Discussion from McGrain and Currens (1978)

Bell County is located in the rugged mountainous section of southeastern Kentucky. Except for the broad, alluviated valley of Yellow Creek at Middlesboro and the narrow valley bottoms of the Cumberland River and a few of its tributaries, flat areas are almost nonexistent. The lowest elevation in the county is about 975 feet, the point where the Cumberland River leaves northwestern Bell County.

Mountainous topography is predominant. Pine Mountain, though not the highest, is one of the most conspicuous topographic features in the state. In Kentucky, it extends in a northeast direction from Whitley County to Pike County, passing through northern Bell County. Pine Mountain is a long, nearly straight, asymmetrical, sandstone-capped ridge with an abrupt northwest-facing escarpment and a less-steep southeastern back slope. Its remarkably uniform character sets it apart from the maze of irregular hills and sinuous streams to the north and the higher, irregular mountain masses to the south. The crest of Pine Mountain in Bell County rises gradually from southwest to northeast; peaks range from 2,100 to 2,500 feet. The Cumberland River has cut through Pine Mountain at Pineville.

Cumberland Mountain, the crest of which marks the boundary between Bell County and the Commonwealth of Virginia, mirrors Pine Mountain. It also extends in a northeast-southwest direction and is essentially parallel to Pine Mountain. The linear nature of both Cumberland and Pine Mountains is associated with the geologic history of the Cumberland Overthrust Fault Block. Cumberland Mountain is also the divide between the Cumberland and Tennessee River drainage basins. Elevations on the peaks of Cumberland Mountain along the Kentucky-Virginia boundary range from 2,200 feet to more than 3,500 feet. The highest elevation in the county, 3,500 feet, is in the vicinity of White Rock lookout tower, northeast of Cumberland Gap.

Brush Mountain, Little Black Mountain, and Log Mountains are sinuous ranges containing conspicuously high peaks and ridges. Higher elevations on Brush Mountain range from 2,800 to 3,300 feet; Little Black Mountain, 2,600 to 3,000 feet; and Log Mountains, 2,700 to 3,100 feet. Rocky Face, a conspicuous single north-south ridge adjacent to U.S. 25-E about 4 miles north of Middlesboro, has an elevation of 2,130 feet.

The sides of many of the mountain peaks and ridges are quite steep. Local relief may be as great as 1,500 feet over a horizontal distance of 1/2 mile in the area south of Pine Mountain. North of Pine Mountain, maximum local relief generally ranges from 800 to 900 feet.

The communities are all located in the valleys. Arjay has an elevation of 1,027 feet; Beaverly, 1,280 feet; Fonde, 1,310 feet; Fourmile, 1,014 feet; Frakes, 1,445 feet; Hulen, 1,090 feet; Kettle Island, 1,080 feet; Middlesboro, at the post office, 1,138 feet; Pineville, at the courthouse, 1,015 feet; Pruden, 1,280 feet; and Varilla, 1,040 feet.

Two areas of special scenic interest in Bell County are Pine Mountain State Park on Pine Mountain overlooking Pineville, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park south of Middlesboro, which covers part of Cumberland Mountain. Cumberland Gap, a remnant of an ancient stream channel, is at an elevation of 1,648 feet. The gap was the gateway through the Cumberland Mountain barrier for early settlers more than 200 years ago, and today is an important route for north-south motor vehicle traffic.

The 7.5-minute topographic quadrangle maps that cover the county are shown, by name and by index code (Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet) on the index map.

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