Hiking the Red Trail at Jefferson Memorial Forest

Bird songs and flower scented breezes aren’t expected within 15 miles of most major metropolitan cities, but that’s exactly what can be found at the Horine Reservation at Jefferson Memorial Forest. It's an easy jaunt for any nature lover. Spend a couple of hours or a whole day in this pleasant reserve!

Jefferson Memorial Forest
Within Jefferson Memorial Forest, this gem is the perfect getaway from the city just fifteen miles away. Photo courtesy of John Knouse. 

You don’t have to go far to get back to nature on the Red Trail at the Horine Reservation. A chance to leave the paved sidewalks of Louisville behind, hikers can walk along the soothing forest environs listening to birds sing without technically leaving the city. The trail is located in the Jefferson Memorial Forest, considered to be one of the crown jewels of Louisville’s park system. It was established as a tribute to Kentucky's veterans and it is the largest municipal urban forest in the United States with 6,500 acres of steep slopes of mature second growth hardwood to admire.  

Designated as an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary complete with a lake for fishing, outdoor recreational facilities, a conference center and a Welcome Center, the park managers are working to develop the area as a recreation and educational center to benefit the entire community.  

What Makes It Great

Seeking to escape the summer heat? Look no further than the shady peace of the Red Trail. This forested path is covered for most of the trail. Within a few footsteps the sound of traffic fades away, replaced with birds singing and rushing creeks. 

Following along fairly flat ridges on well-groomed and well-marked terrain, the red blazed trail gives hikers an excellent chance to immerse themselves in classic hardwood flora. The elevation changes are minimal but do include to include a couple of short, steep inclines that might leave a few hikers huffing and puffing for a minute. There are also a couple of places with steep, brief switchback climbs to add a bit of interest and variety to the mostly flat hike.  

At points the trail sinks into lowland areas with a small streams—bridges are in place where needed. These creeks are perfect spots to rest and water the dog or sit and take a break. If interested in a bit of history, there is a short side trail at marker H14 that will take hikers to the Horine family cemetery on the northwest side.

Leading hikers through upland and lowland habitats, this trail provides a diversity of plants, animals, and geology to be discovered. The trail is particularly lovely in the fall when leaf colors peak and deer often wander onto the trails. The reserve is located is a part of Kentucky called “the Knobs”, which is known for its floodplains, terraces, foothills, and the eroded land forms. This region has a wide variety of vegetation, reflecting a range of rock types and various landscape formations. 

Whether looking for adventure, to be inspired or to just ‘be,’ the Jefferson Memorial Forest offers all sorts of wonderful woodland possibilities.

Who is Going to Love It

Anyone looking to escape the city and spend a few hours out in the woods can appreciate a trip out to the Red Trail. While this lightly trafficked loop is one of the more challenging hikes in the park, it’s still suitable for families with older children and anyone with a bit of fitness. Add in a picnic at one of the plentiful picnic areas and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are also several campsites for those looking for a full weekend ‘away’ without having to drive much—perfect for families with small kids.

The close proximity to civilization also means trail runners can take advantage of the trails at Horine Reservation. There might be a few steep sections that might be walked, but much of the trail is maintained and well-marked.

Directions, Parking & Regulations 

From I-65 take I-265 West (Gene Snyder Freeway). Take the New Cut Road exit and turn left (south). Travel approximately 1.2 miles. At the yellow flashing light, turn right onto Mitchell Hill Road. Travel 1.5 miles. Turn left into the Welcome Center parking lot (11311 Mitchell Hill Road). The Welcome Center is a white, two-story building with a red roof.  Restrooms and water are located at the trail head.

Tips

Difficulty: (3) Rated moderately difficult due to a few steep uphill sections and some switchbacks.
Time to Complete: 1.5-2 hours
Distance: 4.8 miles
There is an official ‘short cut’ trail which takes out a whole section of trail and reduces the mileage to 3.1 miles - the short cut is a mostly moderate hike with one challenging valley crossing. To add extra mileage hikers and runners can tack on the two mile Orange Trail loop trail. 
Seasonality: Year round
This trail is accessible all year round. It’s a great choice in the summer heat for a shady hike and in the Autumn the changing leaves are lovely. 
Fees: No
Dog Friendly: Yes (on-leash only)
GPS Coordinates: Parking area: 38.093383, -85.764183