Finding Family Fun on the Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail - Hiking and Biking

Central Hardwoods Scenic TrailLooking for family-friendly fun to hike or possibly bike ride? The Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail was designed with families in mind, with smooth surfaces, gentle grades and plenty of wildlife sightings.

Ambling along the rolling, easy-to-follow Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail leaves plenty of time to look around and enjoy the variety of wildlife that the Land Between the Lakes has to offer. Having one of the most diverse natural habitats in North America, this area  provides ample homes for turkeys, eagles, deer, wildflowers, and more. Bring a camera and plan on a picnic at one of the many trailside rest areas. 

President John F. Kennedy designated the peninsula Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area to show how recreational areas could provide economic benefits for the region. Today visitors can enjoy a multitude of activities in the area including hiking, biking, paddling, camping, hunting and more for a full vacation of outdoor fun. 

What Makes It Great

During any season the Central Hardwoods Scenic trail delivers what the name promises: enough scenic diversity for every palate. Spring and summer provide a colorful array of wildflowers and cooling shade provided by the lush canopy of the hardwood trees. Fall and winter bring a burst of vibrant, firework-colored leaves and bucolic woodland views from ridges and valleys.

Early and late in the day are the best times for nature enthusiasts to hit the trail, when it’s more likely one will see the wildlife that call the central hardwoods home.

As you navigate the path past the trailheads, you’ll find it’s steeped in history from the residents who used to live in the area. There are multiple family cemeteries throughout the park. It was common for settlers to have their own, small family plots, and the Meredith family cemetery is not far from the trailhead of the same name. At the Sunset trailhead is the location of where two local brothers, Conley and Lew Wallace, built the Sunset Inn (no longer there) following their service in World War II. The inn was named after the sunset that was in the  shoulder patch insignia for their division. And at Devil’s Elbow imagine back to the days of steamboats that used to float the Cumberland River serving the local community.

With over 170,000 acres of forest and land, hundreds of campsites spread throughout the area, 300 miles of rustic shoreline, and 500 of miles for all levels of users, the park will help visitors create memories that will last a lifetime.

Who is Going to Love It

Families that play together stay together and this trail is perfect for limitless family fun. The wide, groomed double track provides an easy, stress free hike or even bike ride, for all ages and abilities. Choose a long full day and see all eleven miles of trail from end to end, or choose one of the sections between trailheads for a quick jaunt to stretch the legs or perhaps wear the younger ones out before bed if you’re staying at one of the hundreds of campsites scattered around the park.

Directions, Parking & Regulations

To get there follow the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway which is the main north/south road in Land Between The Lakes. The hike officially begins at the Fenton Trailhead (located at Fenton Campground) where there is a pavilion with grills and a vault toilet.

However the trail can also be accessed from the English Hill, Golden Pond and Meredith Trailheads. All have restrooms, and the Golden Pond Visitor Center has a picnic area with grills. Camping is not allowed anywhere on this trail. 


Difficulty: (2)
The trail itself gets an easy rating with a ‘moderate’ thrown in due to length. The first 2.5 miles are paved on the eastern portion and provide shoreline views of Lake Barkley. The following 8.5 miles of the central and western portions use a compacted stone surface. Expect rolling hills and ridge top views of a hardwood forest.
Time to Complete: 3-4 hours
The trail is mostly flat with paving and gravel all the way, time will depend on  walking pace and how many times the wildlife crosses your path. 
Distance: 11 miles one way
There are seven trailheads that access the trial so it can be be done in a variety of shorter sections and out and backs if the whole length is too much. A shuttle car will be needed if you want to hike the entire trail.
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Accessible, and recommended in all seasons. 
Fees: No parking fees  
Dog Friendly? Pets must be on a leash of 6' or less and under physical control at all times.
GPS Coordinates: N 36 46′ 38.41” W 88 03′ 53.75”