Nestled in the heart of eastern Kentucky, the Dawkins Line Rail Trail is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. This 36-mile linear trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, offering breathtaking views and history. The trail stretches from Hagerhill near Paintsville in Johnson County to Evanston in Breathitt County, with the first 25 miles leading up to the Tip Top Tunnel. This portion of the trail is a true testament to Kentucky’s natural beauty, featuring an impressive 24 trestles and the wood-lined 662-foot Gun Creek/Ivyton Tunnel at Ivyton. While the final 11 miles are now complete, the Carver/Tip Top Tunnel at Tip Top remains inaccessible, which means that the Evanston side can only be accessed from Breathitt County. Convenient parking is available at the Jenny’s Creek, Swamp Branch, Royalton, and Jane Beshear trailheads, making it easy for visitors to access the trail and explore all it offers. As the largest rail-to-trail in the state, the Dawkins Line Rail Trail is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an unforgettable experience.
The Dawkins Subdivision of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad was a railroad line that operated for 51 miles between Dawkins and Vail. It was originally built by the Big Sandy & Kentucky River Railroad in the early 20th century to transport timber and coal from the rugged Appalachian Mountains. It was a minor branch line until an extension into Breathitt County was completed in 1951, opening up vast, untapped coal reserves. By the 1990s, most of the traffic on the branch was handled by just one line as many of the smaller rail-served tipples had opted to ship coal by truck to docks along the Big Sandy River near Catlettsburg. The promotion of unit coal train service, which offered better rates, led to the elimination of smaller, less efficient rail operators. The line was officially abandoned in 2004. The Dawkins Subdivision was railbanked by the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council in preparation for its conversion into a rail trail. The first 18½ miles of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail was opened on June 15, 2013. As of 2023, the trail is 36 miles long, extending from Evanston in Breathitt County to Hagerhill in Johnson County. The only incomplete section of the trail is the Tip Top Tunnel.