Walk the Lucy Braun Memorial Trail
Hike among the giants of one of only 13 large old-growth tracts remaining in the eastern United States on the Lucy Braun Memorial Trail at Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve. For wonderful views of foliage and a chance to walk among giants, explore the largest remaining old-growth forest in Kentucky. A trail system about 4.5 miles long is free and open for public use. The main trail consists of two loops leading past several areas of interest on the south face of Pine Mountain.
Named after its prior owners, Grover and Oxie Blanton, the land was left to their daughters with the understanding that it should never be logged. Their preservation dreams were realized when when the two parcels containing the old growth forest were acquired and dedicated as Blanton Forest State Nature Preserves.
The well maintained Lucy Braun Memorial Trail, actually contains two trails: the Knobby Rock Loop and the Sand Cave Loop, which wind through the old growth with some trees towering 100 feet above the forest floor. Summiting at an enormous sandstone rock outcrop, hikers can enjoy a picnic and a bird's-eye panoramic view of the mountains.
What Makes It Great
The many charms of the Lucy Braun Memorial Trail are obvious as soon at boots hit the path - massive trees, interesting fungi, rocks to scramble, and panoramic views offer a lot of interest in one perfect day-hiking trail.
While it’s easy to keep the eyes skyward while making the way through the dense old growth forest populated with sugar maple, tulip poplar, various oaks, hemlocks, beech and several magnolias, don’t forget to scope out what's at ground level. Part of what makes this one of the most beloved trails in the area is the variety of plants and animals this little gem of a preserve offers. The biodiversity of this region is greater than that of most of the other temperate areas in the world making it a ‘can’t miss’ for anyone who likes to ‘collect’ (images only please) plants, bugs and other wildlife for their personal archives. Bring your camera and macro lens to spot some of the wide variety of wildflowers, blooming shrubs, fungi, beetles, lizards, ants and other natives of this richly diverse area.
The highlights of the trail include a variety of features that make this hike a special. Visitors looking for a shorter hike can just just do the Knobby Rock Loop where at the top is the, well, the knobby rock. The incline up the rock is mellow enough to climb, and the traction is good with all the knobs. From the apex is the best view that Blanton Forest offers of the blue-green Appalachian Mountains, unfolding across the horizon.
From Knobby Rock, hikers can do the second half of the trail, the Sand Cave Loop. The trail follows a ridge-line until it drops down near the features of the Maze where the trail wove through a labyrinth of boulders cleaved from the cliffs above and then onto the Sand Cave -which looks like something out of a prehistoric movie. At the Sand Cave, the trail leads underneath sandstone ledges where streaks of red and orange and black are painted on the sandstone.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is a great find for people who like to hike most of the year. In addition to the splendor of the old growth forest the diversity of flora, especially in the spring and summer, make the path a fascination for those interested in flowering plants and wildlife of all kinds.
Families with older children will love the challenge and interest that the maze section offers, keeping everyone on their toes with a few tall rocks to climb and some chunky areas to navigate.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve is located in southeastern Kentucky approximately five miles west of the city of Harlan. From Interstate 75, take exit 29 onto U.S. Hwy 25E at Corbin. Travel south on U.S. 25E to Pineville. Turn left on U.S. Hwy 119 (crossing the Cumberland River) and travel north for 23.5 miles. Turn left on KY 840 at a sign for Camp Blanton. Follow KY 840 for approximately 2 miles.
Designated parking is available in a lot adjacent to Camp Blanton, a private facility. A kiosk and signs direct visitors to the trailhead. The preserve is open year round during daylight hours and is limited to foot travel only.
Difficulty: (3) Moderately Strenuous. There are several areas that involve scrambling over rocks and a few steep inclines.
Time to Complete: 1.5-3 hours, if you add the optional loop
Distance: 3-mile loop
The full Lucy Braun Memorial Trail consists of two loops that can be connected or, to reduce mileage, hikers can so only the Knobby Rock Loop which is 1.8 miles. For those looking to do a bit more can add on an out and back along the Watts Creek trail for another mile of hiking.
Seasonality: (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Great in the fall for leaf-peepers, spectacular flowers blooming in late spring and early summer. Could be impassible in the winter.
Dog Friendly? Dogs are not allowed.
Note: There are sometimes "local dogs" presumably from the nearby camp, that will follow people on the trail.
GPS Coordinates: 36.859490, -83.382180