Details

  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2002)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesCultural
  • LocationKY
  • Length144.1 miles
Byway Visitor Information
Country Music Highway
Statewide Byway Partners
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
Kentucky Department of Tourism
This painted gray rock points the way to Butcher "Holler" of Loretta Lynn fame.
Dennis Adams Photo

Overview

The Country Music Highway engages with Eastern Kentucky’s heritage to capture the sights and sounds of this rich cultural region. Visitors will have the opportunity to engage with the region’s history, including Native American culture, pioneer settlement, coal mining, crafts, architecture, the Civil War, and natural resources against the backdrop of this region’s famous country music.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

The 144 mile Country Music Highway, which follows US Route 23, recognizes all the well-known country music stars that came from this area such as Loretta Lynn, Wynonna & Naomi Judd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Gary Stewart, Patty Loveless, Crystal Gayle and more. While visitors may come to see the history of those stars, they will soon come to realize that the entire region is steeped in cultural and musical history.

There are many opportunities to hear the sounds of all types of music at venues along the Country Music Highway. The byway begins north in Greenup County. Here, visitors can discover the brand new amphitheater at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. As the byway continues south, the route enters into Boyd County, home of the historic Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky. This venue launched the careers of Billy Ray Cyrus and The Judds. Billy Ray's famous "Achy Breaky Heart" video was also filmed there. Today, visitors can still stop by for a performance, many of them well under $50. The byway continues to Johnson County, home to two famous venues, the Mountain Homeplace Amphitheater and the Country Music Highway Museum. On Thursdays, visitors can enjoy a bluegrass performance at the Country Music Highway Museum and visit the 14 exhibits honoring the country music stars who inspired the byway. Moving further south to Floyd County, in the city of Prestonsburg, visitors will find the Mountain Arts Center, home to the professional entertainment ensemble, Billie Jean Osborne's Kentucky Opry. As the byway continues to Letcher County, visitors should be sure to stop by the multi-purpose facility, Appalshop, a quaint theater that features many Appalachian and bluegrass concerts.

Towards the end of the byway, visitors can find the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center, located in Pike County, which was designed as a multi-purpose facility that is available for concerts, conventions and special events. In addition to the above venues there are countless shows and festivals that feature the sounds and talents of the region. Visitors can’t miss a taste of the music!

The Country Music Highway is not only about country music. When visitors travel the Country Music Highway, they can also learn about Native Americans, pioneers, the Civil War, and the coal mining industry. The history of Eastern Kentucky has been shaped by those who, early on in the nation's history, began searching for land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Not long thereafter, as a result of being a border state between the North and South, sections of the area became battlegrounds for the Civil War such as the Middlefield National Battlefield.

As the area began to develop and grow, coal mining became an essential chapter in Kentucky, and still is. This area is well known for a very notable feud - The Hatfield-McCoy Feud, which became a nationally known event. While on the trail of feuders, pioneers, or miners, the area along Country Music Highway is full of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. The region is blessed with six beautiful State Parks from Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup County to Kingdom Come State Park in Letcher County. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County also features Broadway type musicals at Jenny Wiley Theatre.

Welcome to one of the most beautiful and historic places in the nation. As visitors travel along the Country Music Highway, and meet the friendly folks of this Appalachian region, they will quickly realize that they have found a hidden treasure. The key to a successful visit in this region is to make sure visitors have enough time to see and hear it all!

Driving Directions

The byway begins in Greenup, Kentucky and follows U.S. Highway 23 south. Visitors will pass through the towns of Greenup, Ashland, Catlettsburg, Louisa, Ulysses, Paintasville, Prestonsburg, Marton, Harold, and Pikeville before turning onto State Highway 119. Visitors will then travel through Dorton, Jenkins, Fleming-Neon, and Whitesburg with many opportunities to stop to listen to country music along the byway.

Points of Interest

  • Appalshop

    Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian region, Whitesburg, Kentucky, is home to a unique cultural institution that has been a beacon of creativity and community engagement for over five decades. Appalshop, founded in 1969, is a multi-disciplinary arts and education center dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the Appalachian region. Born out of a commitment to the people and culture of Appalachia, its founders, including filmmaker Herb E. Smith and musician Nathan Godsey, believed that the Appalachian region's stories, music, and traditions deserved to be preserved and shared with the world. Over the years, Appalshop has become a vibrant cultural hub, offering a wide range of programs and initiatives that reflect the diverse heritage of the region.

    Appalshop's impact extends far beyond the Appalachian region. Through its films, music, and educational initiatives, it has challenged stereotypes and brought a nuanced understanding of Appalachia to the wider world. Many of their documentaries have been screened at film festivals and broadcast on national television, prompting discussions on vital issues facing rural America.
    In addition to its cultural contributions, Appalshop has also been at the forefront of social and environmental justice movements. Their advocacy work on issues like mountaintop removal coal mining has led to increased awareness and policy changes.

  • Paramount Arts Center

    The Paramount Arts Center, nestled in the heart of Ashland, Kentucky, is a beloved cultural institution that has been a beacon of creativity and entertainment since its opening in 1931. This historic venue, with its distinctive Art Deco architecture, has served as a cornerstone of the community's arts and entertainment scene for generations. The Paramount Arts Center hosts an impressive array of performances, including Broadway shows, concerts, theater productions, dance recitals, and more, making it a cultural epicenter that offers something for everyone. With its commitment to promoting the arts, nurturing local talent, and providing a space for artistic expression, the Paramount Arts Center has enriched the cultural fabric of Ashland and continues to be a cherished destination for both residents and visitors.
    The Paramount Arts Center not only provides a stage for world-class talent but also plays a pivotal role in arts education and outreach. The venue hosts a variety of educational programs and workshops that engage students and aspiring artists, fostering a love for the performing arts, and nurturing the next generation of talent. Additionally, the Paramount offers a unique opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the arts through events like film festivals, art exhibitions, and community performances. Its historic significance and enduring commitment to artistic excellence make the Paramount Arts Center a cultural treasure in Ashland, Kentucky, and a testament to the enduring power of the arts to inspire, entertain, and unite.

  • MIddle Creek National Battlefield

    Middle Creek National Battlefield, located in southeastern Kentucky near the town of Prestonsburg, is a historic site that commemorates a significant Civil War engagement. On January 10, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed at Middle Creek, marking a pivotal moment in the war's eastern theater. Today, the battlefield is preserved as a national historic site, allowing visitors to step back in time and explore the events and landscapes that shaped this critical period in American history. The park offers a visitor center with informative exhibits, walking trails that lead to interpretive markers, and a reconstructed Civil War fort, providing a vivid glimpse into the challenges and sacrifices endured during the conflict.
    Middle Creek National Battlefield serves as an educational and contemplative destination, offering a unique opportunity to reflect on the impact of the Civil War in the Appalachian region. The site not only highlights the military tactics and strategies employed during the battle but also pays tribute to the soldiers on both sides who fought and, in some cases, gave their lives in the struggle for their respective causes. As part of the National Park Service's commitment to preserving and interpreting American history, Middle Creek National Battlefield invites visitors to explore the complexities of this pivotal moment in the nation's past and to gain a deeper understanding of the Civil War's profound and enduring legacy in Kentucky.

  • The Country Music Highway Museum

    The Country Music Highway Museum, located in Paintsville, Kentucky, is a tribute to the rich musical heritage of eastern Kentucky and the significant contributions of local artists to the country music genre. This museum, situated along U.S. Route 23, which has been dubbed the "Country Music Highway," offers visitors an opportunity to explore the history, culture, and achievements of country music legends who have called the region home.
    The museum features a variety of exhibits and displays that pay homage to the artists who have left their mark on country music. Visitors can explore memorabilia, photographs, and artifacts associated with legendary performers, including Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, and more. These exhibits offer a glimpse into the personal and professional lives of these musicians. In addition to static displays, the museum offers interactive experiences that allow visitors to listen to the music of local artists, watch videos, and learn about the history of country music in eastern Kentucky. There are also interactive displays where you can try your hand at making music.
    The Country Music Highway Museum is typically open to the public, and there may be an admission fee. Visitors can also obtain information about other nearby attractions, including the childhood home of Loretta Lynn, the Butcher Hollow School, and the Mountain HomePlace, which provide additional insights into the history and culture of the region.

  • East Kentucky Science Center and Planetarium

    The East Kentucky Science Center and Planetarium is a dynamic educational institution located in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. This science center is dedicated to promoting science education and exploration in eastern Kentucky, offering a range of interactive exhibits, educational programs, and a state-of-the-art planetarium to inspire curiosity and interest in science among visitors of all ages. It is located on the campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC), and Its location provides easy access to residents and visitors from surrounding areas.
    The science center boasts a variety of hands-on and interactive exhibits designed to engage visitors in scientific exploration. These exhibits cover a wide range of topics, from astronomy and space exploration to biology, geology, and physics. Visitors can participate in activities that encourage them to learn through play and experimentation. One of the highlights is its state-of-the-art planetarium. The planetarium offers immersive and educational experiences that take visitors on virtual journeys through space and time. It features breathtaking shows that explore celestial objects, constellations, and the wonders of the universe.
    The center typically charges a modest admission fee, and memberships are available for those who wish to visit regularly. It is designed to be accessible to visitors of all ages and abilities, including those with disabilities.

  • Greenbo Lake State Resort Park

    Greenbo Lake State Resort Park is a picturesque state park located in northeastern Kentucky, near the city of Greenup, approximately 20 miles southwest of Ashland. Its location in the Appalachian foothills provides a scenic backdrop of rolling hills and lush forests. The park is known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreational opportunities, and a range of amenities that make it a popular destination for both local residents and visitors.
    The park's centerpiece is Greenbo Lake, a 300-acre reservoir surrounded by wooded hillsides. The lake offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming. Anglers can catch a variety of fish, including bass, catfish, crappie, and bluegill. There is a marina that provides boat rentals, including pontoon boats and paddleboats. There are also boat ramps for those who bring their own watercraft. The lake is ideal for leisurely cruises and water-based recreation.
    The park features several hiking trails that cater to various skill levels. The trails offer a chance to explore the natural beauty of the region, including the flora and fauna that inhabit the park. The self-guided nature trail is a popular option.
    The park boasts a lodge with comfortable rooms and amenities such as a restaurant and meeting facilities. The lodge offers a comfortable base for visitors looking to explore the area. Additionally, the park has cottages available for rent, some of which are pet-friendly. There are also campsites for tents and RVs, as well as a primitive camping area for those seeking a more rustic experience. Restrooms, showers, and a camp store are available for campers. Accessible facilities and accommodations are available for guests with disabilities.

  • Jenny Wiley State Resort Park

    Jenny Wiley State Resort Park is a beautiful and popular recreational area located in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky. Situated in Floyd County, near the town of Prestonsburg, this state park is named in honor of Jenny Wiley, a pioneer woman who endured a harrowing captivity experience during the late 18th century. The park offers a wide range of outdoor activities, accommodations, and cultural attractions for visitors to enjoy.
    The park is known for its stunning natural beauty, with lush forests, rolling hills, and picturesque Jenny Wiley Lake, which covers 1,100 acres. The lake is perfect for fishing, boating, and swimming, and it provides a scenic backdrop for various recreational activities. The park offers a network of hiking trails that cater to different skill levels. These trails wind through the park's woodlands, providing opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife viewing. The Lakeview Trail is a popular choice for its scenic views of the lake.
    One of the unique attractions of the park is the Jenny Wiley Theatre, which offers live theatrical productions during the summer months. The theater provides a cultural experience against the backdrop of the park's natural beauty. Throughout the year, the park hosts special events and programs, including naturalist-led hikes, educational workshops, and cultural festivals. These events provide an opportunity to learn more about the natural and cultural heritage of the region.

  • Kingdom Come State Park

    Kingdom Come State Park, nestled in the heart of Kentucky's Appalachian region, is a hidden gem that offers a serene and immersive outdoor experience. Located in Harlan County, this state park is renowned for its rugged terrain, lush forests, and breathtaking vistas. With over 1,283 acres of protected wilderness, it provides a natural sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Visitors to Kingdom Come State Park can explore a network of well-maintained hiking trails that wind through dense woodlands, providing glimpses of the diverse wildlife that calls the area home. The park's crowning jewel is the panoramic overlook at Pinnacle Knob, which offers stunning views of the Cumberland Plateau and the surrounding mountains, making it a prime spot for photography and reflection.
    In addition to its natural beauty, Kingdom Come State Park holds cultural significance as it is part of the region known for inspiring the writings of Kentucky author Jesse Stuart. The park's peaceful atmosphere and tranquil setting make it an ideal destination for picnicking, birdwatching, and nature study. Campers can enjoy a primitive campground nestled within the forested landscape, offering a rustic and secluded camping experience. Kingdom Come State Park's commitment to preserving its natural heritage while providing recreational opportunities ensures that visitors can connect with the beauty of Kentucky's Appalachian wilderness while enjoying a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

  • Highlands Museum & Discovery Center

    The Highlands Museum & Discovery Center, located in Ashland, Kentucky, is a captivating institution that combines history, culture, and interactive learning to engage visitors of all ages. Housed in a beautifully restored historic building, this museum offers a diverse range of exhibits and activities that showcase the rich heritage of Ashland and the surrounding region. From coal mining and river transportation to local art and science, the museum's exhibits provide a comprehensive look at the area's history and culture. What sets the Highlands Museum apart is its commitment to hands-on learning, with interactive displays and educational programs that make history and science come alive for visitors.
    One of the museum's most prominent features is its Discovery Center, a space designed to spark curiosity and creativity in young minds. Children and families can explore interactive exhibits that cover a wide range of topics, from paleontology and archaeology to space exploration. The museum also hosts special events, workshops, and educational programs that make learning both fun and engaging. With its dedication to preserving the past while inspiring the future, the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center plays a vital role in the cultural and educational landscape of Ashland, Kentucky, making it a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike.

  • Mountain Arts Center

    The Mountain Arts Center (MAC), located in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, stands as a vibrant hub for arts and culture in the heart of the Appalachian region. Established with the mission of celebrating and preserving the artistic traditions of eastern Kentucky, the MAC offers a diverse range of programming that includes live music, theater, visual arts, and educational opportunities. It serves as a cultural anchor for the community, providing a platform for local and regional artists to showcase their talents and enriching the lives of residents and visitors alike. With its state-of-the-art facilities and commitment to promoting the arts, the Mountain Arts Center plays a pivotal role in preserving the cultural heritage of the region while fostering creativity and artistic expression.
    The MAC's centerpiece is a 1,050-seat auditorium that hosts a wide array of performances, from concerts by nationally renowned artists to local theater productions and community events. The venue's acoustics and design create an intimate and immersive experience for audiences, making it a sought-after destination for music enthusiasts. Additionally, the MAC offers an art gallery that features rotating exhibitions of visual art, highlighting the talents of local artists and providing a space for cultural exchange and appreciation. Through its diverse programming and dedication to fostering artistic growth, the Mountain Arts Center continues to be a vital cultural institution that enhances the quality of life in Prestonsburg and the surrounding Appalachian region.

Itinerary

  • Sounds of Kentucky

    Begin your journey in Prestonsburg to discover the history behind Kentucky’s famous country music. History lovers will enjoy a stop at the Samuel May House or the Battle of Middle Creek Historic Site, while science lovers will enjoy a visit to the East Kentucky Science Center. While you’ll be visiting too early to see a performance, check out the Mountain Arts Center, known for its Kentucky bluegrass performances.

    As you travel north on U.S. Route 23, check out the Mayo Mansion and Church in Paintsville. This cozy downtown area is a great place to stop for lunch on the way. From Paintsville, continue north for about 30 miles to Louisa. Here, visitors can find iconic stops along the byway such as the Louisa Country Music Gas Station and the Kentucky Pavilion. The Pavilion marketplace offers memorabilia of famous singers, and its Showcase of Stars displays personal items of stars from Elivs Presley to Loretta Lynn.

    Continuing north on the byway for 30 miles on U.S. Route 23, you will soon reach Ashland. While in Ashland, visitors will want to check out the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center. Stop for dinner at one of the many local restaurants for an authentic taste of Kentucky. Many of these locations offer live music. To end your day, be sure to grab tickets to a performance at the Paramount Theater to hear the sounds of Kentucky’s country music--the only way to end your day on the Country Music Byway.

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