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U.S. Forest Service

Southern Region Viewing Area


Miterwort Miterwort, an easily overlooked spring wildflower of mesic sites. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes*.

Showy orchis Showy orchis, a spring flowering orchid. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes, University of Kentucky.

Wood betony or lousewort Wood betony or lousewort. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes*.

* Barnes, T.G., and S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky.

Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail at Whittleton Branch

Forest: Daniel Boone National Forest

District: Cumberland Ranger District

Description: Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail at Whittleton Branch is part of a 200-mile long trail that traces its way from the northern part of the Daniel Boone National Forest to the Tennessee line. The Whittleton Branch portions lies between KY 15 across from Tunnel Ridge Road and the Whittleton Campground at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This section is about 2.4 miles long (with a 0.5 mile extension to visit an arch). The trail is not a loop so plan on walking back or positioning vehicles at both ends.

The Sheltowee Trace in this area follows Whittleton Branch, a small perennial stream. The surrounding forest is rich and mesic with yellow-poplar, yellow buckeye, sugar maple, cucumber tree and scattered white pine. A small arch, Whittleton Arch, is accessible via a short side trail (approximately 0.25 mi). At the highest part of the trail, near KY 15, the forest becomes oak dominated and is drier.

Wildflower viewing: This trail has been a popular wildflower walk for visitors to the state park and national forest alike. It is best visited in spring (late March to late April, weather dependent) as this is when flower diversity is most visible. The trail is known for its populations of Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), showy orchis, large flowered trillium, red trillium, sessile trillium, and in some years, yellow lady’s-slipper. Large-flowered chickweed, Jacob’s ladder, yellow trout lily, foamflower, crested iris, Canada violet, long-spurred violet, miterwort, wild ginger, and wood betony are also present. Pawpaw may be seen in flower in some years, and an early spring visit may treat one to hepatica, blue cohosh, harbinger-of-spring, and spicebush. Numerous sedges (Carex) and woodrushes can be seen as well. Near KY 15, mountain laurel, great laurel, and several blueberries (Vaccinium pallidum, V. stamineum, V. corymbosum) can be found in flower in late spring/early summer.

Safety First: This trail is known for its mud and wet conditions, at least at the lower end near the state park. Hiking boots are recommended to provide traction and keep feet dry. There are small cliffs near the top of the trail near KY 15. Off the trail, encountering cliff is a distinct possibility and care should be taken to watch footing especially near cliffs. Both timber rattlesnakes (uncommon) and copperheads are poisonous snakes in the area. Mosquitoes and black flies are frequently encountered during summer. Poison ivy is abundant in a few areas along the trail. Long pants are recommended. Branches and logs may be encountered across the trail in places. Even though the areas along the creek are cool, summers tend to be warm and humid and the climb out can be strenuous for some people. Anyone taking this trail is encouraged to take water.

Directions: From Lexington, Kentucky, take I-64 East to the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway exit (Exit 98) just outside of Winchester. Take the Mountain Parkway to the Slade exit (Exit 33). Turn right at the bottom of the ramp to head south on KY 11 to start the hike at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Follow the signs to the Hemlock Lodge at the state park (about 1.6 miles). The camp ground and one end of the trail are about another 1 mile further south (east) on the left.

To start the hike from KY 15, turn left at the bottom of the ramp, go under the Parkway and take a right on KY 15 at the T. Travel about 4 miles (the road is winding) to turn left on Tunnel Ridge Road. You will cross the parkway on this road. Travel about 1 mile to the first parking area and walk back to KY 15. Roughly across the road from Tunnel Ridge Road is a sign for the Sheltowee Trace. The trail from here will take you downhill to the state park campground.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Ranger District. A very small part of the trail is in the Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Nearest Town: Slade, Kentucky.