Multi-day trips are way to go

August 18, 2003

As somebody who walked more than 400 miles preparing a hiking book about Kentucky, I love the day trails of the Commonwealth. No matter what you look for in the woods, you'll find it on one of our shorter trails.

And we have plenty to choose from. There are more than 2,300 miles of hiking trails in the Bluegrass State. These range from diminutive quarter-mile nature paths, to the awesome 254-mile long Sheltowee Trace. And they range in difficulty from the laughably easy, to the extremely strenuous. More trails are being added all the time, such as the in-the-works Pine Mountain Trail which, when finished, will stretch 125 miles from Breaks Interstate Park to Pine Mountain State Resort Park.

But the fact is, a day trip isn't really the best way to explore the wild country of the state. To do that, a multi-day backpacking trip is the way to go.


Carrying everything you'll need in a backpack is the ultimate in self-sufficiency. You either carry it in or (with one exception - water) do without. This is often an exercise in balancing perceived needs with bulk and weight.

What about water? At better than eight pounds per gallon, you cannot carry your daily requirements with you. Instead, you carry an immediate supply in a water bottle or two, and replenish it by carrying a lightweight water filter.

Most hikers and backpackers head for the hilly country of eastern Kentucky, especially the Daniel Boone National Forest. This is quite understandable.

The country is spectacular! And, to be honest, most of our trails, especially the longer backpacking trails, are found there. But don't sell the rest of the state short. There are some incredible, not to mention less used, backpacking trials in western Kentucky too.

Take Land Between The Lakes, for example. Virtually overlooked by backpackers, there are several good trails, ranging in length from 14 miles to the 65-mile long North/South Trail. By using connector trails and the Trace, you can cut that into any sized loop that meets your time or fancy.

Even better is Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave? You betcha! Sure, the caverns are the big attractions. And if you visit, you should cut out some time to see them. But less well known is the 50,000 surface acres of the park, most of which is very wild.

Within this wilderness are 70 miles of official hiking trails. But the land is criss-crossed with fisherman's paths, unofficial trails made by hikers (when I grew up hiking in the Adirondacks, these were called "herd paths"); and numerous game trails. So trail finding can sometimes be a real exercise in wilderness skills.

Stanley Sides, a caver who wrote a guide to these trails, carried an altimeter, two digital pedometers, two cameras, a pocket transit, and topographic maps when researching his book. Yet he still managed to get lost twice.

Sides offers several tips. Among them: do not hike with time deadlines. Haste on the trail can lead to accidents. And be aware that when leaf fall is heavy (which actually can apply now, because last fall's leaves are still on the ground) the trails can become very obscure.

Camping in the backcountry is only allowed at the developed campsites, of which there are 12 located on or near the trails. So your best bet is to choose a trail that is not overly long or strenuous, and which has campsite options so you can extend or shorten each day's walk as daylight and energy dictate.

An ideal choice, therefore, would be the Good Spring Loop Trail. The main loop is 4.6 miles long. But it connects with a secondary loop which extends the hike to 7.9 miles, and makes a good introductory two-day packtrip. And with three of the 12 campsites along this loop, you are never really far from a place to sleep.

There are some special regulations when overnighting in the backcountry, including the requirement that you obtain a free use permit. So it's a good idea to check with the park about these regs before heading out. For details, contact Superintendent, Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, 270-758-2328.|8/15/03***

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