Making Tracks to the West Pinnacle Trail
Since 1875 when students at Berea College started celebrating “Mountain Day” by hiking in the area, The Pinnacles have been a destination spot for hikers all from all over Kentucky. Owned and maintained by Berea College, the Indian Fort Trails system is located within one of the oldest managed private forests in the United States.
The undulating hills of Kentucky farmland transform into forested mountains where the town of Berea sits tucked against the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. The town, mostly known for its thriving arts and crafts industry, is also home to more than 8,400 acres of closed canopy forest and a well maintained trail system owned by Berea College.
Water and wood production have coexisted for well over 100 years in the Berea College Forest area which has been producing wood products and drinking water for Madison County since 1898. Following years of mismanagement in the area, including over logging and damaging clear cut fires, college officials began purchasing tracts of land with donated funds. The eventual goal was to give the college timber income and forestry demonstration sites. Soon plans were developed to help the forest to recover, and it is now home to the scenic Indian Fort Trails system found today.
What Makes It Great
Beautiful overlooks and fun scrambles up unique rock formations sum up the best the West Pinnacle Trail has to offer. A popular and well-traveled route, the trek begins at the western trailhead and climbs up from there to a bench. Shortly after, you'll be negotiating a steep climb up to a saddle for the final push to the rounded knob that makes up the West Pinnacle. Traverse across to the western overlook for a great vista of the town of Berea and an expansive look at the surrounding countryside.
All along the trail are large rocks that make for some excellent photo ops and, if truly lucky, in the spring and early summer there is a chance to see the rare Pink Lady’s Slipper wildflower—a member of the orchid family—blooming in the area.
Part of what makes this trail such a hit is the variety of ways it can be added and subtracted to, to suit a wide range of hikers. The West Pinnacle trail is a perennial favorite, but it might be a little too much for families with young kids or senior hikers without solid fitness. However, there are a variety of other spurs and trails that will suit just about everyone. After a heavy rain it can get a bit muddy, despite cuts in the trail for run-off water. Trekking poles or a walking stick could be useful.
Within the Indian Fort Trails system hikers can also explore several sites of archaeological or cultural significance including; walls built by the Adena culture (500 BC-500 AD), Civil War sites and rock shelters such as “Devil’s Kitchen.”
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is a great option as a local alternative to the Red River Gorge. It has a great range of hiking for both serious hikers who can do all the trails in the system for a challenging big day and for ‘day trippers’ who are looking to get the family outside for a little active togetherness. It might not be appropriate for small children unless you have a backpack for them for the scrambling climb, to the knob.
Trail runners also find a lot to like about this trail, it's steep and long enough to be a lung-pumper but, most areas (except the top) aren’t too rocky to stop the flow. There are also many options for adding length to the run.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
I-75 south, take Berea exit 76, Hwy 21, go left (east) into Berea. After passing the small business district and Berea College, come to the intersection where Hwy 25 splits off left (see Boone Tavern Hotel on left). Continue on Hwy 21 to the right and look for unmarked driveway on the left side of the road, and turn into the parking lot.
This trail begins from the West Parking lot, but for added mileage it can also be accessed from the main trailhead at Indian Fort a bit further down the road. The trail system is open to the public year-round and is open for use during daylight hours only. The parking lots are closed at night.
Difficulty: (3) A moderate trail that begins with an easy upward grade until the last .3 mile section of the trail which is a steep, rocky scramble out to the pinnacle itself.
Time to Complete: 3.5 hours
Distance: 3.4 miles (out and back)
The Indian Fort Mountain Trails system has many options for hikers, ranging from a short 2-3 mile outing, or a longer 6-7 mile trek that takes in all the vantage points and features.
Seasonality: (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Open all year and in all seasons. Spring and summer are of course the trails busiest season, however fall is highly recommended for taking in the explosion of color. Winter can also be a nice time to have the place to yourself, if hikers prepare for winter conditions of some snow and ice.
Dog Friendly? On leash only
GPS Coordinates: 38.799082,-9.415869