The Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail is the longest trail in Kentucky. The Sheltowee Trace trail is named in honor of Daniel Boone, the pioneer who hiked through Kentucky in the 1700’s on hunting trips.
Sheltowee, or Big Turtle, was the name given to Boone by the Shawnees who captured him. This is why signs along the Sheltowee are blazed with the popular turtle logo.
Beginning in Tennessee at Pickett State Park, the trail stretches north from the Big South Fork National Recreation Area up through the Daniel Boone National Forest to just beyond Morehead, Ky. Some 269 miles of the trace’s 282 miles are found in Kentucky.
The Sheltowee Trace is often described as the backbone to the Daniel Boone National Forest. The forest is broken into four ranger districts: Cumberland, London, Redbird and Stearns. The Sheltowee Trace travels through all but the Redbird district.
Many hike the Sheltowee in sections, and a few brave adventurers tackle the entire trace at once. This trail is very popular as a training location for longer hikes such as the Appalachian Trail, the North Country Trail, the Continental Divide Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Each of these trails is more than 2,000 miles in length, and the Sheltowee Trace gives hikers an idea of an extended hiking experience without ever being too far removed from developed areas.
Two of Kentucky’s most popular lakes for boating and fishing are located along the Sheltowee Trace. Laurel River Lake and Cave Run Lake attract thousands of visitors each year. Laurel River Lake continues to improve as a top destination for smallmouth and walleye, while Cave Run Lake has long held its reputation as the Muskie Capital of the South.
One truly exclusive attraction along the Sheltowee Trace is the Red River Gorge National Geological Area. This area is home to some of the most unique geological formations anywhere in the country. Due to the numerous cliff faces and rock outcroppings, the Red River Gorge has become a world-renowned climbing destination. There are several outfitters in the area that serve rock climbers, as well as places where people can climb on their own. Natural Bridge State Resort Park, with a lodge, cottages, campground and restaurant, serves as an excellent rest stop in the gorge.
Along with hiking, there are sections of the Sheltowee that are open to other users. Mountain bikers and equestrians have access to certain sections, as well as numerous spurs and adjacent trails.
There are four campgrounds that cater to horseback riders. White Sulphur is located in the Cumberland Ranger District, Little Lick in the London Ranger District and Barren Fork and Bell Farm campgrounds are in the Stearns Ranger District. ATV users will also enjoy a designated ATV/OHV campground at White Sulphur in the Cumberland Ranger District. The entire Redbird Ranger District’s trail system is also designed for use by ATV riders. There are several popular mountain bike trails surrounding Cave Run Lake, just outside of Morehead. The most popular single track for mountain biking on the Trace is from KY Hwy. 80 south to Laurel Lake and back.
There are several places to access the Sheltowee Trace, and many of these locations are working on enhancing their trailheads and services offered to trail users. Some of the communities the trace goes near include Morehead, McKee, Slade, Livingston, and Stearns.
Several towns throughout the national forest have begun to work towards becoming a certified Kentucky Trail Town through the Kentucky Office of Adventure Tourism. A Trail Town certification will signal to visitors that these locations have the needed services and accommodations one may need while enjoying the Sheltowee Trace or any of the other recreational activities in the forest.
“These Trail Towns should greatly enhance what is an already memorable trail experience on the Sheltowee Trace,” said Elaine Wilson, director of the Office of Adventure Tourism.
There are plenty of things to see and experience along the Sheltowee Trace, and the Sheltowee Trace Association works hard to keep the trail in the best possible condition.
“Over the past three years we have seen a significant increase in the number of users on the Trace, not only locally but from surrounding states,” said Steve Barbour, director of the Sheltowee Trace Association. “Volunteers are stepping forward to help us in our work to preserve, protect, and promote the Sheltowee Trace. The promotional efforts of the Office of Adventure Tourism and the development of the Trail Town initiative have significantly raised the awareness that this great trail, Kentucky’s Long Trail, is available and within easy driving distance for weekend or vacation activities.”
The Sheltowee Trace Association hosts a website and helps organize trail work days and group hikes. To learn more about all it does, visit www.sheltoweetrace.org. For questions about the Daniel Boone National Forest and any of the recreational opportunities it offers, visit the website at www.fs.usda.gov/dbnf.
For information about outdoor activities in Kentucky, as well as a calendar of events, visit the Office of Adventure Tourism’s website at www.getoutky.com. Also, be sure to like them on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KYOutdoorAdventure, and follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kyadventures!
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