Daniel Boone National Forest

This swing bridge in the Red River Gorge connects the southern half of the Sheltowe Trace with the northern. (Photograph courtesy Dave Hooper)

The Daniel Boone National Forest features over 500 miles of developed trails.

The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail is our pick to explore the entire forest. It starts at the extreme northern end and runs for approximately 254 miles through deep canyons, along narrow ridgetops, rivers and lakes, and through areas of strikingly beautiful rimrock cliffs. The Trace links many of the forest's developed recreation areas, which offer comfortable facilities and overnight camping for through-hikers. The trail also links other forest trail systems in the Red River Gorge Geological Area, Cave Run Lake, Laurel River Lake, Cumberland Falls State Park, and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

If you want to focus on a single area, people have spent their entire hiking life just exploring Red River Gorge Geological Area. Hikers can visit more than 100 natural stone arches and overhanging rock ledges, called rock houses. Dave Hooper has been hiking in the Red River Gorge off and on for 20 years. Dave says that the Gorge "gives you the vistas of the west without the hills." For a long weekend trip, Dave recommends the Sheltowee Trace north of Highway 77. If you want something shorter but with far, far vistas, the two-mile Auxier Ridge Trail is a must-do. The Red River Gorge has become very popular these days—over 400,000 visitors each year. If you go, please be particularly careful to avoid trampling at the base of rocks, and as always, leave no trace.

The Natural Arch Trail is the most popular trail in the Somerset District. It takes in a spectacular 60-by-100-foot sandstone opening. But don't even think that's the be-all and end-all of interesting trails in this district. The Nathan McClure Trail provides a scenic meander along Lake Cumberland. The Cliffside Trail takes off at Sawyer Campground and runs along the Cumberland. The trail crosses over a couple footbridges. Great Gulf Bottom Trail, kind of contrary to its name, offers a spectacular panorama after a brief 1.5-mile hike. Buffalo Canyon Trail is a satisfying five-mile loop.

If you're looking for a wilderness experience, the Beaver Creek Wilderness is a small but exquisite eastern wilderness. It lies completely below the cliff line that surrounds the drainage and tributaries of Beaver Creek. The area is primarily hardwood forest with shortleaf pine along some of the ridges and tremendous plant diversity along the cliff lines, of which there are miles and miles. Pack your pole, because the area is a good fishery, mostly bass and blue gill. The Middle Fork Trail is a good stretch to hike.

In the Morehead District, Caney Creek Loop is recommended. This connects with the Sheltowe Trace for an easy loop or a difficult one, depending on which direction you take it. Indeed, the Sheltowe is the star trail in this ranger district: You'll find 11 worthy sections.


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