Buckhorn Lake is situated in the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky. This is an area that possesses a landscape as rugged and extraordinary as any found in the state. The plateau is deeply traversed by a series of narrow, winding valleys separated by steep watersheds and covered by a network of continuously branching streams. Originating in the southeast and flowing generally northwestward, the Kentucky River is one of this region's major rivers. The underlying mineral-bearing rock structure is sedimentary, consisting of sandstones and shale with alternating layers of coal that were deposited 250 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian Age of the Carboniferous Period. Mississippian Age limestone lies beneath the sandstones and shale, and where exposed and sculptured by winds and rains, the result has been impressive rock formations that contribute to the scenic beauty of the area.
Early settlers of Kentucky followed one of two routes into the region – either down the Ohio River or through Cumberland Gap. Many settlers were discharged Revolutionary War soldiers who were paid for their services in land by the new U.S. Government that had no funds for payment. The valleys, with their heavily wooded slopes and clear streams, made ideal homesteads.
The main means of transportation in this region were by buffalo traces and Native American trails. The buffalo traces, created by the buffalo in their quest for salt, followed the ridges and were wide, deep, and devoid of all vegetation. In contrast, the trails followed the waterways, and were narrow and only slightly depressed. The trails of the buffalo and Native Americans were later followed by explorers and hunters. Eventually these trails formed the basis for the highway system. Daniel Boone marked the first white man's highway through the mountains in 1775. The main trails of Eastern Kentucky connected with a vast system of trails that spanned the country north to south and east to west. The most notable of these was the Cumberland Gap Trail, called "Warrior's Path."
Presently, the region is being increasingly used for timber production. One area of remaining virgin timber is known as Lilley Cornett Woods. This 554-acre tract, located in Letcher County, was purchased in 1919 by Lilley Cornet, a Virginia coal miner, who preserved the tract intact until his death in 1958. In excess of 60 species of trees have been recorded in this tract, which is now owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and managed in cooperation with Eastern Kentucky University.