Mountain Biking the Laurel Lake Trail
The Laurel River Lake lies in the gorgeous Daniel Boone National Forest in southern Kentucky. The trails in the area provide for some of the best, most-scenic rides in the state - perfect for any level rider.
Considered by locals to be one of the greatest trails in the state, the Laurel Lake Trail system features a single track through a variety of pine and hardwood forests. Yet for all its love, the trail is impressively uncrowded—not bad for being just 20 minutes off of interstate 75.
The man-made, 5,600-acre lake itself is a hub of outdoor recreation. Majestic cliffs line its 192 miles of pebbly, wooded shores, peaceful coves and lure swimmers, boaters and paddlers from far and wide. Its sweeping views tempt hikers and horseback riders of all abilities and fitness levels. Being one of the deepest, cleanest, and clearest lakes in Kentucky, anglers flock here fishing for large and smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, crappie, blue gill and catfish. There’s even SCUBA diving here. The mild weather and relatively long season truly makes it an outdoor lover’s paradise.
What Makes It Great
Riders find a single track and varied terrain as they twist around the lake’s shore, darting in and out of deep hardwood forests interspersed with epic views. No large climbs or descents, but rather a seemingly never-ending amount of short, middle-ring rollers that force attention and keep the trail ever-engaging. Several parking areas and boat ramps allow riders to tune the length of their ride to fitness, time allowed, and daylight; go as big or as short as needed.
The surrounding area’s natural beauty is unsurpassed. Visitors encounter, towering cliffs (perfect for rock climbing), stone arches, natural bridges and rippling creeks. And when you put those things together, you get waterfalls. The area is loaded with them, some right along the trail, others hidden, waiting to be discovered by those willing to listen and hike off trail a bit.
Spring and summer means mountain laurel and rhododendron are blooming, as are tons of wildflowers such as lady slippers, fire pinks, cardinal flower, trillium and partridgeberry. The English language lacks the ability to describe the majesty of the vibrant fall foliage. The Daniel Boone National Forest also plays host to diverse wildlife; elk, deer, black bear, and even eastern cougars roam the forests, and peregrine falcons and eagles soar overhead.
After the ride, take a dip in one of the many swimming holes along the shore, camp nearby, and try out some night fishing for trout, it’s massively popular during the summer.
Who is Going to Love It
The massive range of activities to do in the area can keep even the most curmudgeonly people entertained. On the trail itself, beginning riders love the lack of rocks, roots and obstacles that could trip them up, more experienced riders love the flow and scenery-blurring speed that they get. And who doesn’t love exploring deep shady forests with stunning panoramas of bucolic lakes?
There is a plethora of other trails in the area as well, and with plenty of camping options, it’s a great weekend destination. Check out nearby Cane Creek, it’s also a local favorite, and a great way to explore several waterfalls along its route. And of course, the Sheltowee Trace Trail allows mountain biking on about 292 miles of its 323 miles.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
From London, take KY 192 towards Laurel Lake. The parking area and trail head is at the junction of KY 1193 and 192. No open fires allowed in the campgrounds, use the fire pits, proper bear-resistant food storage regulations should also be followed.
The long version of the trail is solid intermediate territory, with no huge obstacles or seriously technical terrain. The trail is rolling, giving riders a total of 1,159 feet of elevation gain, which may challenge some true beginners. Time to Complete: (1-2 hours) Distance: (1.9-11 miles)
The Laurel Lake trail proper is just a couple of miles, but most people combine it with part of the Sheltowee Trace trail for an 11-mile ride. Seasonality: (All seasons)
Spring is nice with wildflowers blooming, summer shows off Kentucky’s impossibly lush greenery, but can be hot and humid, get an early start. Fall brings cooler temps and kaleidoscopic foliage that has to be seen to be believed. Winters are hit and miss, it is possible to ride year-round, but be prepared for possible snow and ice. Fees: None. Dog Friendly: (Yes on trail, on leash in campgrounds) GPS Coordinates: (Trailhead: 36.9976°N 84.2848°W )