was 9:30pm. IMG_5369

It was a long day of travel, but we all knew the fun was going to begin the next day.

We stayed at the Landmark Hotel which was less then a mile walk to downtown and where all the Hillbilly Days festivities would be held.  There are three important things I look for when choosing a hotel; location, ratings from other guests and there MUST be a restaurant/bar in the hotel.  I like the option of being able to eat breakfast at the hotel and most nights we like to end with a nightcap, which is a heck of a lot easier when the bar is close to your room.  We checked in late and were immediately told that the restaurant/bar at the hotel had closed two weeks prior.  Honestly had I realized this bit of information prior to my arrival, I would have cancelled my reservation and changed hotels.  But no matter, I was with some of my most favorite people and I knew we were up for a great time regardless.

The next morning we all met at our hotel and headed out to find breakfast somewhere, as clearly there was none to be found at our hotel, and then headed off to pound the pavement at Hillbilly days.  

The moment we arrive at Hillbilly days, everywhere you look are people dressed in Hillbilly attire and all these trucks lining the streets. Just think of the truck from the Beverly Hillbillies and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.  Every car is decked out in hilarious bumper stickers with coon tails hanging off the antennas and every owner is wearing overalls and a felt slouch hat. 


As I was taking a picture of one of the vehicles the man sitting in it said, “Come over here and we will get you an even better photo.”  What ended up was an awesome picture of me sitting on his lap in his truck  I’m pretty sure he thanked my husband for letting that happen.


One of our prime objectives at Hillbilly Days, and our trip to Kentucky in general, was moonshine tasting.  What is moonshine?  Moonshine, affectionately termed “white lightening”, is a distilled alcohol made primarily of corn mash and is basically clear, unoaked whiskey.  Pikeville just built its first brewery/distillery in downtown, called Dueling Barrels, and they had a tasting of their 3 flavors of moonshine.  The gentleman doing the tastings told us the process for making moonshine and that it’s basically baby whiskey, since it doesn’t go through and aging process.  Mike and I both thought they were all very smooth and would’ve purchased some up, right then and there, if the distillery was open for sales.  Unfortunately they won’t be officially open until this Summer, so we were out of luck.  Instead we all settled with trying one of the delicious moonshine cocktails they were offering and saddled up to a barrel to catch some sun and relax a bit before heading back into the crowd.  


Next we detoured from the festival and headed over to the University of Pikeville, where the Kentucky College of Optometry is housed.  Jessica’s class will be the second class to graduate from KYCO, so the building and classrooms are all brand new.  When I compare where I went to college, and the materials and facilities that were available to me, it’s almost embarrassing.  She  has state-of the-art equipment and we really got a good idea about what a day in her school life is like.


We spent the rest of the night walking around picking out food, people watching and waiting for the other family members to arrive. My cousin and her husband, Wendy and Scott, who were driving all the way from Indiana to spend the weekend with us.  I guess they figured this was a heck of a lot closer then California and they might as well make the trip while they had the chance.   When they joined us we all stuffed our faces with food, watched the Hillbilly beauty pageant and listened to some live music.  At some point we’d all had enough time on our feet so we decided to go back to our hotel and have a little party in our room.  See when the bar would have come in handy?  Since we only had one more day in Kentucky, instead of going back to Hillbilly Days the following day we planned to go for a hike and then stop at another distillery in a town about 45 minutes away.

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