Sheltowee Trace In Kentucky

Here is everything you need to know about the Sheltowee Trace:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: Kentucky
  • Length: 269 miles.
  • Type: Hiking.
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Managed By: US Forest Service
  • Permit Required?: No
  • Website:

The Sheltowee Trace, formerly known as the Cumberland Trail, is a historic trail located in the eastern region of Kentucky, United States. The trail stretches for approximately 323 miles, traversing through the picturesque landscapes of the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The history of the Sheltowee Trace dates back to the early 1800s when it was initially used by Native American tribes and early settlers as a means of transportation and trade.

The trail’s name, Sheltowee, is derived from the Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh, whose name translates to “Big Turtle” or “Big Turtle’s Brother.” Tecumseh was a prominent figure in the early 19th century, leading the resistance against American expansion into Native American territories. The trail was named in his honor, symbolizing the connection between the land and the indigenous people who once inhabited it.

During the 1800s, the Sheltowee Trace served as a vital route for pioneers and settlers moving westward. It provided a pathway for trade, exploration, and migration, connecting various settlements and communities throughout the region. The trail was also utilized by hunters, trappers, and loggers who relied on its accessibility to navigate the dense forests and rugged terrain of Kentucky.

In recent years, the Sheltowee Trace has gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts and hikers, attracting visitors from all over the country. The trail offers a unique opportunity to experience the rich history and natural beauty of Kentucky, with its diverse ecosystems, stunning waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas. Efforts have been made to preserve and maintain the trail, ensuring that future generations can continue to explore and appreciate the historical significance of the Sheltowee Trace.

While On The Trail

Access Points

1. Northern Terminus: The Sheltowee Trace starts at the northern terminus in Morehead, Kentucky.
2. Cave Run Lake: This access point is located near the Cave Run Lake Recreation Area, providing access to the trail.
3. Clear Creek: This access point is located near the Clear Creek Recreation Area, offering a starting point for hikers.
4. Cumberland Falls: The trail passes through Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, providing access to the iconic Cumberland Falls.
5. Laurel Lake: This access point is located near Laurel Lake, offering a scenic starting point for hikers.
6. Big South Fork: The trail passes through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, providing multiple access points along the way.
7. Stearns: This access point is located near the town of Stearns, Kentucky, offering a convenient starting point for hikers.
8. Daniel Boone National Forest: The trail passes through various sections of the Daniel Boone National Forest, providing multiple access points.
9. Natural Bridge State Resort Park: The trail passes through Natural Bridge State Resort Park, offering access to the famous Natural Bridge.
10. Red River Gorge: The trail passes through the Red River Gorge Geological Area, providing multiple access points to explore this scenic area.
11. Southern Terminus: The Sheltowee Trace ends at the southern terminus in Pickett State Park, Tennessee.

Transportation Available

1. Sheltowee Trace Shuttle – Provides shuttle services along the Sheltowee Trace trail.
2. Trailhead Taxi – Offers taxi services to and from various trailheads along the Sheltowee Trace.
3. Sheltowee Trace Bike Rentals – Provides bike rentals for exploring the Sheltowee Trace trail.
4. Sheltowee Trace Hiker’s Bus – Offers bus transportation for hikers along the Sheltowee Trace trail.
5. Sheltowee Trace Trail Runner’s Shuttle – Provides shuttle services specifically for trail runners on the Sheltowee Trace.


The Sheltowee Trace is a long-distance hiking trail located in Kentucky, USA. While specific amenities may vary along different sections of the trail, here are some common amenities that can be found at various points along the Sheltowee Trace:

1. Restrooms: Some trailheads or designated camping areas may have restroom facilities available. However, it is important to note that the trail primarily passes through natural areas, so restroom availability may be limited.

2. Parking: Many trailheads along the Sheltowee Trace offer parking areas for hikers and visitors. These parking lots are typically located near trail access points.

3. Camping Sites: The trail provides numerous opportunities for camping. There are designated backcountry campsites along the trail, as well as areas suitable for dispersed camping. It is important to follow Leave No Trace principles and obtain any necessary permits or permissions for camping.

4. Picnic Areas: Some trailheads or camping areas may have designated picnic areas with tables and benches. These areas provide a place for hikers to rest, eat, and enjoy the surroundings.

5. Water Sources: The trail crosses several streams, rivers, and lakes, providing opportunities for water access. However, it is recommended to carry a water filter or purification system to ensure safe drinking water.

6. Trail Shelters: Along the Sheltowee Trace, there are a few trail shelters available for hikers to use. These shelters are typically basic structures with a roof and sometimes a fireplace. They offer a place to rest and seek shelter from inclement weather.

7. Trailhead Facilities: Some trailheads may have additional amenities such as information kiosks, maps, and interpretive signs. These facilities provide useful information about the trail and its surroundings.

It is important to note that the Sheltowee Trace passes through remote and rugged areas, so amenities may be limited or nonexistent in certain sections. Hikers should be prepared and self-sufficient, carrying necessary supplies such as food, water, and appropriate gear.

Nearby Services

1. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park – Lodging and food services near the famous Cumberland Falls, known as the “Niagara of the South.”
2. Natural Bridge State Resort Park – Lodging and food services near the stunning Natural Bridge, offering scenic beauty and outdoor activities.
3. Red River Gorge – Numerous lodging options and food services near the popular Red River Gorge, a haven for rock climbers and hikers.
4. Daniel Boone National Forest – Various lodging options and food services within the forest, providing access to the Sheltowee Trace and outdoor recreation.
5. London, Kentucky – Multiple lodging options, food services, and emergency services in the town of London, located near the Sheltowee Trace.
6. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area – Lodging options and food services near the Big South Fork River, offering outdoor activities and beautiful landscapes.
7. Stearns, Kentucky – Lodging options, food services, and emergency services in the town of Stearns, located near the Sheltowee Trace and the Big South Fork River.
8. Whitley City, Kentucky – Lodging options, food services, and emergency services in the town of Whitley City, providing access to the Sheltowee Trace and nearby attractions.
9. Morehead, Kentucky – Various lodging options, food services, and emergency services in the town of Morehead, located near the northern section of the Sheltowee Trace.
10. Somerset, Kentucky – Multiple lodging options, food services, and emergency services in the city of Somerset, offering access to the southern section of the Sheltowee Trace.

Sheltowee Trace Difficulty Notes

The Sheltowee Trace, a 323-mile long trail in Kentucky, offers a challenging and diverse hiking experience. With its rugged terrain, steep ascents and descents, and unpredictable weather conditions, the trail presents a moderate to difficult level of difficulty. Hikers must navigate through dense forests, rocky sections, and creek crossings, requiring a certain level of physical fitness and endurance. The trail’s length and remote sections also pose logistical challenges, making it necessary for hikers to plan and prepare accordingly. However, the stunning natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and sense of solitude make the Sheltowee Trace a rewarding and unforgettable adventure for those seeking a challenging hiking experience.

Features And Attractions

1. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park: Known as the “Niagara of the South,” this park features the stunning Cumberland Falls, which is one of the few places in the world where you can witness a moonbow.

2. Natural Bridge State Resort Park: Home to the iconic Natural Bridge, a sandstone arch that spans 78 feet, this park offers breathtaking views and numerous hiking trails.

3. Red River Gorge Geological Area: Located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge is a popular destination for rock climbers and hikers. It features stunning sandstone cliffs, natural arches, and numerous hiking trails.

4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area: This area offers scenic views of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, with towering sandstone cliffs and beautiful waterfalls. It is also home to the historic Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp.

5. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: This park marks the passage through the Appalachian Mountains and played a significant role in American history. It offers scenic views, hiking trails, and historical sites, including the Hensley Settlement.

6. Breaks Interstate Park: Straddling the border of Kentucky and Virginia, this park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the South.” It offers stunning views of the Breaks Canyon, which is deeper than the famous Grand Canyon.

7. Natural Arch Scenic Area: Located in McCreary County, this area features a natural arch that spans 100 feet. It offers beautiful views and is a popular spot for photography.

8. Yahoo Falls: Located in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in Kentucky, cascading down 113 feet. It is accessible via a short hike.

9. Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge: This bridge spans the Rock Creek Gorge in McCreary County and offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and creek.

10. Pine Mountain State Resort Park: Situated on Pine Mountain, this park offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It also features the Chained Rock, a large boulder that is said to be held in place by a chain to prevent it from rolling down the mountain.

Usage Guidelines

1. Pets are allowed on the Sheltowee Trace, but they must be kept on a leash at all times.
2. Camping is allowed along the trail, but campfires are only permitted in designated fire rings or areas.
3. Leave No Trace principles should be followed, including packing out all trash and minimizing impact on the environment.
4. Hunting and fishing are allowed in certain areas along the trail, but proper licenses and permits are required.
5. Motorized vehicles, including ATVs and motorcycles, are not allowed on the Sheltowee Trace.
6. Bicycles are allowed on certain sections of the trail, but riders should yield to hikers and follow any posted restrictions.
7. During the spring and summer months, ticks and mosquitoes can be prevalent, so it is recommended to wear insect repellent and protective clothing.
8. Hiking the Sheltowee Trace during the winter months may require additional precautions due to potential icy or snowy conditions.
9. Overnight camping is allowed, but it is important to check for any specific restrictions or permits required in certain areas.
10. Respect private property and obtain permission if crossing or accessing any private land along the trail.

Seasonal Information

The Sheltowee Trace, also known as the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, is a stunning 319-mile long trail that winds through the beautiful state of Kentucky. With its diverse landscapes, including lush forests, rolling hills, and breathtaking waterfalls, the trail offers a unique outdoor experience for hikers, backpackers, and nature enthusiasts. When planning your visit to the Sheltowee Trace, it’s important to consider the best times of the year to visit and any seasonal closures that may affect your trip.

One of the best times to visit the Sheltowee Trace is during the spring season, particularly in April and May. During this time, the trail comes alive with vibrant wildflowers, blooming dogwoods, and the songs of migratory birds. The weather is generally mild, making it ideal for hiking and exploring the trail. However, it’s important to note that spring can also bring occasional rain showers, so be prepared with appropriate gear and clothing.

Another great time to visit the Sheltowee Trace is in the fall, particularly in September and October. The trail is transformed into a colorful tapestry of red, orange, and gold as the leaves change, creating a picturesque backdrop for your outdoor adventure. The weather is typically cooler during this time, making it comfortable for long hikes and camping. It’s worth noting that fall is a popular time for visitors, so be prepared for potentially crowded trails and campsites.

When planning your visit to the Sheltowee Trace, it’s important to be aware of any seasonal closures that may affect your trip. Some sections of the trail may be closed during certain times of the year due to maintenance, hunting seasons, or adverse weather conditions. It’s recommended to check with the local authorities or the Sheltowee Trace Association for up-to-date information on closures and trail conditions before embarking on your journey.

In conclusion, the best times to visit the Sheltowee Trace are during the spring and fall seasons when the trail showcases its natural beauty in full bloom. However, each season offers its own unique charm and outdoor experiences. By planning your visit accordingly and staying informed about any seasonal closures, you can make the most of your time on the Sheltowee Trace and create unforgettable memories in the heart of Kentucky’s wilderness.


1. Accessible Parking: Designated parking spaces are available near trailheads and facilities for individuals with disabilities.
2. Accessible Restrooms: Restrooms along the trail are equipped with accessible features such as grab bars, wider doorways, and accessible sinks.
3. Accessible Trails: Portions of the Sheltowee Trace are designed to be wheelchair accessible, providing a smooth and level surface for individuals with mobility challenges.
4. Trailhead Accessibility: Trailheads are designed to be accessible, with paved pathways, ramps, and accessible signage.
5. Accessible Picnic Areas: Picnic areas along the trail are equipped with accessible picnic tables, allowing individuals using wheelchairs to comfortably enjoy outdoor meals.
6. Accessible Campsites: Some campsites along the Sheltowee Trace offer accessible features such as level tent pads, accessible fire rings, and nearby accessible restrooms.
7. Accessible Visitor Centers: Visitor centers along the trail are designed to be accessible, with ramps, wider doorways, and accessible exhibits.
8. Accessible Information: Trail maps, brochures, and interpretive signs are available in accessible formats such as large print or Braille.
9. Accessible Water Sources: Accessible water sources are available along the trail, equipped with features like lower spigots or hand pumps for easier access.
10. Accessible Lodging: Nearby lodging options may offer accessible rooms or facilities for individuals with disabilities visiting the Sheltowee Trace.

Safety Information

When visiting the Sheltowee Trace, an important long-distance hiking trail in Kentucky, it is crucial to be aware of the following safety information:

1. Plan and prepare: Before embarking on the trail, thoroughly research and plan your trip. Familiarize yourself with the trail’s difficulty level, weather conditions, and potential hazards. Carry a detailed map, compass, and/or GPS device to navigate the trail effectively.

2. Inform others: Always let someone know about your hiking plans, including your expected route, duration, and estimated return time. This information can be shared with a trusted friend or family member who can alert authorities if you fail to return as planned.

3. Weather conditions: Check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for changing conditions. Dress in layers, wear appropriate footwear, and pack rain gear. Avoid hiking during severe weather, such as thunderstorms, as the trail can become slippery and dangerous.

4. Water sources: Carry an adequate supply of water, as the availability of potable water along the trail may be limited. Treat any water obtained from natural sources, such as streams or springs, before consuming it to prevent waterborne illnesses.

5. Wildlife encounters: The Sheltowee Trace is home to various wildlife species, including black bears, snakes, and ticks. Learn about the local wildlife and how to safely coexist with them. Store food securely to avoid attracting animals and be cautious while hiking to prevent surprising or provoking wildlife.

6. Trail conditions: Be prepared for rugged and challenging terrain along the Sheltowee Trace. Watch your step, especially on steep sections, loose rocks, or slippery surfaces. Use trekking poles for stability and take breaks when needed to prevent exhaustion or injuries.

7. Leave no trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by minimizing your impact on the environment. Pack out all trash, dispose of human waste properly, and avoid damaging vegetation or disturbing wildlife. Respect the trail and its surroundings for future hikers to enjoy.

8. Emergency preparedness: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit, including essential supplies like bandages, antiseptic, and any personal medications. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and know how to handle common hiking injuries. In case of an emergency, call 911 or the local emergency services number.

Remember, safety should always be a priority when exploring the outdoors. By being prepared, informed, and respectful of the environment, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience on the Sheltowee Trace.

Conservation Notes

The Sheltowee Trace, a long-distance hiking trail spanning approximately 319 miles through Kentucky, is considered to have a relatively stable conservation status. The trail passes through a diverse range of ecosystems, including forests, rivers, and rocky cliffs, providing habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. Efforts have been made to protect and preserve the natural resources along the trail, ensuring its conservation for future generations.

One of the key conservation initiatives for the Sheltowee Trace is the establishment of protected areas and conservation easements. These measures aim to safeguard critical habitats and prevent encroachment by human activities such as logging or development. By designating certain sections of the trail as protected, the conservation status of the Sheltowee Trace is enhanced, allowing for the preservation of its unique ecological features.

Additionally, ongoing monitoring and management practices are in place to ensure the sustainability of the trail. Regular assessments of the trail’s condition, including erosion control and maintenance of signage, help to minimize the impact of hikers and maintain the integrity of the surrounding environment. By implementing these measures, the conservation status of the Sheltowee Trace is actively maintained, allowing visitors to enjoy the trail while minimizing their ecological footprint.

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