By Penny Fox
There’s nothing more exhilarating than being out in the great outdoors and challenging yourself with a brisk hike in one of Kentucky’s most beautiful wilderness areas. Below are suggestions for five energizing hikes that require intermediate-level experience to complete. Not known as the easiest trails, the rewards for traveling and finishing these routes will give you more endurance, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment, and provide lasting memories.
Part of the Cumberland Ranger District in the Red River Gorge, the Auxier Ridge Trail in the southeastern part of Kentucky is known for panoramic views and magnificent rock formation along the way. Rated as an intermediate trail, hikers who travel this two-mile route can do it easily in a day or decide to spend the night and take their time viewing the sunrise and sunset along the way. Overnight camping permits are required and can be obtained at the local ranger’s station. You’ll want to bring plenty of water and snacks with you, and you definitely don’t want to leave your camera behind. There are plenty of interesting sandstone formations and several rock bridges along the way that are worth stopping to enjoy and photograph. Keep an eye on changing weather conditions, too, since part of the trail covers a ridge in backwoods that can be somewhat challenging in bad weather.
Almost any time of year is perfect for hiking the Siltstone Trail, but fall may be the most beautiful season with the changing leaves creating a rainbow of color. Part of the Tom Wallace Recreation Area near Louisville, Kentucky, and located in central Kentucky, the trail is approximately 6.5 miles-long. Hikers will get a workout on this intermediate trail, the longest in the Jefferson Memorial Forest, with plenty of elevation changes and uphill climbs as much as 3,000 feet. This trail is amazing, though, because it gives a perfect idea of the magnificence of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bring water and watch out for poison ivy.
Part of the largest protected areas in the state, Tom Dorman State Nature Reserve in eastern Kentucky is where this moderate/intermediate trail is found. A lightly traveled 2.4-mile loop that features opportunities to see wildlife like deer and many species of birds along the trail, this is the ideal place to explore nature. Managed by the Kentucky River Authority, the nature preserve includes a 220-foot palisade along the Kentucky River, giving the trail its name. There are difficult sections of the trail, and care should be exercised when hiking during wet seasons and on high cliffs since they tend to get slippery.
One of the most scenic areas along the Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail near Golden Pond, Kentucky, is Lake Barkley. With more than 11 miles of trail to hike, travelers will journey through the Land Between the Lakes in the western part of the state. This is a multi-use trail, so you may see bikers enjoying the route as you hike through, but the trail was designed to be six-feet wide to accommodate both. The trail is particularly nice to travel during the summer months because the tall hardwood trees create the perfect canopy overhead.
Perfect for so many outdoor activities including rock climbing, trail running, walking, and hiking, the Courthouse Rock Trail near Stanton in the southeastern part of Kentucky joins the Auxier Ridge Trail in the northern section of the Red River Gorge trail system. This intermediate trail is known for high cliffs and hollows that meander through the thick forest trees, creating a spectacular panorama of beauty. The trail gets its name from the rock formation that resembles an old courthouse that you pass along the way. Dogs are permitted on the trail as long as they are kept on a leash.