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We define "hike" as a one day walk of at least five miles. Most of the hikes we recommend are 6-8 miles. If it's overnight, we cover it under "backpacking." Kentucky offers more and better hiking trails than any other state East of the Rockies and South of New England. A day hike here brings you to waterfalls, overlooks, natural bridges, caves, deep glenns, and historical ruins.

But hiking in Kentucky is a challenge. Routes are not casual walks in the park or level strolls along well manicured paved pathways. Our trails struggle up long rocky climbs, skirt the edges of cliffs, rock hop across knee high streams, and navigate mossy ledges below waterfalls. Hiking here is a cardiovascular activity.

But Kentucky in the Summer is very hot and very humid, even more so with the onset of global warming. Most locals do their day hiking in the Spring and Fall when temperatures are in the 70s and low 80s and the air is dry and clear. Springs here also feature beautiful wildflower displays, and Fall of course displays leaves in full color. This photo is in the Red River Gorge.

Kentucky Day Hiking : Dan Omlor
For additional trip reports, photos and discussion, we recommend http://www.kywilderness.com
Kentucky hiking : bridge over cascading stream

We urge you to purchase a good pack. Kentucky's day hiking trails are long, with plenty of ups and downs. School bookbags doubling as weekend hiking packs don't work well. They don't have the volume or support. For Spring and Fall hiking you need a rucksack with a legitimate hip belt, lumbar pad, back stays, full padded straps, plenty of pockets and two good external bottle baskets or holders.

If you insist on hiking here in the Summer, you should invest in one of the larger waist packs ("fanny packs" or "butt packs"), the ones with bottle holders on both sides, multiple pockets, and legitimate hip belts. These keep your back free. Wearing a rucksack in July results in a back, pack and shirt soaked with sweat, which becomes uncomfortable over several hours.

You need two stainless steel double walled insulated water bottles, the ones that keep beverages cold for 12 hours. We now know the plastic bottles leach polyvinyl chlorides into the water or other liquid, meaning you'll be drinking carcinogens.

For additional trip reports, photos and discussion, we recommend http://flyingfishmanky.com

Good cameras are a must here. The natural arches, waterfalls, and horizontal expanses seen from overlooks make postcard photos. Cell phone cameras are not good enough to capture the images here. You need a legitimate camera with a good zoom lens for the wildlife you'll see and if possible a panoramic feature for the overlook shots. You also need a good macro lens or macro setting. A typical Kentucky trail will feature 27-30 different kinds of mosses and fungi, many of them spectacular. In the Spring, many of the flowers (Lady's Slippers, Jack in the Pulpit, etc.) are worth closeup photography, and again in August and September, a different set of flowers (Boneset, Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, etc.) cry out for closeups. On these flowers will be hummingbirds, bees and a wide range of butterflies, which also require a good macro lens or setting. It used to be we had to buy a complete SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, but now many of the new compact cameras contain all these features in packages as low as $200.

Kentucky gets a lot of rain. Hikers here need a good, lightweight, compact but effective rain garment. We highly recommend a Caguole. These are available through Campmor and other suppliers. A Caguole is a pullover that hangs loosely, so breathes as you walk, but extends down to your knees so keeps you quite dry, especially if you add a pair of gaitors. They have hoods and loose draping sleeves. Most important, they are built to fit over your pack, so you don't need a separate rain cover. Caguoles run from $20 to $50. They're quite durable; we've had our current models for 30 years and they don't have any tears or abrasions. You can buy more tailored rainsuits, parkas and pants, some costing as much as $150-200. But they're harder to put on and off and often they're more delicate and don't breathe as well as a Caguole. The traditional Poncho is another option. They do breathe, but they're not as waterproof in a hard rain. The photo at right is taken in The Calaboose of the Red River Gorge.

Kentucky Day Hiking : Lunch at Waterfalls
For additional trip reports, photos and discussions, we recommend http://www.redriversaga.com
Kentucky Day Hiking : Dan Omlor

The final item you need to consider is Boots. We're familiar with the lightweight fabric boots and we've owned several pair. But there's a lot of water flowing in Kentucky. You'll be hiking along rivers, streams, waterfalls, lakes, ponds, bogs, springs, seeps and wetlands. Fabric boots don't keep your feet dry and don't last very long when they're always getting wet. We prefer good leather boots. We clean and polish them between trips and find a pair lasts several years. They keep our feet dry and give us more support on the rocky climbs. The photo at left is taken in the Big South Fork.

Remember we're a Kentucky site with the majority of our users in Kentucky. So we cover Kentucky hiking trails in this section. However, the second line of the menu bar above offers the best day hiking elsewhere in the nation. If you love a good day hike but prefer sleeping in a cabin or lodge to camping out, those are the national parks to visit.

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