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Sheltowee Trace Trail, KY

The turtle blaze marks the Sheltowee Trace Trail. Photo by Mary Reed.

If you want to get to know Kentucky, the natural Kentucky of Daniel Boone’s day – that of arches, waterfalls, deep forest and wildlife – take a hike on the 280-mile Sheltowee Trace Trail, which runs the length of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

“It is the backbone of the bluegrass state – it’s the Appalachian Trail of Kentucky,” says Johnny Molloy, author of Day & Overnight Hikes, Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace.

For a day hike, hit one some of the main attractions that are popular for good reason, namely, scenery: the Trace from Cumberland Falls to Dog Slaughter Falls and back in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park (6½ miles) or the 4-mile Gray’s Arch/ST loop in the Red River Gorge.

Johnny suggests a third, lesser-known area within the Daniel Boone that offers great scenery minus the crowds: the 3-mile (one way) section of the Trace along Furnace Arch Ridge in the national forest’s Clifty Wilderness.

Don’t limit yourself to day hikes along one of the longest trails in the region. Take a weekend to a month to explore long-distance hikes along the Sheltowee Trace. Johnny recommends starting at the southern terminus, along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. “The beginning of the trail is just a home run of features … a waterfall, an arch and a rock house in the first mile or two,” he says. But, he recommends, keep going. “The first hundred miles of the Sheltowee Trace in my opinion will stack up to 100 miles on any trail anywhere.”

Thru-hiking is a doable option, as long as you plan ahead with your resupplies. Only a few places exist along the trail where you can purchase food. “It is a great thru-hiker’s experience,” Johnny says. “The AT is a well-maintained trail. It’s a social experience. In these lesser-visited trails, you hang out with nature.”

Where it’s at: Northern terminus: From I-64 in the Daniel Boone National Forest (near Morehead, KY) take KY-32 north about a mile to KY-377; take that 15 miles to the trailhead. Southern terminus: At Pickett State Park, TN; 5 miles south of the KY border on TN-154

Contact: Daniel Boone National Forest, www.fs.fed.us/r8/boone or (859) 745-3100

Digs: There are a few shelters along the trail, but bring your tent – you can camp in developed campgrounds or anywhere in the national forest as long as it’s 300 feet away from a road or trail, 100 feet away from rock features, 600 feet away from Gray’s Arch; lodging is available near the trail at Cumberland Falls ($12-$109, 800-325-0063) and Natural Bridge ($14-$130, 800-325-1710) state parks.

Grub: Plan to bring your own food, but you can get a meal at the lodge restaurant at both Cumberland Falls and Natural Bridge state parks.

Gear and Outfitting: J&H Lanmark in Lexington, KY, www.jhoutdoors.com or (859) 278-0730

Day & Overnight Hikes, Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace, by Johnny Molloy, is a comprehensive book detailing out-and-back, loop and overnight hikes along the ST and includes side trails. The detailed maps and directions are very good – you can use the book to easily choose a hike that suits your desires. It also includes a complete trail log to help you plan a thru-hike. ($14.94, www.menasharidge.com)