Kentucky : Safety by City
- Bowling Green
- Cave City
- Cumberland Falls
- Harlan Tri-Cities
- La Grange
- St. Matthews
In the far southeast corner of Kentucky, you’ll find a trio of cities known as the Harlan Tri-Cities.
Harlan is a county and city, but the Tri-Cities comprise the small towns of Cumberland, Lynch, and Benham.
From Cumberland, you’re 30 minutes from both Virginia and the highest point in Kentucky at the top of Black Mountain.
A plethora of outdoor adventures awaits in Harlan County.
This is also a coal mining country, with a museum to remember all the important aspects of the industry in eastern Kentucky.
While Lynch is a small town, it was once the largest global coal camp, and tours are still available today.
There’s a popular road in this region that is known as the “Dragon Slayer.”
This road runs 20 miles and has 226 curves, some of them very tight hairpin curves.
You get stunning views of Appalachia, and you’ll share the road with motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the world who come just to ride this road.
You can also visit Kingdom Come State Park, with panoramic views at several locations and a sandstone bridge.
This park covers nearly 1,300 acres of land named after the Civil War Novel called “Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come.”
Maybe that is a good book to read on the flight here?
It’s a rare treat to visit a place where you can visit the lowest spot in a county and the highest point in a state on any given day; plus, it’s rich with history that would make any coal miner’s daughter proud.
Warnings & Dangers in Harlan Tri-Cities
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's low risk when you look at the crime data of Harlan County and the cities with police departments (Harlan and Cumberland have local police). While there will always be natural risks, a smart outdoor lover will know the best safety steps. We'll take through the specifics of this region as well.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
You won't find a public bus system here. You can sparingly get taxis or rideshares, but your best bet is to have your own car. Getting around on a bicycle is also an option, but you'll have to be very fit to explore only on a bicycle.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
No pickpockets were reported in Harlan County or the city of Cumberland in 2020. The city of Harlan, about 20 minutes west, did have two reported purse snatchings. There's a low risk of it happening to you. If you are bringing a backpack, be sure to never let it out of your sight when going into stores or restaurants.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk across Kentucky, including Harlan Tri-Cities. This state is a natural beauty, but it also has just about every risk of natural disasters. Winters can bring snow and ice storms, and when the weather is warm, flooding, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes are the biggest risks.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in the tri-cities and the county, with just one robbery reported among all the law enforcement agencies in this region. You shouldn't let your guard down, but you can also feel comfortable that there isn't an ongoing risk.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
With such a remote area, there's little risk of any kind of terror attack. Weather will be the biggest disaster to prepare for in this region.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There has been a phone scam going around Harlan County for quite some time, but it's targeted at people who live here. One thing to look out for as a tourist is rental scams. If you are renting through a third party, make sure they can show proof of a renter's license, will talk to you on the phone (ideally Facetime), and don't ask you to wire money ahead of time. If you only email someone, you might set yourself up for a scam.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women who love the outdoors will love this area. The views of the mountains are worth the trip before you even explore anything else. If you're looking for a place with a lot of shopping, spas, and air-conditioned attractions, this isn't the place for you. Women face a low risk of dealing with crime, as the numbers are just very low here.
TAP WATER RISK : MEDIUM
There isn't an easy-to-find Water Quality Report for Harlan County or Cumberland, and I've done some extensive digging. Due to this lack of transparency, we're giving it a medium risk. Even the water utility in the region doesn't provide the required Consumer Confidence Report. You can call (606)589-4024 closer to your visit to ask about the most recent water quality concerns.
Safest Places to Visit in Harlan Tri-Cities
Kingdom Come State Park is a great place to start.
There’s a cool feature here called “Log Rock”, and it’s just what it sounds like.
It’s a massive rock that is parallel to the ground and looks like a tree that has fallen over.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell if it’s a rock or a log.
Put Raven Rock on your to-do list, as this massive rock seems to defy gravity, standing nearly 300 feet tall and leaning at a baffling angle.
There are several scenic viewpoints you don’t want to miss.
On a clear day, you swear you can see as far as the ocean (you can’t), but the sweeping views are endless.
There’s a lake here primed for anglers to catch bass, crappie, and trout.
Portal 31 Mine Tour takes you to the old coal mine on a rail car, so you don’t have to worry about walking through.
You’ll learn the complexities of mining for coal and memorials of those who lost their lives trying.
Several buildings where the miners would eat and bathe are also part of the tour.
The Kentucky Coal Museum in Benham has two stories of extensive artifacts and mining equipment throughout the years.
The museum is designed to tell the stories of workers who came from around the world to work in the mines, and you’ll get a walk through their daily lives working in a coal mine.
You can learn about the canaries in coal mines, used as a “warning” to see if toxic gasses were filling the cave.
If the canary died, workers knew it was time to get above the ground.
You can also visit a Loretta Lynn display, paying tribute to her song “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
On the Backroads of Appalachia, you’ll find The Dragon Slayer roadway.
This 20-mile stretch of roadway has more than 200 twists and turns.
It’s extremely popular with motorcycle groups.
You can also ride the Double-Headed Dragon Trail or the River Dragon if slaying one dragon isn’t enough.
Stop by the Welcome Center in Lynch for maps and swag.
If you’re looking for an interesting place to stay, the Benham Schoolhouse Inn has been transformed.
What were once classrooms are now guest rooms, and there’s a banquet hall for special events.
As a bonus, this inn offers shuttle rides to and from regional airports.
Places to Avoid in Harlan Tri-Cities
Throughout the tri-cities, you won’t find dangerous neighborhoods or bad parts of town.
These are very small towns with the main road between them that contains most of the tourist attractions.
Harlan County has a low crime rate too and a very rural layout.
Cumberland is known as the Black Bear Capital of Kentucky.
Bear sightings aren’t just possible here, it’s probable.
The bears do make their way into the towns, generally in search of food.
While seeing a bear might be really cool for you or the kids, bears can be quite dangerous.
I’ve long joked that if I am ever found dead in the woods, you can rest assured my last words were, “WHO IS A GOOD BEAR?
You aren’t so tough, are you?”
Kentucky Fish & Wildlife offers these bear tips, should you come across one or a family of bears:
- Black bears are curious. They might saunter closer to you to get a look. They might stand on their back legs to get a better look at you.
- Black bears will generally not want contact with you, even if they are getting closer. Their desire to avoid you will usually overpower their curiosity once they realize you aren’t a foe.
- Yell at the bear, and tell it to go away (really, you can say anything, but your natural instinct will likely be to shoo it away). This will let the bear know you are human. Raise your arms and get as “big” as you can.
- Don’t run from a bear and don’t climb a tree to get away from it. A bear is better than you at both activities.
- If a bear does happen to be aggressive, fight back. Playing dead isn’t going to work with a black bear.
- Purchase bear-proof containers to carry all your food and you can also get a bear spray. The spray isn’t like perfume. It’s only used when a bear attack appears imminent.
- When you see a bear, in the city or in the wild, back away slowly. Don’t get into a turf war with the bear.
- If you see baby bears, then momma isn’t far behind and she’s very protective.
- If you see a bear being aggressive, call Fish & Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Harlan Tri-Cities
- If you have specific safety questions, call the Harlan County Sheriff’s Office at (606) 573-1313. The number for the Cumberland Police Department is (606)589-2105. You can also find the Sheriff’s Office on Facebook @harlancountysheriff.
- You can sign up for emergency alerts through Hyper-Reach. It’s provided by the Harland County Emergency Management Agency. Call (606)714-1055 to sign up, or text the word “ALERT” to that number. This notification system will send any alerts that have to do with public safety, including weather warnings.
- Anglers need a fishing license from Kentucky Fish & Wildlife. You can’t fish without one and your home license won’t suffice. It’s easy to purchase a license online.
- You can also hunt for bears in this area, with certain restrictions and rules. There are several types of bear hunting permits, but not all of them are available to non-residents, so review the details before you purchase anything.
- While you might be concerned about altitude sickness in the mountains, even the highest point in Kentucky is just above 4100 feet. It generally takes about an 8,000-foot elevation for attitude sickness to set in. However, you might notice more labored breathing if you aren’t used to an elevation gain. I once moved to a new home that was at 5,500 feet. As I carried the boxes I wondered why I was breathing so hard. While I wasn’t “sick”, I could tell I was at a higher elevation than where I previously lived. If you are cooking or baking at an altitude over 3,000 feet, you should adapt to “high altitude” cooking methods.
- When taking the Dragon Slayer highway tour, it’s going to be tempting to take your eyes off the road with the amazing views. If you are traveling with another adult, you could drive the road twice and switch drivers halfway. This will allow everyone to soak in the views without risking a distracted driving moment on a hairpin curve.
- Harlan County did get impacted by the summer floods of 2022, but not nearly as bad as the area around Hazard. A lot of help came from Harlan County and supplies were running out in the stores. While the tri-cities never had to evacuate or shut down, it’s a somber reminder of how quickly flash flooding can happen in Kentucky. Never try to drive across a flooded roadway, even if you feel confident you can make it across.
- If you are visiting during a warmer month, ask your hotel and any tourist attraction where the tornado shelter is – just in case. You don’t want to be caught outside with a tornado on the way. Keep a close eye on your favorite weather app during the day and avoid going into the wilderness if storms are predicted.
- The city of Cumberland is not near Lake Cumberland State Resort Park. The two are three hours apart. You’ll be closer to Lake Cumberland in Stearns or Somerset. Cumberland Gap is a city in Tennessee, just across the border from Middlesboro, Kentucky.
- When visiting Black Mountain, don’t get your hopes up. The site is on private land, and there are just radio and weather towers at the top. It’s not a hike to a brilliant view of the Kentucky landscape. There is a dirt road to get to it, so make sure your vehicle can handle dirt, gravel, and possibly mud.
So... How Safe Is Harlan Tri-Cities Really?
The crime data from 2020 throughout Harlan County shows very low crime rates for robbery, violent crimes, and property crimes.
While you should still take all the safety steps you would in a high-crime area, you don’t have to constantly worry about being a victim.
Looking at the Facebook page for Harlan County Sheriff’s Office, there are a LOT of drug arrests here in 2022.
Post after post shows the drugs, cash, and weapons seized.
This is part of the ongoing Opioid Crisis being fueled by drugs tainted with Fentanyl.
You should never purchase prescription drugs from any person or place that isn’t a licensed pharmacy.
Even something as simple as a new friend giving you a Xanax could lead to an overdose.
The most serious concerns here are the natural dangers, like the steep cliffs on the side of the road, the bugs/ticks/snakes in the wilderness, the prominence of bears, and the various types of weather that can happen.
This is a place where basic safety and emergency knowledge can go a long way to enjoying the best parts of Harlan Tri-Cities.
How Does Harlan Tri-Cities Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a U.S. Travel or Work Visa to enter the country, but after that, you can travel freely without having to show your visa. Be sure to store it in a safe, waterproof place during your adventures.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. There might be businesses that only accept cash, so bring a little bit with you each day. Just don't carry around a big wad of cash.
- Weather - You'll want waterproof outer layers of clothing in case you get caught in the wilderness during a rainstorm. Layers of comfortable clothing are helpful throughout the year because the temperatures can fluctuate a lot. Winters can get bitterly cold, but it's usually not too bad. You'll still want a coat and base layers underneath. Bring sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, and if you are going bear hunting, there is a requirement to wear orange.
- Airports - The Tri-Cities of Tennessee have an airport that's about two hours from Cumberland. You can also get to Knoxville's airport or Lexington's airport in under three hours.
- Travel Insurance - Definitely get travel insurance for your flight, and consider purchasing additional coverage for wilderness adventures. There are options to protect you from an accident, slip, and fall or illness that happens in the wild.
Harlan Tri-Cities Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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