The Best Food, Drink and Adventure in McKee, KY
The rugged wilderness of the Daniel Boone National Forest rolls out for miles and miles in all directions, and McKee, KY, sits in the heart of it all. You would never suspect that it’s only an hour and a half away from Lexington, offering an easy escape for city dwellers. In McKee you can hike, bike and fish to your heart’s content, explore Kentucky’s longest and wildest trail, experience the thrill of a rushing waterfall, or sit quietly beside a bubbling creek in the forest. When you’ve worked up an appetite, you can enjoy a taste of Appalachian culture by filling up on delicious home-cooked country meals and a slice of pie.
Whether you love rugged adventure or easygoing excursions, there’s plenty to do in McKee, and this guide will put you on the right path to your ideal getaway!
WHERE TO ADVENTURE
Kentucky’s longest and most rugged trail, the 300-mile Sheltowee Trace Trail, passes directly through McKee. When you head north or south on the trail for any length you’ll enjoy the lush, green Kentucky wilderness. For an adventure, try connecting a few trail sections on a multi-day backpacking trip, sleeping out under the stars in the shelter of the trees. The hike from Turkey Foot Campground to the S-Tree Campground is especially scenic and leads you through serene woodlands to visit bubbling Raccoon Creek and Horse Lick Creek. Depending on your route, this section of trail is around 30 miles, and can take three days to complete.
For another great hike, wander along the mysterious and scenic War Fork Creek, which suddenly disappears into underground limestone caverns. Or, begin at the Turkey Foot Campground and hike north on the Sheltowee Trace Trail, strolling through groves of hemlocks and oaks. Keep an eye out to see the creek to mysteriously reappear out of Resurgence Cave, a deep limestone cave surrounded by a forested hillside.
If you prefer trail running, try a lap on the 4.5-mile Turkey Foot Loop Trail and let the forest rush by in a blur of green. Hikers of all levels will also enjoy this 4.5-mile loop, which begins and ends at the Turkey Foot Campground.
If you visit the area during warm weather, take a hike to Flat Lick Falls, a 30-foot-high waterfall that cascades down layers of rock to a deep blue pool. You can take a refreshing dip in the pool below the falls, bask in the sun on a riverside rock or cool off in the shade of the trees. The hike to the falls is less than a mile, leaving plenty of time to explore many other trails in the Flat Lick Falls Recreational and Scenic Area. As you wind among cave openings, rock overhangs, and smooth, water-carved rocks, you can enjoy the native birds, plants and flowers of the verdant Kentucky forest.
To view something truly impressive, begin at Grayhawk Park and walk half a mile to McCammon Branch Falls, where water flows down overhanging cliffs onto moss-covered rocks and pools. The rugged but short trail with occasional steep drop-offs on one side leads you through thick forest with lush stands of rhododendron.
By Bike of Off-Road Vehicle
McKee boasts excellent road cycling on its hilly, forested roads, like Kentucky Scenic Byway 89, a narrow, winding route surrounded by forest canopy on all sides. In the spring, the roadside is dotted with brilliant hues of wildflowers, and nearby creeks take on a beautiful shade of blue. It makes for a spectacular bike ride, and although the byway is only 32 miles one way, the steep hills and quick turns ensure your legs will feel the burn for days to come.
Off-roading here is common, as miles of trails around Turkey Foot and the S-Tree Campground are open to vehicles and mountain bikes. From the S-Tree Campground, you can take the Renfro Loop trail, dropping down steep, rocky hills, and navigating the creeks, trees, and rocks. After you travel along a ridgeline to the Renfro Branch Creek, you’ll loop back to the trailhead.
Cast a Line
Spend a quiet afternoon along War Fork Creek, fishing for trout anywhere upstream or downstream of the Turkey Foot Campground. You can also head to Beulah Lake to seek out catfish, trout, bluegill and largemouth bass.
Good Home Cooking
McKee is in the heart of Appalachian country, so you can expect to find lots of small local restaurants that value good home cooking and country meals. One of the best in town is Opal’s Restaurant, where you can dine on catfish, fried apples and green beans, along with a mouth-watering array of country sides like macaroni and cheese. Hungry hikers from the Sheltowee Trace Trail should satisfy their craving for a burger and fries at Opal’s, polishing it all off with a slice (or two!) of Opal’s famous coconut cream pie.
A trip to the country isn’t complete without visiting Tucky’s to sample the best hush puppies in Jackson County. A mom-and-pop restaurant with a charming wood interior, Tucky’s also offers country staples, like fried pickles and even frog legs. For dessert, sip a Tucky Milkshake blended to perfection and served in a Mason Jar. Tucky’s is also the perfect breakfast spot, with delicious omelets and fluffy pancakes.
Grab a bite to eat at Leon’s Hometown Pit Stop, a local hang-out serving homemade dishes like chicken noodle casserole, meatloaf, and mashed potatoes, the perfect hearty food after a day on the trails. They dish up breakfast all day, too. Leon’s is also a general store where you can snag any last-minute camping essentials you need before heading out.
Before you hit the trail, fuel up with a cup of java at Minnie’s Eats and Treats and relax in the cozy café while you sip your coffee. You might even be tempted back in the evening for a delicious post-adventure bacon cheeseburger.
WHERE TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S REST
Sleep under the stars at the Turkey Foot Campground, camping along the banks of War Fork Creek in the shade of native oak and maple trees. With its many hiking trails and abundant trout in War Fork Creek, this area can keep you entertained for days. Another option is the nearby S-Tree Campground, which is slightly bigger and closer to the off-road vehicle trails. Here you can relax in a log cabin in a deep valley, surrounded by the woods and the quiet of the forest at Lakes Creek Log Cabin. If you’d like to stay close to hiking trails, try the Quaint Country Cottage, a cozy country home in the McKee countryside.
Originally written by Jacqui Levy for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.