10 Best hikes in Kentucky-Choose the right direction for you next adventure
Kentucky has plenty of outdoor activities for everyone from beginners to experts.
From horse country to Appalachia, Kentucky offers a wide range of hiking opportunities including the largest cave systems in the world.
There are countless hiking opportunities throughout Kentucky, from the Daniel Boone National Forest to Mammoth Caves National park.
Here are 10 of our favorites.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, this park near Slade, KY, has more than 20 miles of hiking trails, a 60-acre lake for paddling and swimming, and a playground for kids.
If you want to stay overnight, there are cabins available as well as tent, RV, and cabin campsites. The park’s signature arches create a natural bridge that’s worth seeing.
The most difficult hike in the park is the seven-and-a-half-miler Sand Gap Loop, which starts just outside the Natural Bridge entrance.
You’ll start out by following an old logging path along the mountain ridge. Then you’ll descend to more difficult terrain, descending until you reach the Lower Hood Branch River (the river where the hike begins).
You’ll be able to see some amazing views from below the cliffs if you take the longer hike. However, if you don’t want to go for the long hike, there are plenty other shorter hikes in the national parks that offer similar views.
Red River Gorge Geological Area
The Red River Gorge lies next to the Natural Bridges State Park, which is one of the best climbing destinations in the southeast.
It’s one of America’s most beautiful national parks, featuring 29,000 scenic acre of cliffs, rock formations and waterfalls.
If you’re planning to hike, the Gladie Visitation Center near Stanton, Kentucky is a good starting point for learning more about the area.
There are dozens of hiking trails in the Red River Gorge, including the Sheltowee Trail.
The trails around the campground at Koomer Ridge are moderate hiking trails that include several scenic overlooks. You can create a seven mile loop by combining the Rough Trail, Timber Trail, and Buck Trail.
You’ll need a hiking camera that captures great pictures of this breathtaking view.
Sheltowee Trace Trail
It’s one of Kentucky’s most popular hiking trails, a 319-mile trek that starts near Morehead, Kentucky and ends at Pickett State Park.
It’s not just for hiking; there are sections where you can ride horses and mountain bikes. For through-hiker, the Appalachian National Scenic Trails hit some of the most beautiful parts of Kentucky.
The Sheltowee Trail is considered the “back bone” of the Daniel Boone National Forrest. It provides connecting trails throughout its length so you can easily create short loops for hiking.
A Sheltowee Trail hike is an adventure through history, with old homestead sites, gas and coal mines, and other reminders of past development. It was named after Chief Blackfish of the Cherokee tribe, who gave his name to the Daniel Boone Trail. You’ll see images of turtles to remind you of the trail’s namesake.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
The seven-story Niagara of the South waterfall is one of the most famous natural wonders in the United States. It has been named the “Niagara of the South” by some people because of its size and beauty. Located near Corbin, Kentucky, it is best viewed at night when the moonlight reflects off the misty spray.
Under the right conditions, during a full moon, the 125-foot falls produce a rainbow effect at nighttime that cannot be missed.
The Moonbow Trail begins near the waterfall and continues for ten miles through the woods. It then connects to the Laurel River Trail, which leads back to the parking lot.
There are approximately 17 miles of hiking trails available at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in addition to excellent kayaking and canoeing opportunities on the Cumberland river.
Land Between the Lakes
The Land Between the lakes is a national recreation area located in the United States. It lies between two lakes, Lake Barkley to the east, and Lake Kentucky to the south. Both lakes were formed when dams were built across the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.
The result was the formation of the country’s largest island, which was later declared a national park in 1963.
There are lots of camping opportunities within the park, and as expected, a big emphasis on water activities. However, there are also plenty of hiking opportunities available, ranging from the 58-miles long North/South trail to shorter hikes through the woods.
The northern part of the course has mainly single track trails alternating between the shore line, dense forests, and scenic ridges, with seven springs along the way as well as three back country shelters.
On the southern section of the park, you’ll find more multiuse trails, including one called the Honker Trail, which is a four-and-a-half mile loop around Lake Powell. Along the trail, there are some great views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail
Once completed, the Pine Mountain State Scenic trail will be part of the 1,800-miles Great Eastern Trail that runs from Alabama to New York.
The Kentucky section of the Appalachian Trail stretches from Pineville to Elk Horn City. However, while most of the trail has not been completed, you can already hike some parts of the trail today.
The Birch Knob section of the AT is named after the highest point on this part of the route, which lies between Elkhorn City and US 23. It covers 25.2 mile stretch of hilly terrain through some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful scenery. Along the way, you’ll encounter both high, dry ridges and wet bogs.
At Birch Knob, an observation deck provides stunning vistas of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, and even Ohio and Tennessee on sunny days.
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
Located in Lexington, KY, the 734 acre Raven Run Nature Sanctuary preserves the natural beauty of the river palisades. There are more than ten miles of hiking paths including meadows, streams, woods, and wetlands that are typical of the region.
You’ll see hundreds of plant species and bird species at the park, including remnants of 19th-Century settlers. Hikers are asked not to stray off the designated paths, and dogs aren’t allowed inside the park.
The moderately challenging, four-mile Red Trail is one of the longer trails in the preserve, hitting a lot of different things on a rewarding route.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Sterns, Kentucky is known for its beautiful trails, including easy accessibility to both the Daniel Boone Nat’l Forest and the Big Southfork Narrows Recreational Area.
The area is designated to preserve the Big South Fork of Tennessee River, and it includes numerous gorges, water falls, and sand stone bluffs that make for a spectacular hike.
One popular overnight hiking trail is the Angel Falls Over Look-Grand Gap Trail, which is 11.3 miles long and begins at the Leatherwood Ford River Access Area off of Highway 297.
Carter Caves State Resort Park
Located in the far northeastern part of the state, Carter Caves State Resort park has the highest concentrations of caves in any part in the state, and it’s becoming a popular place for rappelling and climbing.
Even if you don’t go underground, there are plenty of opportunities for traditional hikes in the park. For people who do want to go underground, the park has two main caves—Cascades and X Cave—that offer guided tours throughout the entire season.
There are more than 100 campsites available in the national parks to make a weekend out if it.
There are more than 26 total trail loops at the park, some of which are multiuse (for example, there are several loop options for hikers, horseback riding, and biking) and others for strictly hiking.
There are some impressive limestone natural bridges, sand stone arches, and scenic hillsides.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National park may be best known for the underground sights, but visitors will find nearly 84 miles worth of trails to hike above the surface as well.
There are lots of options for hiking in the huge park, including more than 65 mile of back country trails, starting at six different trailheads— Maple Springs, Lincoln, Big hollow, First creek, Temple hill, and White oak.
If you’re looking for a place to stay close to the amenities, there are several options within 10 miles of the Visalia Convention Center.
There are three campgrounds and more then a dozen primitive campsites available in the back country. A motel and rental cabins are also located in the park.
If you’re looking for a longer trail, the 8.7 mile Sal Hollow Trail starts at the Maple Springs Trail Head and offers rolling hills without any steep climbs.
What national parks in Kentucky have hiking trails?
Recommend several popular national parks in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to 33 hiking trails with an average 4.1 star rating from 5,864 community reviews.
What are the different types of hiking trails in Kentucky?
There are lots of things to do on the hiking trail system in Kentucky. You’ll find 725 hiking, 537 walking, 419 running, and more.
What is the longest trail in Kentucky?
The longest hiking route in Kentucky is Cumberland Mountain Big South Fork: Bunker Hills to Station Camp Paddle Pathway. It is estimated to be 61 miles long and takes approximately 31 hours and 21 minutes to complete.