By Penny Fox
Kentucky provides a large number of great places to get outside and enjoy hiking, backpacking, and camping. If the idea of rustic camping appeals to you, check out these five beautiful backpack camping spots that will provide you with the ultimate primitive experience among beautiful Kentucky wilderness.
Part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, Beaver Creek Wilderness became recognized as a top location for exploring nature in quiet and peaceful surroundings in 1975. This 4,877-acre is kept free from outside interferences and influences to protect the rugged beauty, and there is little signage to guide hikers and backpackers. Overnight primitive camping is allowed with certain restrictions, as well as hunting and fishing, and there are the remains of an abandoned coal settlement from the early 1900s that can provide an interesting hike. Remember that bears and other animals call this wilderness home, so caution must be used to protect yourself and food. You’ll need to register with the ranger’s station before embarking on your adventure since cell phones may not work in these areas. Another important requirement of wilderness areas is the “leave no trace” concept. The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (fw.ky.gov) can provide additional information that will make your trip fun and safe.
Three states are part of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and some of the 85 miles of hiking and backpacking trails that run the length of the Gap take you into the heart of the Appalachian backcountry and black bear territory. The trails are not always well-marked and care must be exercised to keep food away from bears and other animals when camping overnight. There is no charge for camping—however, you must obtain a permit from the visitor center and reservations can be made in advance up to three months. Make sure to check on weather and trail conditions, water access, and other important information that will help make your adventure fun and safe.
Land Between the Lakes, a recreation area situated between Kentucky and Tennessee has been a recognized outdoor playground since 1963. The lakes referred to in the name are Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake, and the area is known as one of the largest undeveloped forests in the country. The area is perfect for hiking, backpacking, fishing, birding, and water sports, and hunting is permitted with the proper licensing. Backcountry camping, recently renamed dispersed camping, is permitted with fees paid online or at a local visitor center. Escape into nature and experience more than 300 miles of shoreline and over 500 miles of trails. Bring your own water or filtration system and watch out for black bears that live in the area. The USDA Forest Service can provide helpful information about things you need to know before you take your trip.
Located in the south-central part of the state, Mammoth Cave National Park in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, contains parts of the longest cave system in the world. Visitors and especially those hiking or backpacking along the miles of trails in the park are often treated to local wildlife like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and a variety of birds. Two kinds of backcountry camping are permitted in Mammoth Cave National Park, designated camping sites and floodplain sites. Both sites have restrictions, so be sure to review before venturing out as the rules are there for your protection. Permits are also required.
Connected to the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge, Clifty Wilderness has some of the most unique and breathtaking rock formations and natural stone bridges. Exploring the 12,646-acre wilderness area is not for the fainthearted or those with little hiking and backpacking experience. Many of the more than 20 miles of trails have no clear markings and orienteering skills are needed to navigate the wooded paths. Dispersed overnight camping is allowed by permit only and you must follow the guidelines for safe camping.