Kentucky boasts an extremely diverse landscape: There are mountains in Eastern Kentucky, miles of caves in Central Kentucky, and huge lakes in Western Kentucky. Whether you’re a resident of the Bluegrass State or a visitor interested in exploring our state and national parks, these 15 hiking trails will allow you to experience the best landscapes, flora, fauna, and wildlife that Kentucky has to offer.
If you’re looking for a challenge, consider hiking the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Stretching for nearly 300 miles, this trail begins in Morehead, Kentucky, and runs south through the Red River Gorge National Geological Area, Cave Run Lake, Laurel River Lake, and the Big South Fork before terminating in Tennessee’s Pickett State Park. The trail is best for hiking and backpacking—horses and bikes are only allowed on certain portions of the trail.
The three-quarter-mile Original Trail is located within the Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade, Kentucky. Built in the late 1800s, this trail takes hikers from the gift shop to the foot of the park’s main attraction—the Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge is a natural sandstone arch that’s 78 feet long and 65 feet tall. This trail climbs more than 400 feet through the forest and up limestone steps. It’s important to note that pets are not allowed on the trail.
The two-mile Auxier Ridge Trail is in the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest. While the Red River Gorge is a common attraction for climbing due to its towering cliffs and amazing rock arches and formations, hiking in the area also offers wonderful views of the park’s natural beauty. The Auxier Ride Trail offers a panoramic view of some of the Gorge’s most scenic features, including Double Arch, Raven Rock, Haystack Rock, and Courthouse Rock.
The 1.5-mile Eagle Falls Trail is in the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Kentucky. This trail follows the edge of a cliff and offers some of the best views of Cumberland Falls. Known as the “Niagara of the South,” the 125-feet wide Cumberland Falls are a sight to behold. During a full moon, you can even see a moonbow—a rainbow caused by the moon’s reflection on the waterfall. Note that some parts of the Eagle Falls Trail can become flooded during heavy rains.
The 11-mile Canal Loop Trail is located in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The Land Between the Lakes is a peninsula between located between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley that offers more than 300 miles of shoreline, and the Canal Loop Trail offers the park’s most scenic views of both lakes and the canal. While hikers can walk the entire 11 miles, there are many smaller loops along the way that allow for shorter hikes if you don’t have the time or energy to make the full loop.
While you can drive to the top of Iroquois Park in Louisville, Kentucky, or walk along the paved road, the best way to experience the Iroquois Park overlook is by choosing a well-worn path and making your way up the side of the park’s hill. While there are no official, unpaved trails, you’ll be able to tell what paths people normally take—the paths are worn into the ground and generally located near parking areas. Once at the top, you’ll get a stunning view of the city of Louisville.
The 1.3-mile Green River Bluffs Trail is located in Mammoth Cave National Park in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. This trail starts near the park’s picnic area and forms a loop that offers a scenic overlook of the Green River and bypasses Dixon Cave. If you’re interested in extending your hike, consider forking off the Green River Bluffs Trail onto the River Styx Spring Trail to view the river’s natural springs.
The 18-mile Dawkins Line Rail Trail extends from Johnson County to Magoffin County in Kentucky. The trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders and is built along a retired railway. This trail offers unique views of historic coal mines, is elevated in many places for striking views of the surrounding Appalachian lands, and goes through the 662-foot long Gun Creek Tunnel.
The 13.5-mile Pennyrile Nature Trail passes through the Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, Pennyrile State Forest, and Tradewater Wildlife Management Area in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. While the trail is fairly linear, it’s a moderately difficult trail that can be overgrown in places and isn’t always marked well. This makes the trail a decent adventure and workout for seasoned hikers. Overlooks along the way offer scenic views of bluffs, lakes, ravines, and hardwood forests.
The Louisville Loop in Louisville, Kentucky, will eventually be a 100-mile long paved trail that circles the entire city. Currently, less than half of the loop is completed, but the sections available for walking and hiking on—the Ohio River Valley Section and Floyd’s Fork Section—offer breathtaking view of the city’s geography. Walk 23 miles alongside the Ohio River in the Ohio River Valley Section or view limestone and waterfalls among the varying elevations of the Floyd’s Fork Section.
Explore history and nature on the 20-mile Perryville Battlefield Trail located in Perryville, Kentucky. The Perryville Battlefield Historic Site was home to the deadliest Civil War battle in Kentucky where more than 7,000 people were killed, and this trail allows visitors to see the land where the battle took place while reading more than 40 signs along the way that offer historical information about the battle. Recently, more than 100 acres of the park have been restored, and native wildlife has been reintroduced to the area.
While a 1.75-mile trail might not sound too strenuous, the Laurel Cove Trail in the Pine Mountain State Resort Park in Pineville, Kentucky, is hard work. The trail scales Pine Mountain from top to bottom, covering 1,100 feet in elevation. While climbing up the trail is certainly an option, you may also consider driving to the top of the mountain and taking the trail down the mountain instead. In addition to mountain views, the Laurel Cove Trail also boasts thick forestry and a small sandstone arch structure.
The one-mile Lake Ridge Trail is located in the Rough River Dam State Resort Park of Falls of Rough, Kentucky. The Rough River Lake is a 5,000-acre lake in Kentucky with more than 200 miles of shoreline, and hiking the Lake Ridge Trail is a great way to experience beautiful views of this massive lake. It’s also a good hike if you enjoy bird watching and is a relatively easy hike, making it ideal for families with small children and inexperienced hikers.
The 2.4-mile Scenic Loop in Louisville’s Cherokee Park is a paved path that’s half devoted for cars and half devoted for walking, running, and biking. The Scenic Loop runs in a circle around the park and offers views of the park’s forest, nearby historic homes, playgrounds, statues, and green spaces where people play sports in summer and sled in winter. Though the Scenic Loop itself is paved, there are many trails through the forest off the loop that can be used for rougher hiking.
The 13.75-mile Millennium Trail is located in Bernheim Forest in Claremont, Kentucky. Unlike the other trails on this list, the Millennium Trail doesn’t really offer a lot of scenic vistas. It’s basic hiking through a lovely forest. If you’re interested in hiking through a forest and potentially spotting some wildlife, then you’ll enjoy the moderately difficult Millennium Trail. Note that the trail must be completed in a single day, and hikers must register at the Visitor Center.