Stop & Eat Along Kentucky's 319-Mile Sheltowee Trace Trail
In 1778, Chief Blackfish adopted Daniel Boone into the Shawnee tribe and gave him the name Sheltowee, meaning "Big Turtle." Two hundred years later, the longest hiking trail in Kentucky was established and dubbed the Sheltowee Trace Trail in honor of Boone.
Stretching more than 300 miles, the steep and rugged Sheltowee Trace winds through the lush mountains of eastern Kentucky. While the path poses a serious challenge to hikers, it’s dotted with Sheltowee Trace Trail Towns that welcome hikers and provide services and places to relax and refuel. In these trail towns, hikers can fill up on savory, down-home country meals and baked goods, chat with friendly locals, and see the sights. While the Sheltowee Trace is beautiful, it’s also tough, and a stop at a trail town will leave you rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next leg of your journey.
Tracing the Sheltowee from north to south, this guide highlights the best places to chow down when you arrive in a trail town with a big appetite.
Your first stop along the trail is Morehead, home of the largest lake in eastern Kentucky, and an array of art galleries, museums, and of course, delicious food. For a taste of Southern home cooking, head to Pop’s Southern Style BBQ where you can feast on pulled pork sandwiches with an array of barbecue sauces, and top off your meal with deep-fried pecan pie for dessert. If you’re coming in to town in the morning, the Fuzzy Duck Coffee Shop in the old theater is the perfect place to satisfy that java craving. There’s an attached book and gift shop, so peruse the store for something to read on the trail. For large portions of your favorite Mexican food, visit Mi Monterrey. Here you can relax in the charming, bright interior, enjoy happy hour drinks and delicious appetizers, and let the hardships of the trail melt away.
Slade is home to the famous Red River Gorge, an intricate sandstone canyon system that draws rock climbers from around the world. So much hiking and climbing makes for a lot of hungry outdoor adventurers, and Slade has risen to the challenge. Miguel’s Pizza serves handmade pizzas with any sauce or topping you can imagine, and the owner, Miguel, makes them with fresh dough. Miguel’s was voted the ‘fittest pizza joint in America,’ and rock climbers working there will not only serve you pizza, but also sandwiches or a burrito bowl while you sit outside and dine picnic-style. At the Red River Rockhouse Café you’ll find burgers, tacos and burritos made from scratch using organic meats. It’s also one of the few places in the county where you can sit and drink a pint, and Red River has a rotating tap with several local beers. If you arrive in town in the morning and need some coffee, the Daniel Boone Coffee Shop makes great espresso and serves handmade baked goods. Plus, there’s an attached camping gear store, so you can refill your supplies.
If you’re stopping in McKee, you’re nearing a milestone on your journey—the halfway point of the Sheltowee Trace Trail. By now you might be craving a home-cooked meal, and Opal’s Restaurant has just that. Fill up on generous portions of burgers and country dishes, like baked ham with mashed potatoes, fried green tomatoes, and cornbread. Then, dig into a piece of homemade pie for dessert. If you’re in the mood for ice cream or malts, the Chicken Hut is a fast food stand with hoagies, pizza, burgers, and fries—just the hearty sustenance you need to keep going on the trail.
Livingston is another small Appalachian town with good music, good food, and friendly locals. In downtown Livingston, visit the Main Street Diner, a charming, country restaurant with mouth-watering sandwiches and burgers. If you roll in around breakfast time, treat yourself to pancakes, sausage, and biscuits. For lunch, sit outside and relax in the sunshine at the family-owned Bingham’s Country Kitchen, and order a Blue Devil BBQ Burger—a mouth-watering combination of cheese, onions, barbecue sauce, and a burger cooked to perfection. For dessert, try some homemade chocolate cake or blueberry cobbler.
While not an official Sheltowee Trace Trail Town, London, Ky., is full of outdoor activities and has everything needed to refuel, replenish and rejuvenate hikers. Mama Rosa’s Chicago Sandwich Shop makes hearty strombolis and cheesesteak sandwiches, and Compadres Local dishes up burritos, tacos, and nachos with fresh ingredients. For the ultimate pub experience, head to the Abbey Restaurant, a funky dive with draft beers, burgers, and deep-fried appetizers.
The last leg of your journey is near! Stearns is an old logging and mining camp turned outdoor recreation destination and boasts outdoor stores and restaurant options that will delight weary hikers. The Whistle Stop Restaurant and Steakhouse in the train depot serves steaks, country sides and desserts like peanut butter pie. Relax with a glass of wine from a local winery, or check out their selection of liquor or beer. If trail food has left you desiring something healthy, head to Kristina’s Kitchen in nearby Whitley City for premium vegetarian food, coffee and protein shakes. The folks at Kristina’s are passionate about health food, and they’re happy to share recipes and food advice. For a 1950s dining experience, head to the Dairy Bar where you’ll find burgers, ice cream cones and vintage decor. The local pizza joint, Papa’s Pizza, is also a satisfying treat for hungry hikers.
Written by Jacqui Levy for RootsRated Media in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.