From Grey’s Arch to Cumberland Gap, we have some pretty epic scenery in Kentucky to enjoy any and every day. From national forests like Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area cutting through western Kentucky near the Tennessee border to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in north central Kentucky, there are unique and diverse natural wonders to enjoy. And what better way to do that than by going on a hike? We hope you enjoy some, or all, of our featured best hikes in Kentucky.
Best Hikes in Kentucky
With so many miles of trails to explore in the Bluegrass State, we have lots of options when it comes to getting outside and exploring nature. Whether it’s a quick trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and views of Cumberland Falls right from the parking lot, or it’s a long trek through the wilderness – it’s good to know we have options. Here are a few of the best hikes in Kentucky.
1. Auxier Ridge Trail to Courthouse Rock
Auxier Ridge Trailhead, Tunnel Ridge Rd, Stanton, KY 40380, USA
Location: Stanton, KY Mileage: 4.4-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: Be aware that the road to the trailhead can get a little rough, and it is subject to seasonal road closures in the winter. It is possible to make it in a 2WD sedan but you'll have to dance around a few potholes. Dogs are welcome and may even be allowed off-leash in some areas.
Hike through the heart of the Red River Gorge in this "gorge" hike (gorge, gorgeous... okay moving on) Be prepared to enjoy a moderately challenging 2-hour plus hike, but the views are well worth it. You'll be able to get some great shots of
standing tall above the trees. This is a year-round trail without any fees, so come often to experience the changing seasons on this beautiful hike.
2. Double Arch, Courthouse Rock, and Auxier Ridge Loop
Double Arch Trailhead, Rosslyn, KY 40380, USA
Location: Rosslyn, KY Mileage: 6.0-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: With a decent amount of elevation gain at 1,036 you'll get a good workout, but it's worth it. The trail can get muddy in spots after a good rain which ups the difficulty factor a bit. If you are up for an even bigger adventure, there are lots of nice camping sites to hole up for the night. Make sure you get a parking permit if you are staying the night. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
If loop trails are your "bag baby" this alternate look at Courthouse Rock on the
is a stunning hike. With amazing rock formations, the double arch, and the lush Daniel Boone National Forest to keep you oohing and aahing, you'll be in outdoor lovers' heaven the entire time. The trail is open year-round so make sure you take a spring wildflower hike, a fall colors trip, and a winter trek to see all the natural beauty each season offers.
3. Rock Bridge Trail
Rock Bridge Trail, Rock Bridge Rd, Campton, KY 41301, USA
Location: Campton, KY Mileage: 1.4-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: Rock Bridge Road is closed in the wintertime so the best time to hike this trail is from March through October. To get to the trailhead you'll need to drive on a three-mile gravel road that can get a little rough. While the rating is considered moderately difficult, it is a short hike and is still doable for adventurous kids and dogs, as long as they are on a leash. (The dogs, not necessarily the kids)
The Red River Gorge has so many beautiful hikes you could spend years exploring the area and never get bored. The highlight of this hike is a "waterfall arch." The
Rock Bridge Arch
was created when a waterfall cut through a weaker rock layer slowly eroding the layer of rock until the water ran right through. It is the only waterfall arch in the Red River Gorge. Creation Falls is a lovely waterfall that is perfect for a quick cool-off with a sandy area for an exotic beach-like experience.
Best Short & Easy Hikes in Kentucky
If all you have time for is a quick hike to enjoy the Bluegrass State these next few trails are the best hikes in Kentucky that offer a good workout but won’t take all day to complete.
4. Chimney Top Trail
Chimney Top Rock Trailhead, Pine Ridge, KY 41360, USA
Location: Pine Ridge, KY Mileage: 0.7-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: The trail is partly paved for an easy stroll, however, the dirt road to get to the trail can be an adventure at times. And it is prone to seasonal closures so keep an eye out for updates from the US Forest Service. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
quick and easy hike
is just as thrilling as a long all-day excursion. This is one of those trails. It might only take you twenty minutes to complete (not counting extra long breaks for admiring awe-inspiring views) but you will enjoy every minute. Key times to visit are early morning as the sun peaks above the trees and the fog starts to burn off, and the evening when that golden light filters through the tree-tops like a fairy-tale ending to an epic love story.
5. Princess Arch Trail
Princess Arch Trailhead, Pine Ridge, KY 41360, USA
Location: Pine Ridge, KY Mileage: 0.6-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: While it is an easy hike it is still noteworthy to be careful around any natural structure with a good amount of height to it. You'll find a memorial on this trail about a man who fell in 1990. Be especially careful when the arch is wet and slippery after rain. On-leash dogs are welcome.
Another fantastic short and easy trail near the Chimney Top Trail is this cool spot along the Princess Arch Trail. These
natural rock formations
are a fascinating feature to enjoy on a quick hike. There are plenty of places around the arch to explore for those that like a little off-road adventure. Even though the elevation gain is only a bit over 100 feet you'll be treated to some nice views of the Red River Gorge.
6. Echo River Spring and Sinkhole Loop
Echo River Spring Trail, Echo River Spg Trl, Kentucky 42259, USA
Location: Mammoth Cave, KY Mileage: 2.8-mile loop trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: Most of the trail is either paved or gravel so the terrain is conducive to all ages. The trail is located right off of the Mammoth Cave visitor's center. With 70+ miles of hiking trails around Mammoth Cave National Park, you have plenty of options for side trails and places to explore.
With a fun network of trails in the area, this
shorter hike near the visitor's center
is challenging enough to be considered a hike, but not too strenuous that you can't bring the whole family (and your dog too). With fun boardwalks to traverse, a few downed trees maybe, and plenty of wildlife it is an interesting hike to enjoy while waiting for a cave tour at Mammoth Caves.
Hardest Hikes in Kentucky
They say the test of a true outdoor adventurer is throwing on a heavy pack and braving the wilds of the wilderness. If you like to challenge yourself, this next set of the best hikes in Kentucky will certainly do the trick.
7. Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail: Highland Section
Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail, Whitesburg, KY, USA
Location: Whitesburg, KY Mileage: 18.3-mile point-to-point trail Difficulty: Challenging - 4,438 feet elevation gain FYI: Trail mileage markers on-site are not necessarily accurate. The trail is around 18 miles, despite signs stating a much shorter hike. Be prepared with plenty of water. There are blue blazes that should lead to water sources but in times of drought, they may be dry. This is particularly important when traveling on the trail from the north where water stops may be scarce.
If you love a true backpacking adventure this hike is pretty challenging. With an elevation gain of 4,438 feet you'll get a workout and hiking poles might be a good idea. Because of the remote and challenging nature of the trail, you'll get lots of peace and quiet. Although you may need to be prepared to run into bears. Most of the terrain is forest with some portions being on old logging roads, but you will be treated to some pretty nice scenic overlooks when you reach the
8. Rough Trail to Wildcat Trail
Rough Trail to Wildcat Trail, Stanton, KY, USA
Location: Stanton, KY Mileage: 18.7-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Challenging - 3,845 feet elevation gain FYI: You'll be facing some pretty steep elevation gain on this backpacking trek and possibly slippery conditions so prepare accordingly. As the longest trail in the Red River Gorge completing the entire thing is quite the accomplishment - but definitely doable in a day, or pack a tent and make it an overnight adventure.
With plenty of inclines and declines, you'll get your money's worth on this hike. It becomes even more challenging when conditions are wet. Once you do reach a clearing you'll be rewarded with amazing views of the Red River Gorge below. Sections of the trail are quite popular for day-trippers but you'll have plenty of spots all to yourself for a
peaceful backcountry hike
9. Rough Trail #221
Rough Trail #221, Pine Ridge, KY, USA
Location: Pine Ridge, KY Mileage: 14.5-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Challenging - 3,526 feet elevation gain FYI: Rough Trail is aptly named because you will work a bit on this trail with a good amount of elevation gain, stream crossings, and plenty of ups and downs to keep things interesting. On a hot Kentucky summer day be prepared to fight off bugs and heat in equal amounts.
A good trail gives you an abundance of diverse terrain, interesting rock formations, dense forest, rocky outcrops to climb, and scenic views.
Rough Trail #221
gives you all of that and more. There are plenty of ways to access the trail and branch off if you so desire. Koomer's Ridge, Hanson's Point, and Gray's Arch are all in the area and offer distinct views and unique scenery.
Best Waterfront Hikes in Kentucky
Whether you enjoy a hike to a waterfall, a hidden swimming hole, or a lovely little lake, these waterfront hiking trails in Kentucky will reward you with a cool place to rest. These are some of the best hikes trails in Kentucky with water features to enjoy along the way.
10. Balanced Rock Trail
Balanced Rock Trail, Slade, KY, USA
Location: Slade, KY Mileage: 1.6-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: Balanced Rock Trail is a fun beautiful trail but there are a lot of steps, which is a plus or a minus depending on how you feel about stair-climbing. For that reason going "down" the trail rather than up will be easier because you won't have to climb the stairs. It would be a rough trek for dogs so dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Ditch the stair-climber at the gym and enjoy a day outside on this epic hike with a thousand steps - well maybe not that many but you'll definitely get a workout. If you want an extra adventure (and make it a bit easier on yourself) take the skylift to the Natural Bridge and then trek down the stairs to reach
. While the giant teetering rock is the main attraction of the trail, there are plenty of other rock formations, streams, and scenic views to make the hike fun for all ages.
11. Three Bridges Trail
3 Bridges Trail, Kentucky 41164, USA
Location: Olive Hill, KY Mileage: 3.1-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: When you begin the loop start by going left. If you do you'll do more descending rather than climbing. Either way you take will treat you to some great sights and places to explore.
With the opportunity to see
three natural bridges
(thus the name), you'll have ample opportunities to enjoy these impressive rock formations. It's a well-marked trail which is definitely a plus and you'll oftentimes have the trail to yourself or meet only a few hikers in passing. Expect some rough terrain with roots, rocks, and stairs, but overall it isn't too difficult of a hike and is dog and kid-friendly. Be sure to check out some of the short side trails to see Smokey Bridge and Raven Bridge.
12. Yost Ridge Trail - Lake Mitchell Trail Loop
Yost Ridge Trail - Lake Mitchell Trail Loop, Fairdale, KY, USA
Location: Fairdale, KY Mileage: 3.4-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: This is a nice nature trail in the Jefferson Memorial Forest that is only 15 miles from Louisville. Stop by the welcome center for information about the trails in the area as well as the wildlife you can expect to see.
If you enjoy a nice forest trail that loops around to a lake this is a pretty hike. Lake Mitchell is a beautiful little lake with a picnic area so you can stop for a mid-hike break. Take the
Yost Ridge Trail
from the welcome center until you see the Lake Mitchell Trail Loop. There is a little bit of elevation gain but not something kids can't handle.
Best Winter Hikes in Kentucky
With relatively speaking mild winters in Kentucky, we can enjoy hiking year-round. Whether that is a stroll on a paved rail trail or a hike through a quiet nature preserve, there is always something refreshing about a hike in colder weather. And when we get a dusting of fresh snow on the trails it adds a whole new sense of wonder to an already beautiful scenic view.
13. Gobblers Arch Trail
Gobblers Arch, Fd-6105, Stearns, KY 42647, USA
Location: Stearns, KY Mileage: 0.8-mile out-and-back trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: The area is pretty rocky so it can get slippery after it rains or in the winter. The trail isn't very well marked, but it is a lovely hike with an interesting stone arch to discover. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
For a nice easy winter hike to a cool rock formation take this short out-and-back trail to see
. Since the trail isn't always easy to discover you'll probably have it all to yourself. So, when you do find it the experience is quite serene.
14. Garvin Brown Nature Preserve Loop
Garvin Brown Nature Preserve, Prospect, KY, 6200 Bass Rd, Prospect, KY 40059, USA
Location: Prospect, KY Mileage: 1.6-mile loop trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: The Garvin Brown Nature Preserve is open from dawn to dusk daily. To find it, take River Road to Bass Road. You'll reach two parking lots - park in the lot to your right. At the far end of the parking lot, you'll find a small gate to the Preserve entrance. Dogs on a leash are welcome.
Garvin Brown Nature Preserve
is a small 46-acre preserve that makes for the perfect nature walk on a lazy weekend afternoon. It is a privately run park, but guests are welcome to explore the nature trail. While it is lovely in the spring when wildflowers are blooming and the grasslands sway in the wind, it is also a fun and easy hike for a winter stroll after a light dusting of sparkling snow. The views of the Ohio River take on a whole new sense of magic in the wintertime.
15. Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge Yellow Trail
Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, Carpenter Creek Road, Parksville, KY, USA
Location: Parksville, KY Mileage: 0.38-mile loop trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: The Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge has 12 trails that interconnect giving you plenty of hiking options. There is no fee to enjoy the refuge, however, donations are greatly appreciated.
What is the best way to avoid a buggy, muggy, sweat-dripping hike in Kentucky? Go in the winter. A nature walk in the
Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge
is a lovely experience when the silence of winter mates with a little-known nature trail. You'll most likely have the trail to yourself so you can enjoy a wintery day as you quietly stroll through nature. With several small trails to explore, the Yellow Trail being one of them, you can visit over and over again and see something new each time.
Best Hikes near Frankfort
Some of the best hikes in Kentucky are those that are right next door. Whether you live in small towns like Corbin, Pineville, or Berea, or along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail near Lexington or Louisville, there are sure to be some great places to hike. Here are a few interesting hiking trails near Kentucky’s capital city of Frankfort.
16. Lower Holly Loop Trail Location: Frankfort, KY Mileage: 1.5-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: If you head left on the loop you'll avoid some of the steeper inclines, but it is a fairly easy trail either way. It is a nice kid and dog-friendly trail with some nice rocky elevations, a few streams to cross, and a beautiful waterfall that flows into a cool pool of water. Cove Spring Park
is a lovely place for a hike near Frankfort. If you are looking to go hiking in Kentucky on a trail that has plenty of fun places to explore and rocks to climb without it being a grueling shin-splitting adventure, this trail will do nicely. Who could say no to a stream-hopping, waterfall splashing, forest hike in the beautiful Kentucky River Valley?
17. Holly and Osage Trail Loop
Cove Spring Park, 100 Cove Spring Rd, Frankfort, KY 40601, USA
Location: Frankfort, KY Mileage: 1.9-mile loop trail Difficulty: Moderate FYI: This is a popular hiking and trail running path, but you can still enjoy a quiet hike by yourself from time to time. Be careful on the wooden bridge after rain because it can get slippery. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.
The fantastic thing about Cove Spring Park is the number of nature trails that connect so you can turn a short hike into a longer one if you choose. This longer loop includes parts of the Lower Holly Loop and treats you to even more natural beauty. With two waterfalls, some nice streams, and birdsong to lead you on a quiet adventure through the park, you can
enjoy a day here
or only an hour depending on how much you want to hike.
18. Raceway Spur Trail
Raceway Spur Trail, Cove Spring Park, Frankfort, KY, USA
Location: Frankfort, KY Mileage: 0.4-mile loop trail Difficulty: Easy FYI: Did you know there are over 100 endangered or threatened plant species in Kentucky? At least three of them can be found in Cove Spring Park. Keep an eye out for globe bladderpod, Svenson’s wild rye grass, and Braun’s Rock-cress. And remember, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” except, of course, no footprints on those endangered plants.
This is a
short and sweet trail
in Cove Spring Park near Frankfort, KY. If you only have time for a ten-minute stroll this is a nice trail to get some steps in. If you do decide to extend your hike there are several other trails in the park to connect to. You'll notice a tall stone tower that looks like it should have a damsel in distress hanging out a window - it used to be a reservoir overflow tower back when this was the town's first public waterworks in 1804.
The best hikes in Kentucky offer a diverse experience of terrain, scenic views, and outdoor adventures. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy a quick hike in a nature sanctuary or rough it on an overnight backpacking trip – it just feels good to get outside and enjoy some of the best views in the state. What do you think are the best hikes in Kentucky? Share your favorites with a comment.
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More to Explore
More places to hike in Kentucky
Does Kentucky have good hiking trails?
There are some amazing KY hiking trails out there. From the unique rock formations in Natural Bridge State Resort Park to rolling hills, the epic views in the Red River Gorge, and lush green trees in Central Kentucky. Here are a few places to find the best hiking trails in Kentucky:
What are the best months to hike in Kentucky?
The summer months in Kentucky can get hot and sticky, so it isn't always the best time to hike - unless, of course, your intention is to seek out a
waterfall swimming hole and enjoy a cool dip. For the best hiking in Kentucky, when to go depends on your preferences, but generally, spring, fall, and even winter make for good times of the year to hike in KY.