Pilot Rock - USDA
Pilot Rock is a unique hiking destination for a short walk and viewing some spectacular scenery. This location, thirteen miles northeast of downtown Hopkinsville on Highway 507, sits directly on the county line and is the highest point in both Christian and Todd Counties with an elevation of 966 feet above sea level. It is formed from the Big Clifty sandstone, which comprises the cap rock under which Mammoth Cave lies.
Pilot Rock has been cited as a landmark since local history was recorded, and the site was even visited by early Native Americans. In the book Rock Art of Kentucky by Fred E. Coy, it is stated that “petroglyphs were observed on a small sandstone ledge on the western side and near the summit of Pilot Rock” where there are at least three turkey tracks that have been counted (pp. 29-30). If you should locate the petroglyphs, please do not vandalize or attempt to remove them.
In his 1930’s work entitled History of Christian County, Charles M. Meacham shared his initial experience of Pilot Rock, saying, “From out of a wooded plain, the rock rises high above the tree tops surrounding it. The road by which it is approached, after a gentle ascent to higher ground in the woods, suddenly comes within the shadow of the great pile of stone rising a hundred feet or more.” The height of Pilot Rock from base to summit is an estimated seventy-five to one hundred feet.
In the 1950’s Pilot Rock was owned by Clarence Boyd who, during the Combs and Breathitt administrations in Frankfort, lobbied to have the state purchase it for a state park; but unfortunately, his efforts were unsuccessful. In the 1960’s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) constructed a fire tower on its summit, and today remnants of the old tower foundation can still be seen. A benefit of the former fire tower is easy access to the summit by climbing a stairway left over from that time period.
Pilot Rock is apparently open to public access. Some people have speculated that it is held under private ownership by the Schlegel family; however, most will note that it is still owned by the USDA, making it accessible. When visiting Pilot Rock one can observe a well-maintained parking area for visitors, leading further to the belief that the land is indeed open to the public.
Magnificent vistas and unique rock formations await visitors of Pilot Rock. Please be careful, as many people have fallen from the high cliffs, being severely injured or killed. The drawback to this site is extensive vandalism, graffiti, and litter. Please do not contribute to the degradation of this natural and historic site. Remember to “take only pictures” and “leave only footprints.” Respect and conservation for this one-of-a-kind site should contribute to keeping its access open for generations to come.
Recent Update: I have been told that, as of September 2013, the Highway Department has erected a fence to block access to Pilot Rock. The site is supposedly now closed to the public . . . sad day.