The Louisville area is a treasure trove of beautiful land to explore. Today, we’ve asked hiking enthusiast Cathy Slider to tell us about her favorite places to hike in the area. She is a wealth of information, having covered most of metro Louisville on foot along with her dogs. Welcome, Cathy!
Louisville is well-known for its Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks system. From Cherokee and Seneca Parks in central and east Louisville to Iroquois and Shawnee Parks in the south and west, locals have long known the benefits of walking, riding their bikes or running through these historical landscape beauties. But where are some good places to hike? Read on for my five favorite places nearby to ditch the briefcase and strap on the backpack.
Garvin Brown Nature Preserve
Located at the far northern end of Hays Kennedy Park in Prospect, the Garvin Brown Nature Preserve is 46 acres that sits along a quiet stretch of the Ohio River. There are two miles of unpaved walking paths that wander through the wooded areas and open fields of the preserve. Along the way, it is even possible to take a small path down to the river, which is a lovely feature of this location.
The park is quiet and uncrowded. It is dog-friendly, as long as your pet is under control or leashed. From the parking lot, there is a long path to the preserve’s entrance, and this is a great area for your kids or dogs to get some of their energy out. This park is easy to access and has that all-important water view.
Siltstone Trail at Jefferson Memorial Forest
You know those knob hills you see when driving along the Gene Snyder Freeway west of I-65? That is part of Jefferson Memorial Forest, and the 6.5-mile Siltstone Trail runs across them all the way over to Stone Street Road. Accessible from Mitchell Hill Road in Fairdale, there is a nice welcome center at the trailhead. You will be amazed that this fairly rugged hiking trail sits in Jefferson County. If not for the occasional distant plane overhead, you might imagine that you are in the Smoky Mountains. In fact, people train on this trail for longer, overnight hikes all around the country.
Don’t be intimidated by that though. Hiking is for everyone, and hikers are among the friendliest people you will ever meet. On the Siltstone Trail, you can choose the exact distance you want to go. It even has a couple of loop trails off of it, like the easy Tulip Trail, which offers some diverse scenery. About a mile up the main trail, there is a distant view of downtown Louisville. It can be seen primarily in the spring and fall, when tree foliage is minimal. This trail provides an excellent workout for the serious hiker and also has the family-friendly Freeman Lake, which includes a playground and picnic/grilling areas.
Parklands of Floyds Fork
The Parklands of Floyds Fork, the newest addition to the Louisville parks scene, is a masterpiece. There are five different parks to enjoy, and Beckley Creek Park sports a nice series of trails that are fairly easy to navigate. Start on the Sycamore Trail located at the top of the Egg Lawn, named for its shape resembling a big egg. Follow the trail along Floyds Fork for an easy .4 miles. Then, cross over the Thornton Bridge and get on the Black Willow Trail. For 1.7 miles, enjoy some beautiful scenery through fields of wildflowers and wooded areas, where you will again meet Floyds Fork for a stretch.
There are signs to let you know how to get on the trails, but you may want to to download a PDF version of the map to study beforehand. Or stop in at the PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation and pick up a map. While there, try to sneak a peek into the Gheens Foundation Lodge to the right. It is a gorgeous meeting and event space with stunning views of Floyds Fork and the surrounding park.
If you still have some energy after your hike, consider going back toward the park’s entrance and renting a kayak or canoe from Green Earth Outdoors livery service to paddle down Floyds Fork. The paddle takes about one to one-and-a-half hours, and they will even pick you up downstream and bring you back to your car.
Elm Lick Trail at Bernheim Forest
Bernheim Forest is the ultimate hiking experience in our area. The Millennium Trail, at 13.75 miles, is a serious hike that boasts a primitive trail difficulty rating. The Elm Lick Trail is a newer hiking option with a distance of five miles. It is located at the far end of the park, off of Forest Hill Drive.
It is relaxing to simply enter the Bernheim Forest property, named for Isaac W. Bernheim, who gifted the property to the people of Kentucky in 1929, grateful for his good fortune in distilling whiskey in these hills. The grounds are always pristine, yet naturally untouched. The long drive back to the Elm Lick trailhead takes you past the Canopy Tree Walk. Take 10 to 15 minutes to walk out on this manmade marvel that juts out over a valley of trees. The view is breathtaking, and if you happen upon it in October, you will find yourself in fall foliage nirvana.
Make yourself get back in the car and head another quarter mile to the Elm Lick Trail. There are some challenging climbs, but the scenery is excellent payback. A variety of wildflowers blooms throughout, and there are several small creek crossings other than during summer drought periods. An old grain silo lets you know that you’re making good progress. [SB Tip: After the initial half-mile hike in, you will need to decide whether to go left or right on the trail, which makes a loop. Go right and avoid a long climb at the end of the hike.
Southern Indiana Hikes
Our neighbor to the north hosts some excellent hiking options. The Knobstone Trail sports 59 miles of sometimes rugged paths through the scenic Knobs landscape. There are several places to get on the trail, but the Deams Lake trailhead, located 18 miles north of Louisville, is easily accessible. Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, IN, offers fascinating views of waterfalls, especially in the spring and winter.
I am partial to hiking in Charlestown State Park for its close proximity to Louisville and for Trail 6, which extends along the Ohio River. This trail can be a bit challenging as you climb the ridge, but well worth it for the lovely river view over your right shoulder. There are camping and picnic areas in the park and other options for being near the river.
Please remember to follow these common sense hiking tips:
- Wear sunscreen, preferably a sports, no-sweat variety.
- Use bug repellent in the summer months.
- Always carry plenty of drinking water.
- Use caution when touching plants or flowers to avoid poison ivy and such.
- Let someone know where you are hiking and what time you are going.
- Allow plenty of time to get back to your car before dark.
- Don’t look down at the trail all the time while you hike. You might miss Mother Nature winking at you.
In addition to the websites linked above, another great resource is the book Take a Hike, Louisville by Lucynda Koester.
Now that you know the many hiking wonders in and around our fine city, lace up those hiking boots and grab your backpack. You will be amazed at what awesome nature trails are just around the corner from you.
And one last thing: mark your calendar for National Trails Day, taking place Saturday, June 6. Have fun and be safe!