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Bernheim Forest

Hiking

Bernheim Forest
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One of the most spectacular hiking locations in Kentucky is Bernheim Forest. The hiking itself is good ---there's 40 total miles, 14 different trails, with the best being the 13 mile Millennium Trail --- but the forest and facilities are worth at least one weekend a year, preferably in the Fall when leaves are in full color. The park is the legacy of Isaac Bernheim, who came to Kentucky from Germany at age 17 in 1866. He made his fortune as a whiskey distiller and marketer, but his lifetime passion and hobby was forestry. He just loved trees and large, diverse forests. He used his money to purchase 16,000 acres of land in Nelson and Bullitt Counties (he got it for $1 an acre because it had been strip mined for iron ore), plant it in trees, maintain and protect it, and set up a trust fund to make sure it endured beyond his death. He died in 1945 at age 96 and left his forest with various legal clauses to make sure it was properly kept and a trust fund to provide the money for staff and operations. The Isaac W. Bernheim Foundation opened the forest to the public in 1950 as a nature preserve, arboretum and recreation area. Bernheim is the largest privately owned forest in Kentucky. There's moderate sized Lake Nevin, three picnic grounds, and a huge meadow of over 100 acres. The forest, which is not open to hunting, is home to deer, wild turkey, quail, raccoon, possum, fox, groundhog, rabbits, coyote, muskrat, voles, fence lizards, skinks, various snakes, turtles, toads, frogs, fish, salamanders, crayfish, and 100 kinds of birds, although many of them only drop by on their migration routes. Bernheim is a great place for photography, painting, bird watching and wildlife observation. There are paved access trails for the handicapped, a beautiful visitor center, and a year round schedule of nature programs, workshops, seminars, art and craft exhibits and festivals celebrating various aspects of the outdoors. From Lexington, you reach Bernheim by taking the Blue Grass Parkway to Bardstown, then Kentucky 245 to the entrance. Isaac Bernheim, his wife, daughter and her husband are buried on the grounds. Bernheim Forest hiking
Bernheim Forest hiking One of Bernheim's best attractions is the Canopy Walk. This 180 foot long sky bridge is a steel and wood structure which takes hikers out 75 feet above the forest floor, where they can look across the tops of Oak, Hickory and Beech trees. At the walk's highest point is an observation deck, where artists, photographers and observors can settle in to watch for birds or other canopy activity. On breezy or windy days the bridge sways and creaks slightly, adding to the effect and giving queasy stomachs to those wary of heights.
The Millennium Trail is 13.75 miles long. The terrain is not as rigorous as the Gorge, but it is continually up and down and the sheer length will eventually start exhausting you. To fend this off, pack plenty of snacks (fruit, etc.), and plan on a real lunch stop, where you rest for a while, eat plenty, and maybe even heat a cup of soup or at least tea. This hot lunch makes more sense in context of our second recommendation : Hike The Mellennium in Fall, Winter or Spring but definitely NOT Summer. Bernheim in Summer is very hot, very humid and is tied with Mammoth Cave's surface forest and The Land Between the Lakes as the greatest Tick infested spots in Kentucky. Hiking it after first frost in Fall and before last frost in Spring avoid this problem. And in the cool weather, that cup of soup or tea tastes great. There is a third problem. The trail is not marked particularly well. The first place this sidetracks people is at the trailhead. Other trails cross there, and it's easy to wander down the wrong one. But the real crisis occurs as you descend into the ravine between mile markers 8 and 9. The first time you hike this trail you are almost guaranteed to lose it here. Just consider it part of the fun. You'll eventually find it. Bernheim Forest hiking
Bernheim Forest hiking The photo at left shows the Millennium Trail crossing the headwaters of Lake Nevin, at the edge of Big Meadow. Bernheim has done a great job of providing bridges and walkways everywhere the trail crosses water. This is one of the places along the trail where you'll see plenty of wildlife no matter what season you hike. This is also in the northern half of the Millennium Loop, which is more level and thus easier to hike. The steep terrain and dense forest are in the southern half of the loop.

The Visitor Center is state of the art. It houses a gift shop, interpretative center, offices, rangers to answer guests' questions, and displays of art, photography, sculpture and natural objects found on the grounds. Isaac's Cafe offers soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts made from ingredients grown in the Bernheim Gardens. The Visitor Center is entirely powered by solar energy and is open year round except for Christmas and New Year.

 

Bernheim Forest hiking
Bernheim Forest hiking The steel Firetower is the highest point in the Bernheim Forest. It is halfway along the Millennium Trail. The eight mile drive through the forest dead ends here. If you climb to the top, you have a magnificent view looking out across the entire forest, the Boy Scout Camp which borders Bernheim on the Southern side, and adjacent sections of Nelson and Bullitt Counties. Looking South, you get a great view of The Knobs, the worn down jagged remains of the geologic bubble which once rose over Central Kentucky. You could cut the Millennium Trail in half by having someone pick you up here at the Firetower, or by driving out and leaving a car parked here. For most hikers, it's the traditional lunch stop. The Bernheim Firetower is 48 feet tall and was built by the Kentucky Department of Forestry in 1929. It was staffed continuously until 1980, when it was deeded to the Bernheim Foundation. Seven thousand visitors a year climb to the top. Volunteers still staff the Firetower during fire seasons, mostly August, September and October.
This is what it would look like hiking the Millennium Trail during the off season. You'll have it pretty much to yourself, but that also means you'll be free of ticks and can enjoy the cool, crisp air. Bernheim Forest is open from 7 a.m. until dark daily. They no longer allow camping within the property, so if you're coming from any distance, you'll have to stay in Bardstown. That's not necessarily bad, because you can find lodging and great food at the 1779 Old Talbott Tavern. Bernheim Forrst hiking
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