It really goes without saying that, in Kentucky, Red River Gorge is "the" premiere place to hike and climb. I don't care to dispute such claims because I'm a fan of "The Gorge" and would commend it to everyone. Since I live nearly two hours away from the Red, however, it's not always easy or convenient to get there. Moreover, as a waterfall enthusiast, I've not been terribly impressed by some of the seasonal trickles I've encountered there. So, RRG isn't my top place to visit when I want to catch the rush of a waterfall. Instead, there are 5 places I frequent here in Lexington that allow me to get my fill. Best of all, with the exception of the Asbury Trails listed below, every other place I've been to has always had a strong flow going. So, if you're in the Lexington or Central Kentucky area and want to visit some falls, here are 5 of my favorites (ranked with #1 being my favorite), all of which are free and open to the public.
5. Asbury Trails: Just past Wilmore and just shy of High Bridge, the Asbury Trails contain several little paths in the vicinity of the Kentucky River. In fact, at various points you can walk right down to the river and skip rocks if you want (I would highly recommend not getting in as it's incredibly dangerous). You can get there by taking Hwy 29 out toward High Bridge. Just as you leave Wilmore and pass the blinking red light, you'll quickly come to Shanty Hill Rd on the right. Take that for about .7 mi and then turn right into a small, graveled parking lot. If you want to see the waterfall with some "umph" behind it, go after a good rain but be careful because the paths are quite slick. If you do go on a rainy day, you'll see some very nice cascade-like drops on your way there.
Once you get to the trailhead sign, take the Old Stage Rd. trail, which is about 3/4 of a mile and descends along a ravine to the river. Once you reach the bridge, do not cross it but, instead, bear left. Just as you round the bend, you'll see a foot-worn path (or two) with a quick ascent. Head up and, before too long, you'll encounter a nice little waterfall. I visited during a week where there had been no rain and the push wasn't too strong. Still, it was a nice site. As I climbed up a little farther there was a nice cavish alcove with a natural rock-hewn window. One can sit in there and listen to the water drop.
4. Shaker Village: Shaker Village is basically the remnants of an old Shaker town (which is what many folks often call it). Despite the myth that Shakers received that name from shaking out their wet laundry in order to dry it, the name actually comes from shaking during intense ecstatic moments of religious experience. After branching off the Quakers, a part of this sect migrated to Kentucky. Not far from Lexington, the land is located in Harrodsburg, Ky (Mercer Co.). To locate the falls seen in the picture here, upon entering the village turn left and follow the paved road. As you head down the hill bear right. Eventually, you'll arrive at a parking lot between a small red barn and a large black one where you can park. Once parked, head down the hill on the paved path, which soon becomes gravel. As you pass the gate (which may or may not be closed), immediately turn right to get on the footpath. Follow that until you come to Shawnee River where you'll pass an old mill site. Follow the creek left and, in no time, you'll arrive at the falls.
Every time I've been to these falls they've been running. Even when the creek has been low the waterfall has not disappointed. Wading in the creek and sitting in the waterfall is a great way to cool down in the summer. As long as the mosquitos aren't out in full force, you'll likely have a great time. But it's probably a good idea to wear some repellant just in case. Once you've had your fun there, continue following the trail or the creek. Both options will provide you with some great sights. Last time I was there two groups of 5 or 6 deer ran out in front of us and I enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful rock faces I had missed in the past. It's a great site. and worth the visit. If you work up a hunger, drop into the restaurant for what promises to be an awesome southern home-style cooked meal.
3. Raven Run: Probably the most well-known hiking spot in Lexington, Raven Run makes for a great day trip. In some sense, this place has it all! And, to my great joy and surprise, this "Nature Sanctuary" has just done the best thing it ever could have: it extended it's open hours. Prior to now (May, 2016), I've only known Raven Run to be open until about 4:30pm. There have been many days I would've liked to take my kids out for a hike after school but, let's face it, only staying open til 4:30pm just didn't cut it. There was no way to make it happen. As of now (5/15/16), the website says that in May trails close at 6:30pm and in both June and July 7:30pm. (Perhaps they've always done this but, if they have, it's news to me!)
While there is a very large waterfall that can be heard but not seen right near the end of the most popular trail (The Red Trail), there are tons of great cascades and a very nice waterfall near the old mill. Although one can follow The Red Trail around to the falls, that takes quite some time (at least 30-40 minutes at a brisk pace). I had walked visited the area 4 or 5 times and walked The Red Trail but it wasn't until recently, after venturing farther, that I found the cascades and falls. Persistence pays off!
Thankfully, The Preserve has mowed a trail that, from the visitor's center, allows one to get there in about 10 minutes. When you get to the meadow, take The Meadow Trail. Once you arrive at the power lines overhead, take "J" and connect to The Red Trail. Turn left on to the Red Trail and walk a very short distance to where it diverges in two directions. Take a right and head down the hill. The trail loops around and you'll arrive at a small wooden overlook. Keep walking past that and you'll arrive at the cascades. Explore that area for a little bit, it's where the old mill used to be. There are lots of great little swimming holes...just watch out for that incredibly slick moss! When you're ready, get in the creek and head upstream. In a few hundred yards, as you pass through a number of cascades, you'll come to a nice waterfall. Enjoy the scenery!
2: Jessamine (Creek) Gorge: This newly opened land, purchased by Jessamine Co. and made public by the judge (along with several other pieces of property), is by far the largest waterfall in the area. The official name of this beauty is Overstreet Falls and it's something of a local showstopper. Since we've posted an official "how to get there" entry, I'll spare those details here. I will say, however, that walking the creek bed and cascades down to the top of Overstreet is, in and of itself, worth the trip out.
Once you arrive at the bottom of the falls (and consequently, Jessamine Creek), you'll be even more blown away. By the way, if you're going to visit here, be sure to bring some swimming gear so you can enjoy all it has to offer. After you take a moment to catch your breath from this wonderful work of nature, jump into the little pool at the bottom of the falls; it promises to be cold! And, if you're feeling brave, climb up the rock face to the ledge at the middle of the falls (by the way, that's precisely where I'm standing in the background photo for this website). Go stand under the downpour (watch your footing!) and then make your way back out to the same ledge and follow the path around the mountain, staying close to the mountain face and heading upward the entire time, to find a sweet cave (closed April-October!). If you go up the entry that looks steep and straight, you'll be disappointed as there's nothing there. Go to the tall entrance on the right. Inside, you'll find another little waterfall, The Halcames Falls, and you'll probably see a bunch of critters, including some bats. I'll post more on the cave in the near future. For now, head out to this Gorge, which also has easy walking trails if you're not feeling up for descending to the falls because, either way, you won't be disappointed!
1. Howard's Creek: The only local place that rivals my love for Jessamine Gorge is over at Lower Howard's Creek. Still, because there are so many great swimming holes here, I'd probably vote this one to be my favorite. The hike to the waterfall is quite easy. After parking near Hall's restaurant, take the trail to the right of the eatery and head uphill. You'll venture through some woods for 5 or 10 minutes until you hit some water. You can cross it and follow the stream around, play in the stream (watch out for the one large fish that lives there - I'm not sure what kind it is but I see it every single time I visit - he's got a sharp nose!), or veer to the right and walk on the ledge. Once the ledge ends, you'll come to a split. If you follow the water straight, you'll miss the falls. To access them, you must turn right.
Once you make the turn, you'll come to a great little swimming hole, which is one of my favorites. We love doing cannonball jumps and whatnot there. Once you've enjoyed some swimming, follow the creek uphill. You'll see some tiny cascades and after about 5 or 10 minutes, you'll come to the falls. At the base of it rests a large swimming hole. There are some big rocks in the hole so watch out for them. I'd recommend some kind of water shoes or sandals. You can go behind the falls, climb up on top of them, or stand under them. I've heard the falls have come to a trickle at some points but, in my experience, this has never been the case. They've been roaring, even in the dead of summer, every time I've been. Last summer we visited this place more than any other and, every single time, it's always a blast. I'd also suggest bringing a change of shoes because traversing back through the forest after being in water often leads to quite a bit of mud. Bring a spare bag to put the shoes in. Once you've finished, stop off at Hall's for a nice bite to eat. They have some local Kentucky delicacies and you can sit out on the porch that overlooks the Kentucky River. And after that, head on over to Fort Boonesborough and check out what they have to offer. You can make a great day trip out of visiting the area.