Location: Laurel County, Daniel Boone National Park
Distance: 4.5 miles
Entry Fee: $0
The trailhead for this hike is located about 90 minutes south of Lexington next to London, KY, home of the World Chicken Festival, which attracts 250,000 people annually. This hike is actually supposed to be a 9 mile loop, but once we saw the conditions of the trail we figured a shorter out and back might be a safer alternative, so that’s what we did.
We left our apartment around 8am on a beautiful Saturday to get there with plenty of time to get back for Ben Sollee, who was playing at a bar downtown that evening. On the drive there we saw a person run across the freeway–a guy in an orange hat and camo carrying a shotgun. Things to know when you go into the Kentucky woods any time between September and March: bring your gun and your dying deer whistle…it’s hunting season.
Once we hit London and started in on the back roads. First thing I noticed: there were quite a few pickups sporting that deer antler decal and guys wearing orange hats and camo with racks of guns….drinking. At 9am. At this point I started to get nervous and tried to get Paul to seriously consider whether it was safe to hike back in the woods with a bunch of gun-toting drunkards trying to shoot large animals (I wasn’t convinced.)
We pulled over to a convenience store on the side of the two-lane road to ask. The lady inside the store, which was lined with animal heads, had this response: “You’re going HIKING? You’d best be wearing orange.”
Two florescent orange beanies later we were ready to go. We also asked her if it would be safe to let our small dog off the leash. Long pause. “Should be OK. It’s deer season. Squirrel season doesn’t really begin until December.”
I was less than thrilled about the situation. The only thing we had going for us is it is gun season, not crossbow. I’d rather be hit with a bullet than an arrow.
The book said that at the trail head we’d find an “unpaved parking area.” I envisioned a gravelly or dirt clearing.
We drove by it twice before we saw it. We got out of the car to find that on the post at the trail head were these two signs:
At this point, I was so not feeling this hike. While Paul was trying to convince me that bears don’t have babies until the spring, so the odds of one attacking us were slim, and I was going over the sign reviewing what we were supposed to do should we come across an aggressive bear (face the bear, but do not look him directly in the eyes, never turn your back) and how to avoid falling tree-tops, we heard a gunshot. It took some serious coaxing and a promise that we would keep Spike on the leash for Paul to get me back out of the car and on the trail.
The book said this hike is best in spring and as soon as we entered the woods we saw at least one reason why. With all the leaves that had recently fallen, the trail was completely gone. So we forged our way through some nasty sharp nettles and vines and made our way down to Ned Branch Creek which, according to the map, we could follow for a few miles to a campsite.
The rock formations at Rockcastle are pretty amazing, and there were some awesome pools on the way.
We kept Spike on a leash for the first 45 min or so, but after getting tangled around one too many tree trunks, we figured he wouldn’t go that far, so we took him off and let him run free.
We made it to the campsite, ate, and after a few wrong turns made our way back to the car. On the way home, we contemplated stopping at the local eatery:
…but we didn’t. Overall, seeing as how we call came out alive and un-maimed, I considered the hike a raging success. Someone crashed on the ride home.
Lessons learned: there is such a thing as bullfrog hunting season (May 21-Oct 31). And you can hunt wild hog year round.