For those who live in Lexington, getting out of town for a hike isn’t always easy. This is especially true if you have a regular 9-to-5. And since weekend’s often fill up so quickly or the work week has worn you out too much to plan a hike, making time to explore and enjoy nature can be a challenge. If you are a Lexingtonian, however, I have some good news for you: Getting out on a trail, even a dirt trail, is totally possible...and easy! Below I offer 5 parks that have both dirt and paved trails. Granted, they don’t have the terrain of The Red or the falls like Anglin or Vanhook, nevertheless, they are all worth taking advantage of. Best of all, each of the 5 is right in Lexington...right in the city. You don’t even need to leave town!
1. The Arboretum: A joint project between the Uni-versity of Kentucky and Lexington/Fayette County, this haven-in-the-city is located on UK’s campus. Of the 5 sites listed here, The Arboretum is probably the most well-known. The paved trail is 2 miles long and often has fast walkers, leisurely walkers, and runners on it. What many do not realize is that the greenery across The Arboretum is representative of the 7 physiographic regions of Kentucky (read more HERE). For the nature enthusiast, this is sure to be of interest. The 2-mile trail wraps around the perimeter of the grounds. Near the parking lot one will also find the beautiful Kentucky Children’s Garden. If you have kids and are looking for something to do, check it out (more details HERE). There are also a number of woodchip trails in the interior of the park. The dirt trails are located near the north end of the park. There are several bridges throughout and the forest's outer loop, I believe, is about a half-mile in length. There are, however, a number of additional trails throughout the woods and one can easily get a mile or more in by winding through all of them. The best thing about entering this rare portion of the inner Bluegrass Woodlands, is that, for the moment at least, you forget you’re right in the heart of the city. If you visit The Arboretum, pack a lunch, take a blanket, and have a picnic. Pets, by the way, are allowed. Bikes are not!
2. McConnell Springs: This is where Lexington was born! Today, it sits within the old industrial area of the city and because of that, few know about it. Truly, this is one of Lexington’s best kept nature secrets. We, however, don’t want it to remain a secret; it’s a place worth visiting. As you can conclude from the name, there are actual “springs” with water shooting up from the ground. For many (me included!), although “Springs” is in the name, seeing them for the first time is something of a surprise.
McConnell Springs prides itself on the wide variety of plant and bird species one is likely to encounter there. As you make your way throughout the park, be on the lookout for what you can spot. There’s a lot to scope out on this 1-1.5 miles worth of walkways. This location has a paved path throughout its 26-acre plot of land which, like the other places mentioned here, makes it wheelchair & stroller accessible. There are also a number of woodchip trails and at least one or two off-trail dirt paths. In addition, one will find some nice nature habitats built by students, a pond with a walkway around half the perimeter, and an old-time log cabin. The latter helps accommodate the annual Founder’s Day event held at the end of May each year to commemorate the city’s birthday.
3. Veteran’s Park: This park, well-known for its baseball fields, is actually a gem nestled inside the heart of the city. Wrapping through the park are paved trails which are almost constantly in use. Last time I was there a group of stroller-jogging moms were on the move getting their daily workout in. My main interest, however, was in the dirt trails. I found these trails to be very fun. The lower trails run parallel to the creek, which makes them a delight to walk. You may even find a great tree trunk reaching out over the water to take a little nap or rest on. Occasionally, one will encounter a group of disc golfers as they trek through the woods because there’s a course spread throughout. On the upper trails, which are quite thin and made for mountain/trail biking, one must stay alert so they don’t get hit by riders or cause riders to crash. If one takes in all Veteran’s Park has to offer with trails, both paved and dirt, they can easily get in a good 4 miles worth of walking. My only complaint about this wonderful location is that, at times, it feels like they’ve simply tried to do too much. The walkers, riders, runners, disc throwers, etc., can create lots of congestion, especially on a nice day. This minor bother, however, should not be a deterrent; the trails are worth it regardless.
4. Waveland Historic Site: Located just inside the corner of Man O’War and Nicholasville Rd. behind the plot of land used by UK for agricultural purposes, Waveland is an old Antebellum-era site. There are daily guided tours that focus on life and slavery during this time. Around the fringes of the dated buildings are nice gardens with lots of beautiful flowers. A brick path (rather than being strictly defined as paved) leads one from building to building. This is not really a path for walkers or runners.
There is, however, a nice and somewhat-unexpected dirt path near the back of the land. As one walks the path they will encounter a nice pond (I spotted a muskrat venturing out for home-building materials recently), pass an old cemetery, cross a bridge, and encounter wildlife (especially chipmunks and birds). Because the site backs up to train tracks, unfortunately one may hear a loud roar and/or whistle while walking, too. Still, it’s worth it if you’re wanting a short dirt-trail nature walk. I clocked in at just under a mile during a recent walk there. If you have kids there’s also a playground on the land and a much-loved, kid-sized log cabin. There are fields to pass ball and lots of great places to throw down a blanket for a nap or picnic. We’ve also thrown a couple birthday parties for our kids over the years at no cost. Just show up and do your thing (no reservations needed) – there are picnic tables there, too. This is simply another one of those locations that, even if only for a little while, aid you in forgetting that you’re in the middle of a city.
5. Waverly Park/Clemens Park: Located between the Clemens Heights and Wyndam Downs neigh-borhoods, the paved trail is most easily accessed by navigating to the park, which has makeshift soccer fields, a basketball court, tennis courts, and a playground, then parking your car there. The paved trail wraps around a very pretty wooded and well-maintained park. This is also another great place for a picnic. The dirt trail can be accessed from here, too, although it is quite hidden. If you make your way across the basketball court, turn right onto the paved trail, and just as you make your way to the bend that turns right, look left. Off to the left, if you look closely, you’ll spot an entryway into the woods. An alternate route is to park near the intersection of Old Higbee Mill Rd. and Gladman Way. Look toward the woods and you’ll see a pathway leading into them. While the paved portion of the park may get you about 1 mile’s worth a walk, the wooded path may get you 1.5-2 miles. Having just made my way through the wooded portion, I will say, it’s a little tough at times because weed-littered areas have taken over. However, one can simply follow the creek (a tributary of the Elkhorn) and get some good exercise in.