Overview. Horses destroy trails - especially if it’s been rainy, and it’s been very rainy in Kentucky this year. This section of trail is an unmitigated disaster with miles and miles of hoof-pocked mud pits that are very nearly impassable for hikers. It was the worst hiking I have experienced and led to us ending our backpacking trip 35 miles early. I suggest hiking this section in the spring BEFORE horse season begins on the trails.
Route Type | Point to Point
Total Distance | 10.7 miles
Overall Difficulty | Strenuous (due to trail conditions)
Sheltowee Trace Section 9 Info from USDA Forest Service
Sheltowee Trace Map from USDA Forest Service
NOTE: This trail was nearly impassable and certainly miserable on our visit. Unless thru-hiking or trying to do all of the Sheltowee Trace, find another section to hike - one that isn’t shared with horses.
Trailhead. There’s a ton of parking at Stony Cove Picnic Area located just off Cave Run Lake. Please visit outside of horse season or at least after a long stretch of dry weather. [map]
Trail navigation. This was interesting. Our map said one way, the trail signs said another, but then other trail signs said the map was the right way. When you reach the trailhead just off the parking area, you can go left or right. We went right which was the original Sheltowee Trace. I imagine this has been rerouted, but not updated on the website or on maps at this point. Regardless of which way you choose, you end up in the same spot later in the hike. Again, follow the blazes, as the trail is well marked - even if it’s been beaten to hell and back.
Water. Cave Run Lake is the last reliable water until reaching Clear Creek Campground. Be sure to resupply here for the 10 mile journey to the campground. NOTE: if taking the route that meanders along Cave Run Lake, there may be more opportunities to filter water, but we went the other way based on the map we had with us.
Resupply. Clear Creek Market appears to offer plenty of options for resupply and is less than a mile north on Clear Creek Road. Check hours prior to your trip, as this is a rural convenience store that likely closes early. It also appears to serve hot plates based on some further research.
Devastated trails. It’s really no secret that horses and hikers don’t mix on wet trails. The weight of horses plus their riders spread out over a relatively small footprint leads to deep hoof-pocked mud pits and ever deepening trenches. In some sections, the trenches were four feet deep with foot and a half deep hoof-pocks filled with water. This makes for a MISERABLE hiking experience - so much so that Bork and I now have a moratorium on hiking trails shared with horses.
Balancing usage with limited means. Devastated trails aside, I understand the Forest Service’s decision to have these mixed use trails. Horse camping is still a pretty big thing in Kentucky, and this part of the Cave Run Lake area is specifically designed for this primary use. Unfortunately, horses take precedence over hikers in this section. While it would be nice to cut separate trails for horses and hikers, the budget isn’t there for it. So, while I was furious on the trail about the conditions, it is what it is.
Opting out - alternate route. After trudging through miles of soup, we decided it was time to call it a day and get off the trail onto a better surface. We consulted the map and plotted out a new route. Shortly after the intersection of the Sheltowee Trace and the trail to White Sulphur Horse Camp, we hit an old Jeep road that would eventually connect to some Forest Service roads and lead us to our destination for the evening. In looking at the map a little more, it appeared our planned section for the following day would be more of the same. With that realization, we stopped and called Rat to pick us up. We were finished. Horse muck is miserable, and we didn’t come for misery.
Trail angels. About 2.5 miles from Clear Creek Campground, a father and son stopped on the road and offered us a ride. We hopped in the back of their pickup truck and had about the biggest smiles on our faces you’ll ever see. After 15 miles of hiking today and another 30+ the days prior, it was a wonderful thing sitting in the bed of that truck with wind blowing through our hair. It. Was. AWESOME. We offered them some cash to grab some ice cream, but they wouldn’t have it. We gave them our thanks and made our way to the first campsite. Trail angels are awesome and since they were the 5th and 6th human beings we came in contact with, we’ll chalk it up to the Big Guy in the Sky lookin’ out for us.
Clear Creek Campground. Once at the campground, we weren’t sure if we were getting picked up or not. I’d made some calls on old analog towers and got a couple texts through, but hadn’t gotten confirmation Rat was picking us up. We finally made contact, and on the very brief connection we heard, “I’m coming to pick you up.” We made ourselves dinner, relaxed a bit, and waited for our chariot to arrive. We were just moving out to the road when Rat pulled in to pick us up. It was glorious:-)
Clear Creek Market. On our way back home, we passed this little market that was just north of the intersection where our trail angels pulled off to take us from the forest road to the campground. We didn’t stop in, but I wanted to note that it was there, as it looks like the classic little market you see throughout rural Kentucky. I’m sure it’s a nice place to resupply the basics and grab an ice cold Coke. It’s 9/10th of a mile north of the campground, a little less from the Sheltowee Trace.
Trenchfoot is real. Once we got home, I took a nice shower and knew I had some foot problems from all the muck from the day. Upon closer inspection, my feet were macerated and appeared close to splitting open. I make a point of washing my feet and drying them each night at camp, so this was all from a half day on horse trails! I let them enjoy the air conditioning of home and while they are a bit damaged, they didn’t split, so I’ll be out running again in a couple days…hopefully.
Tick by my manhood. Bork had a few really tiny ticks that he removed periodically on the hike. I didn’t see one until I took a shower and looked closely. That spot on my leg really close to my man parts was actually a baby tick. I pulled that sucker off, added some antibiotic ointment, and a band-aid. Now I’m monitoring it for Lyme Disease that’s indicated with a bulls-eye bruise. So far, so good:-)
Return for kayaking. While the hiking sucked, Clear Creek Campground and Lake would be an ideal place to get away from it all to do some kayaking. The non-motorized lake looked pristine, and the campground is a nice, bare bones kind of place that I like. Plus, if you want to get a bigger paddle in, Cave Run Lake is a short 20 minute drive.