National Scenic Trails - Sheltowee Trace

Trail Notes
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The following notes on the Sheltowee Trace are from April 1996. They are arranged in order, from South to North. For this part of the trail I followed directions provided by Brenda Coleman and Jo Anna Smith in theirbook titled Hiking the Big South Fork, second edition, as well as handouts provided by Stearns. The numbers on the left correspond to the mileages in Hiking the Big South Fork.

0.0 The trail begins at a large sign for the Hidden Passage trail. A small turtle can be found on a tree about 25 feet from the start; this is the only indication that the Sheltowee Trace starts here.

1.5 A wooden sign is down, so it is not entirely obvious that Sheltowee Trace hikers should cross the woods road.

15.0 Turtle blazes can be seen in three directions, southbound, northbound up Mark Branch, and heading towards Hemlock Grove. The ones leading to Hemlock Grove are the most obvious.

15.6 The junction with Mark Branch Loop Trail is not obvious.

18.8 We did not find a junction with the Kentucky trail here. Lots of extra turtles or a sign is needed just past the cemetery, where the trail turns right to continue on the gravel road.

22.7 The sign was on the ground, presumably removed by loggers. A turtle sign was also on the ground. Finding the trail for the next bit involved some guesswork.

29.4 The sign to Koger Arch was also on the ground. A message indicating that this is a high water route might be appropriate. We took this route due to high water and thus have no information on the condition of the trail for the next few miles.

32.1 The turnoff for Southbounders is not clearly marked.

32.6 There were very few turtles throughout the next section where the trail follows the river.

35.5 The Negro Creek crossing was slick and dangerous (a fall would be serious as the bridge is high above a deep and swift stretch of rapids). Other than Rock Creek, which we avoided, it was the most dangerous creek crossing we had on the entire trail!

37.0 I assume that the Cotton Patch shelter is not going to be renovated.

40.9 The wooden walkway has been partially destroyed by rockfall.

41.9 Many mature beech trees have been blown down in this section.

43.7 We missed the turnoff and walked the road.

47.4 Sign is down.

47.7 We turned onto the gravel road paralleling US 27, not the one by the church.

57.3 It appeared to me that this stream might dry up in summer. If so, informing hikers of this might save them from a miserably hot roadwalk/walk through a clearcut.

58.1 Extra descriptive phases would be helpful should signs be destroyed. For example for Southbounders: the trail leaves the road just past 2 houses on the East side of the road, one with numerous lawn ornaments.

60.4 Sign is down, and there is only one arrow on it. This turnoff could also be described as Singleton Road, or the way to Indian Creek Stables.

60.6 At the stables, the trail turns left. More blazes on the gravel road would be helpful.

61.55 We found this turnoff with no problems, thanks to the books description of the switchbacks. Without that, it could easily be missed.

66.24 One arrow on the sign beside the bridge over the Cumberland River is wrong. It directs northbounders away from the bridge when they should cross it.

London Ranger District All references here correspond to the Sheltowee Trace handouts provided by London Ranger District.

Map 5, Cumberland Falls This section is well cared for by Boy Scout Troop 488. Dog Slaughter Falls was difficult to cross.

Map 4, Laurel LakeA sign indicating the Holly Bay Marina might be helpful to throughhikers.We were confused by what appears to be a relocation where the trail leavesLaurel Lake.

Map 3, Big DogGreat work clearing blowdown in Cane Creek WMA! We appreciate the hours it must have taken!There is a sign down where the trail enters 119.More blazes on the roadwalks would be helpful, especially for the section where the trail turns off of 457, and the switchback about a third of a mile north of that point.

Map 2, Hawk CreekMore blazes are needed on the roadwalk south of the strip mine. We found at least 2 signs down in the strip mine. Where the trail turned off 747 past the church there was terrible dirt bike damage. Similarly, near Hawk Creek there was more destructive dirt bike damage. We lost the trail completely on out way to Hawk Creek and only found the correct switchback by chance.

Map 1, Wild CatThe ATV damage just south of I-75 was unbelievable! Walking on the road was difficult at best; in some cases the damage was so great that the ruts were over my head. In addition to being a very difficult section to traverse, this section has a very high risk of potential injury to pedestrians from high speed motor vehicles. We found the district's map to be very helpful on the next section, over Wildcat Mountain. A note of where forest service land is located (about 1.25 miles north of the monument) might be very helpful for backpackers looking for a campsite. In addition, I would advise against camping in the great wasteland just south of I-75.

Berea Ranger DistrictAll references here correspond to the Sheltowee Trace handouts provided by Berea Ranger District.

Raccoon Creek to LameroI was unable to locate the store West of Lamero. Some of the signs on Horse Lick Creek pointed to a second and third fording of the creek, while others (for Southbounders) indicated that only one fording was necessary. While not swift, Horse Lick Creek was deep (about 28 inches).

US 421 to Raccoon CreekSome blazes are needed where the trail turns from an old logging road onto High Knob Ridge.

KY 89 to US 421The restaurant on 421 is closed. The only things remaining at the spot of interest to a hiker are a soda machine and trash can. The trail just north of 421 could use more blazes so that hikers know to follow the dirt road straight ahead and cross the gravel road (an improvement from the path marked on the 1983 map.)

Turkey Foot to KY 89A sign on the relocated trail indicating the way to Turkey Foot might be helpful for summertime hikers whose view is obstructed by foliage.

Arvil to Turkey FootWe located only one open grocery store. We were temporarily confused at the spot just south of Arvil where the trail emerges from the woods andcrosses a gravel road to continue along a dirt road. A more obvious sign here would help.

Heidelburg to ArvilJust past Hale Ridge-Arvil Road the trail entered the woods on the right, followed the stream, then crossed and joined an overgrown skidder road for about .2 miles. It then left the road, turning left and heading uphill till it reached a well-used dirt road very close to Hale-Ridge-Arvil Road. The trail follows this dirt road for two or more miles before entering the forest again on the left at a spot where the road turns right. It then crosses a stream, crosses back again near an old stone wall, and crosses for a third time near a small landslide. From this point it continues to follow the creek and emerges on the road next to a farmhouse. We followed the gravel road past Todds cemetery and a small rock quarry until it turned into asphalt as we neared the bridge. This section is not used much and could use more blazes. It also doesn't match the maps- instead of a 10 mile road walk, we figured we only did five. Quite a wonderful surprise!But improved directions and markers are needed to ensure that hikers find the relocation.

We found the trail descriptions for Berea District to have two very useful features- water sources for horses (or backpackers with filters) and store locations. The water sources were very useful because the 1983 forest service maps do not show enough relief for a hiker to tell whether a water is near the trail or at the bottom of a steep cliff next to the trail. (For example, observe the Narrows just south of Natural Bridge State Park on the 1983 maps and try to decide if water can be easily obtained there. Then go hike it!)

Stanton Ranger DistrictAll references here correspond to the Sheltowee Trace handouts provided by Stanton Ranger District.

Heidelburg to KY 52 The trail is on KY 399 starting in Heidelburg and continuing for the next 3 miles. This is not reflected on the large map of the entire trail (the new brochure currently in draft form) or in the trail description. After leaving the road we followed the trail for a ways, passing a couple of signs that had been torn down. We soon found the trail had been destroyed through here, but understand that it has since been fixed by the forest service.

KY 52 to Standing RockAfter the sign on 52, we saw very few markers on this section. We had trouble determining direction at the creek crossing. I'm not sure how Southbounders would locate the turnoff from 1036. Heading down into Sinking Creek was a nice roadwalk, but coming up the other side seemed to be an endless stretch of walking on asphalt. .

Standing Rock to Natural BridgeThe turn to Big Bend road had a sign in place, but after that the trail became confusing. When the trail turned 2.5 miles later, we were not sure if it followed the dirt road or the clay road despite the sign near the turn. After entering the park we became confused as to which path was the Sheltowee, though we had no problems determining which path went to the lodge. I'm not sure if Southbounders would be confused at the park entrance or not- a sign near the gate at the Narrows might help separate the Sheltowee Trace hikers from those doing the loop trail. We guessed our way down to the parking lot above the campground where we saw a sign mis-directing us up the road, away from the campground. The campground workers were knowledgeable about the Sheltowee and told us where to find the next section.

Natural Bridge to KY 715The trail in this section was well maintained and marked, though markings were often hidden in low-visibility spots which would make winter hiking difficult.

KY 715 to US 460The section from 715 to Gladie Creek seemed much longer than indicated. The turnoff at the top of the ridge, near the wooden steps, could use extra markings or a sign. We searched for the trail awhile at Salt Fork Branch since markings were scarce and the 1983 map didn't indicate the relo up the gravel road. A sign or blazes on the road just past the parking lot on Corner Ridge Road would also be appropriate. Since we were Northbound turning off of Corner Ridge Road was no problem; Southbounders would be expected to have problems here as there are no markers or signs (on either the turn or the roads). Similarly, a sign or turtles on the 460 turn would be appreciated.

Morehead Ranger DistrictAll references here correspond to the Sheltowee Trace handouts provided by Morehead Ranger District.

Section 11, US 460 to KY 1274Luckily for us, we turned onto 460 during a rainstorm and hid in Bryant's Market for an hour or so. While we sat around eating we obtained information on where the trail went next, information that saved us hours of hunting since we only had the 1983 forest service map in our possession. We saw very few blazes on this section and only two signs. One sign was a mileage indicator on a straight stretch of road, the other marked the spot where the trail turned off 1274 and entered the woods. I expect both north and Southbounders to have difficulty on this stretch. However, navigating with the topo map we later obtained from the district office would have been a breeze.

Section 10, KY 1274 to Clear Creek Lake TrailheadThis section was well marked. A very enjoyable section of trail!

Section 9, Clear Creek Lake Trailhead to KY 801We noticed a post with no sign near the start of the Pioneer Weapons area. Bad trail damage from ATVs started at the junction with theBuckskin trail. A sign directing northbounders to the dam might be appropriate for those hiking in low visibility. Because of the vast amount of ATV damage and the danger this poses to foot traffic, I would recommend relocating the Sheltowee Trace to the Caney Creek trail, where motorized vehicles are banned.

Section 8, KY 801 to Big Limestone TrailThere were numerous blowdowns in the short but scenic stretch between the dam and the picnic area next to the district office. A few extra markings near the picnic area and perhaps a sign directing hikers to the visitors center might be helpful. In addition, a sign is needed at the junction of the Sheltowee and the Fern Bluff trail. Someone did a wonderful and much appreciated job of clearing blowdowns on the stretch south of Big Limestone!

Section 7, Big Limestone Trail to US 60This section desperately needs to have the blowdowns cleared before someone is injured! A couple of suggestions for other backpackers doing this section follow. Do not try to follow the sale boundary around the blowdowns- I lost the boundary at one point. Instead, follow one of the numerous deer trails traversing the area below the trail. If you carry an external framepack, pack more than 30% of your body weight, areabove average height, are not in excellent condition, have problems with balance, don't deal well with scrambling OR are solo then I would not recommend attempting this section with a full backpack until it iscleared. (I doubt that competent, fit, adult, non-solo dayhikers who allow lots of extra time would have serious problems here.)As it was, we exited on a bridge about a mile West of the suspension bridge (we had intentionally tried to err in this direction to avoid some of the road walk). After a conversation with the landowner we learned that we were by no means the first hikers to do so either. An alternate route, until the the trail rebuilt, is to continue down Big Limestone, then hike the road East until you encounter the Sheltowee Trace again.

Section 6, US 60 to KY 32A few more blazes would be nice.

Section 5, KY 32 to Martin Branch TrailThis section was well marked, and seemed shorter than the listed length of 5.9 miles.

Section 4, Martin Branch Trail to KY 799This section seemed longer than 6.1 miles. Many of the plastic signs indicating spots where the trail left the road were missing or destroyed. While this is not a major problems since the hiker need only follow the road to end up in the right spot, it is far less enjoyable than taking the trail. There is some bad ATV damage in this section.

Section 3, KY 799 to Holly Fork RoadThis section did not match the trail on the 1983 map nor on the topo map provided by the forest service. Instead the trail took numerous convoluted turns. First it passed the gravel logging road next to the interstate and continued down the asphalt road before entering the woods. From this point it re-ascended the hill to the gravel logging road, crossed it, and climbed again to parallel the pack-eating barbed wire of the interstate boundary. On its descent from the I-64 border, the trail again crossed the gravel logging road only to disappear in the woods. From here, we were able to easily follow the old trail which was logically laid out to follow the stream (and originally, the gravel logging road too.) We emerged at the suspension bridge with no further problems.

Section 2, Holly Fork Road to Dry Branch RoadA nice section of trail with the Dry Branch connector clearly marked.

Section 1, Dry Branch Road to Northern TerminusBad ATV damage. The trailhead and the trail are clearly marked.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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