Discussion from McGrain and Currens (1978)

McCreary County is at the southwestern tip of the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field. It is a well-dissected upland with a hilly to mountainous terrain. Cliff-lined gorges and ridges are present throughout much of the area. Resistant rock formations have produced such scenic features as chimney rocks, natural arches, precipitous cliffs, and waterfalls. Only an occasional flat-topped ridge or a valley flat interrupt the general rugged appearance of the topography.

Ridgetop elevations of 1,200 to 1,500 feet prevail over most of McCreary County, generally declining from west to east. However, in the southeastern corner of the county, scattered ridges and knobs rise 600 feet or more above the general plateau level. The highest elevation is 2,165 feet, a knob on Ryans Creek Mountain about 1.5 miles southeast of Hollyhill. Stephens Knob, between Hollyhill and the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, has an elevation of 2,125 feet. Several other neighboring peaks also attain elevations in excess of 2,000 feet.

The Cumberland River, which marks the northeastern county boundary, and South Fork of the Cumberland River, which crosses the western part of the county, have carved valleys 400 to 500 feet below the adjacent uplands. Flowing through a narrow cliff-lined gorge over shoals, rapids, and falls, the Cumberland River drops more than 140 feet from the point where it enters the county on the east to Lake Cumberland. Cumberland Falls is the most spectacular drop along this part of the river, and, because of the volume of water flowing over it, it is the most spectacular waterfall in Kentucky. The lowest elevation in the county is 723 feet, the normal pool level of Lake Cumberland.

The elevation of Whitley City, the county seat, is 1,360 feet. Other elevations are Bell Farm, 980 feet; Beulah Heights, 1,300 feet; Flat Rock, 1,300 feet; Greenwood, 1,218 feet; Hollyhill, 1,178 feet; Parkers Lake, 1,260 feet; Pine Knot, 1,420 feet; Silerville, 1,426 feet; and Stearns, 1,351 feet.

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

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