Kentucky’s Appalachia is a vast area rich in history, heritage, and tradition. The region’s beauty and bio-diversity have long been touted by outdoor enthusiasts and naturists since the time of Daniel Boone. Retrace the footsteps of early settlers in the land of America’s first frontier as you minister and bring the love of Christ to people in very practical ways.
Facts & Figures
Poverty: According to the statistics conducted by Appalachian Research Commission, one out of every three Appalachians suffered from poverty; their average income was 23 percent lower than the average level of American per capita income. McCreary County is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest in southeastern Kentucky along the Tennessee state border. The only county nationwide where most households earn less than $20,000 a year, McCreary is the poorest county in both Kentucky and the United States. [Jan 25, 2019]
Climate: Summer days are typically sunny warm and humid. Most areas of the region receive more than 60 percent of available sunshine during summer. The average daily high temperature for July is about 85° F.
Terrain: A glaciated mountainous terrain with thousands of valleys, “hollows,” creeks, and rivers, Kentucky’s highest point is Black Mountain in Harlan County, 4,145 feet (1,264 meters) above sea level.
Natural Resources: water, forestry products, coal, oil, natural gas, and various other minerals.
Location: The southeastern region of the state of Kentucky (bordering with the states of Virginia and Tennessee). Kentucky is located in the south-central United States along the west side of the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky ranks 37th in land size, with 39,732 square miles (102,907 square kilometers). The Commonwealth is bordered by seven states: Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois.
Kentucky's Appalachia Overview
- Before 1750, Kentucky was populated nearly exclusively by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee and several other tribes of Native Americans.
- April 13, 1750, while leading an expedition for the Loyal Land Company in what is now southeastern Kentucky, Dr. Thomas Walker was the first recorded American of European descent to discover and use coal in Kentucky.
- By 1751 surveyor-explorer and Indian scout Christopher Gist, representing the Ohio Company, mapped the Ohio River area from its headwaters (near today’s Pittsburgh) and crossed into what is now Kentucky.
- 1767 Daniel Boone led his first band of hunters as far west as what is now Floyd County, Kentucky and hunted along the Big Sandy River.
- 1769 Judge Richard Henderson financed a venture proposed by John Finley to find the Cherokees’ Warriors Path through a gap in the Cumberland Mountains; Finley convinced his friend Daniel Boone to lead a hunting party on a long hunt in Kentucky, including John Stewart, Boone’s brother-in-law; they cleared a trail through the Cumberland Gap.
- March 10, 1775, Daniel Boone along with 35 axmen begin to blaze a trail from Fort Chiswell (Virginia) through Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky. Financed by the Transylvania Company, the trail eventually came to be known as the Wilderness Road.
- June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state to be admitted to the union.
- 1820, the first commercial coal mine, known as the McLean Drift Bank opens.
- 1850, coal production for the year reaches 150,000 tons.
- 1879, one million tons of Kentucky coal production reached.
- 1917, Lynch and Portal 31 mine are established by the U.S. Steel and Coke Company.
- 1923, All-time high U.S. employment of 704,793 bituminous coal and lignite miners.
- 1941-1945, Appalachian coal mines produce millions of tons of coal for the allied war effort.
- 1950-1960, Coal mine operations begin to gradually lessen as new technologies are developed for the extraction of coal.
- 1960-1980, Various Congressional Acts and policies enacted to protect the environment begin to have an ever-increasing dampening effect on coal mining and production.
- 2020, The lack of infrastructure, healthcare, and economic development continues to foster an overall depressed economy which has led to an increase in drug abuse and other social ills in the region.
Appalachia by the Numbers
- Appalachian Kentucky’s heart disease mortality rate is 45 percent higher than the national rate.
- Appalachian Kentucky’s cancer mortality rate is 35 percent higher than the national rate.
- Appalachian Kentucky’s COPD mortality rate is 88 percent higher than the national rate.
- Appalachian Kentucky’s injury mortality rate is 103 percent higher than the national rate.
- Appalachian Kentucky’s stroke mortality rate is 26 percent higher than the national rate.
- Appalachian Kentucky’s diabetes mortality rate is 32 percent higher than the national rate.
- The average adult in Appalachian Kentucky reports feeling physically unhealthy 47 percent more often than the average American.
- The suicide rate in Appalachian Kentucky is 19 percent higher than the national rate.
- The average adult in Appalachian Kentucky reports feeling mentally unhealthy 25 percent more often than the average American.
- The prevalence of depression among fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries in Appalachian Kentucky is 18.4 percent, compared to 15.4 percent for the United States as a whole.
- The infant mortality rate is 21 percent higher in Appalachian Kentucky than in the nation as a whole.
Health Care Systems:
- The supply of primary care physicians per 100,000 population in Appalachian Kentucky is 26 percent lower than the national average.
- The supply of mental health providers per 100,000 population in Appalachian Kentucky is 7 percent lower than the national average.
- The supply of specialty physicians per 100,000 population in Appalachian Kentucky is 59 percent lower than the national average.
- The supply of dentists per 100,000 population in Appalachian Kentucky is 37 percent lower than the national average.
- The percentage of the population under age 65 that is uninsured in Appalachian Kentucky is 18.6 percent, which is higher (worse) than the national average of 16.8 percent.
- The median household income in Appalachian Kentucky is 40 percent less than the national median.
- The household poverty rate is 26.7 percent in Appalachian Kentucky, a figure higher than the national rate of 15.6 percent.
- The percentage of people receiving disability benefits is higher in Appalachian Kentucky (14.3 percent) than in the United States as a whole.
- In Appalachian Kentucky, 48.4 percent of adults ages 25 to 44 have some type of postsecondary education, compared to the 63.3 percent in the nation as a whole.
Clean-up, repair work, and painting in homes and churches
Skilled construction repairing/rebuilding homes
Attend and participate in your partner church
Homeless, senior citizens, hospitals, children’s homes, etc.
Outreach events, cookouts, evangelism, prayer walking, etc.
Sports camps or pick-up games of soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc.
Bible studies, parenting classes, lay-leader training, sewing, etc.
Attend, participate in, or lead youth events or bible study
Attend, participate in, or lead children’s events, Sunday school, or VBS
*Choosing this option may incur an additional cost
Prices & Registration
$ 619Per Participant
$ 589Per Participant
$ 559Per Participant
More Info at a Glance
- All 2023 dates open for registration except for closed dates.
- Trip Prices reflect a 6-day, 5-night mission trip/person
- What’s included?
- Additional Days: $89/person/day
- Guest House Lodging: $30/person/day
Please contact us for your customized trip estimate.
CLOSED DATES: June 25-July 16, 2023
Breathitt/Perry County & Vicinity Trips (Cordia, Hazard, Jackson, & Viper)
Natural Bridge State Park and Red River Gorge Driving Tour
At Natural Bridge State Park, enjoy hiking to the Natural Bridge, high in the mountains, in one of Kentucky’s signature State Parks. View and explore beautiful forests and rolling meadows which showcase the area’s vast terrain with vistas that display nature’s splendor. Fantastic photo opportunities abound. Accessible via a 1.5 mile uphill hike. For a more relaxing climb to the natural bridge, enjoy a ride on the sky lift (additional cost). The ascent begins one-half mile from the park entrance and ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge. If hiking isn’t your thing, you may ride the scenic skylift up the mountain and enjoy a leisurely walk to the Natural Bridge. The skylift is an additional $20/person paid at the park.
A driving tour through the Red River Gorge brings one deep into the National Geological Preserve, complete with magnificent natural wonders along the scenic byway. From the historic Nada Tunnel to the end of the byway in Zachariah, discover more than 100 stone arches, waterfalls, and plenty of natural beauty. Visit the museum and souvenir shop at Glady. With amazing vistas, short hikes, and great photo opportunities, the splendor of God’s creation is evident during this driving tour.
Mother Goose House
The Mother Goose House is a bed and breakfast and monument in Hazard, Kentucky. In 1930, Hazard resident George Stacy took inspiration to build a home in the shape of a goose after his wife had skinned the body of one he had brought home for Thanksgiving. Construction started on the Mother Goose in 1935 and was completed in 1940. The monument is a circular-shaped building with a goose’s upper body on the top half and oval-shaped windows. It is made out of rocks from many American states and Canada. Over the years before officially becoming a bed and breakfast, it was home to many owners, a store for many years under the name “The Mother Goose Market”, and a Filling Station.
Kentucky Reptile Zoo
In addition to visiting Natural Bridge State Park, enjoy a tour through the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, near the park’s entrance. The zoo’s main attraction is one of the world’s largest collections of venomous snakes. The zoo contains over 75 different species of reptiles, including snakes, turtles, lizards, and alligators. – $20/person
Harlan/Letcher County & Vicinity Trips (Cumberland, Letcher, Lynch, Partridge, & Whitesburg)
Kingdom Come State Park and Bad Branch Falls
Kingdom Come State Park, with an elevation of 2,700 feet, is the crown jewel of Pine Mountain near Cumberland, Kentucky. Admire the beautiful views from one of eight overlooks. Named after the popular Civil War novel, “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come,” by Kentucky author John Fox Jr., the park preserves 1,283 acres of unspoiled wilderness. Some of the most extraordinary rock formations in the state are featured at this park, including Log Rock, a natural sandstone bridge, and Raven Rock, a giant rock exposure that soars 290 feet into the air at a 45-degree angle!
Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve is a forested gorge covering 2,639 acres in Letcher County, Kentucky. The deep and narrow gorge, adjacent to the Jefferson National Forest is carved into the face of Pine Mountain. Sandstone boulders and cliffs along with ridgelines and knobs provide views into the Appalachia area. This roundtrip hike follows a mountain stream to a 90 foot waterfall. Refresh yourself under the falls.
Black Bear Sighting – Driving Tour
During spring and summer mission trips, enjoy a black bear sighting driving tour in the mountains near your ministry location. For animal lovers and adventure seekers, not many things in life are more exciting than seeing black bears in their wild natural habitat!
Portal 31 Mine Tour
The Portal No. 31 Underground Mine Tour offers visitors the unique experience of touring an actual coal mine by rail car. Visitors will enjoy animated exhibits along the tour. Outside Portal #31 stands a black granite monument in tribute to U.S. Steel District #1 miners who died in mining accidents. The site also features a 1920s lamphouse, bathhouse, L&N train depot and loadout system. – $30/person
Enjoy the coffee, food, and wares of The Lamp House Coffee Shop across the street from Portal 31 (your expense).
Kentucky Coal Museum
The Museum offers the public the opportunity to learn about coal mining through its presentation of the most comprehensive collection of mining memorabilia in the nation. The product of study and painstaking research, the Museum’s collection uniquely portrays life in a coal camp and mining town. – $15/person
Knox/Laurel/Whitley County & Vicinity Trips (Barbourville, Corbin, Williamsburg, & Jellico, TN)
Cumberland Falls State Park
Cumberland Falls, sometimes called the Little Niagara, the Niagara of the South, or the Great Falls, is a waterfall on the Cumberland River. The waterfall is the central feature of Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and is part of the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves designated Wild River System and is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest. During or near a full moon on clear nights, a lunar rainbow or moonbow is sometimes formed by the water of the falls. The formation of a moonbow at Cumberland Falls is aided by a combination of steep gorge walls, which reduce dissipation of the waterfall’s mist by wind, and a wide gorge which allows increased levels of moonlight. It is the only location in the Western Hemisphere where moonbows are known to appear with regularity. Enjoy photo opportunities, hiking, an interpretive center, and the gift shop located on the grounds.
Kentucky Native American Heritage Museum
The Kentucky Native American Heritage Museum was founded in 1999 to promote understanding of North America’s Indigenous People from both historic and contemporary perspectives. This is done through collection and dissemination of information about their histories, cultures, beliefs, and expressive arts. Focus is also paid to their existing communities, lifestyles, occupations and ways, and their past and ongoing contributions to Appalachia’s and our nation’s cultural weave.
Kentucky Splash Waterpark
The Hal Rogers Family Entertainment Center is home to the Kentucky Splash Water Park. The center includes an 18,000 sq. ft. wave pool, a lazy river, a kiddy activity pool plus a triple slide complex and a double slide tower! Also an 18 hole miniature golf course and an arcade. – $15/person
Recreation option upgrades are chosen on each team’s trip portal by filling out the trip update/change form. Upgrades need to be for the whole team. The chosen upgrades will be included on the final invoice for payment. A final decision on upgrades must be made 2+ months prior to the trip.
*Contact your trip consultant or look through your managed missions trip portal for more information on where your ministry location, group’s lodging, and ministry partners will be located, which will help determine which recreation options are most feasible and convenient for your specific mission trip.
Registration for recreation and any other trip upgrades can be done during registration or after registration through your trip portal, that’s assigned after registering.
The sample itinerary will give you an idea of what to expect on your Appalachia adventure. The trip itinerary will be customized for each week based on the church partner’s needs and ministry goals. Each week will be amazing!
Click here to download the sample itinerary.
Why Appalachia & What's Included?
Many different types of mission teams are needed with a wide variety of skill sets to help stem the effects of systemic and generational poverty. According to the statistics conducted by the Appalachian Regional Commission [Jan. 25, 2019], one out of every three Appalachians suffers from poverty; their average income is 23 percent lower than the average level of American per capita income. McCreary County, located in Appalachian Kentucky, is the only county nationwide where most households earn less than $20,000 a year. It is the poorest county in the United States.
Southeast Kentucky is rich in history, culture, natural resources, and scenic beauty. Yet, in terms of infrastructure, healthcare, behavioral health, mortality, and economic development, the region lags behind the rest of the nation in almost every category. The median household income in Southeast Kentucky, specifically, is 40 percent less than the national average.
When you bring a team on mission to Appalachia, you are helping small congregations to have a larger impact in their own communities. Whether through equestrian ministry, mission Bible School and sport camps, general repairs and maintenance of homes and churches, building handicap ramps, or even through skilled construction projects, your team will bring the light and the compassion of Christ to a region where many feel left behind and forgotten.
Leader & Participant Manuals (PDF)
Full Hour-by-Hour Trip Itinerary
Appalachia Ministry Partner
Experienced Staff to Guide Your Trip
Cultural Orientation & Immersion
Well-Crafted Ministry Options
Online Trip Portal to View and Update Trip Information
Worshiping with a Local Church
Service Project Materials
Delicious Meals & Snacks
Purified Drinking Water
Evening Worship Meetings
Final Day Recreation
Long-Term Ministry Partnership Opportunity
FAQ - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What are the minimum and maximum group sizes?
Our private trips can accommodate groups as small as 4 people and as large as 50+. Reduced pricing applies for groups larger than 10 people.
2. Are trips private?
Yes, your group will experience a private trip with your own trip leader(s) and ministry/service projects as well as your own group worship and debrief times.
3. What’s included in the trip price?
Ministry materials, lodging, food, and recreation. You will also have a trip consultant to set up the logistics prior to the trip, trip manuals to help your team to prepare, and excellent Thirst Missions leaders while your trip is underway. You will be responsible for your own transportation and bedding.
4. Do we need to bring our own tools?
We will have some basic hand tools and power tools in place. Since most teams are driving to this location, we expect teams to be able to bring some tools. These details will be worked out specifically with the trip consultant.
5. What will we do?
Encourage and help people and communities affected by isolation and poverty through service projects and ministry opportunities. The service projects could include light construction such as home repair, landscaping, painting, and more. There are also many heavy construction needs that will involve skilled work and equipment such as debris removal, plumbing, electrical, masonry, and carpentry work.
6. Where will we stay?
Either in a bunkhouse or floor stay facility. Group members opting for the floor stay may need to bring their own air mattress/cot, sheets, and pillow. Showers and restrooms will be available on site. The lodging will be air conditioned!
7. What about transportation?
Each team will provide their own transportation and driver.
8. What if we want to donate more money or work on bigger projects?
Additional financial donations can be given and projects will be arranged to use those funds.
9. Where will we be serving?
You will primarily be serving and ministering to the people in the Southeastern Kentucky Appalachian counties that are most affected by rural poverty according to the Appalachian Regional Commission. (Harlan, Floyd, Letcher, Perry, Knott, & Pulaski Counties)
10. When do we arrive and depart?
For a six day trip, your check-in window is between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm on the Sunday of your arrival. All trips end on Friday at 10:00 am.
11. Will we have recreation time?
Each group will have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains during a recreation activity. Recreation is complimentary, however, there are upgrades available if you prefer. What specific recreation will be included depends on the location where you’ll be staying and serving during your mission trip. Your trip consultant will have more specific information for you during your trip planning process.
12. Is the $499 registration fee deducted from my final payment?
No, it’s used right away to offset a small portion of planning and preparing for your group’s trip. Please read through our generous payment policy and cancellation agreement.
13. How do I select the ministries we desire?
Each group leader will have a missions consultant from Thirst Missions assigned who will go through ministry opportunities in detail. All group leaders have scheduled conference calls to discuss the trip and are welcome to contact their trip consultants about any other questions that arise.
14. Who will the staff be for Thirst Missions?
Each trip will have a Thirst Missions trip leader, as well as project coordinators to help on site.
15. Are any ministry materials provided?
Ministry materials are up to the teams to provide. Examples would be curriculum for VBS, sports equipment for sports outreach, and so on. Alaskan churches will have some resources that the group can use on a case-by-case basis. Most ministries require little in the way of materials. You can ask your missions consultant about suggestions for materials and ministry plans.
16. Are construction supplies included in the cost of the trip?
$40 per person will be set aside by Thirst Missions toward construction costs. Your missions consultant will give you some project and cost options—if you want to stay within the funds set aside you can, or if you’d like to do a larger project you can donate extra. All the money for supplies will be used to purchase materials which will be onsite when the group arrives.
17. Are there any additional costs?
Besides your trip cost, the only things you’ll need money for are souvenirs, church offerings, extra snacks, and money for meals at the airport.
18. How do we pay for recreation?
Payment and reservations for upgraded recreation are made by your team before your time in Alaska. Please work with your Thirst Missions Consultant or Trip leader to confirm your specific reservation.
19. Can you tell us about the food provided?
The food provided will, for the most part, be food Americans and Canadians are quite familiar with. We’ll have healthy breakfasts provided in the guest house, lunch most days will be a bagged lunch on the go, and dinners will be hearty meals served at the guest house, at the church, or at a local restaurant.
20. Can I stay in contact with people once I return home?
Yes! You can use Facebook and Instagram or email, call, or text just like you do with your friends back home. Staying in touch with new friends in Alaska is such a blessing and benefit to going and serving.
21. What are some outreach ministry ideas?
Movie nights, worship celebrations, community meals, or sports tournaments are good outreaches. If you have good outreach ideas we are certainly happy to help you make them a reality! Check out our blog for more outreach ideas.