Daniel Boone National Forest is one of the country’s great natural wonders. But I’d hazard only the most outdoorsy, Bear Grills-admiring, “I-only-own-Merrell-hiking-shoes” type folk actually know where it is.
Here’s a hint: If you randomly plop your finger down on a map of Kentucky, there’s a good chance you’ll have hit the mark. In other words, Daniel Boone (hence shorthand for the real thing) is big. Two million acres big. Meaning if you were to do everything that could be done—climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow...and something or other—you’d be there for years.
Now, you’d think a good place to start planning your trip would be the Forest Service website. No need—we decided to plan your three-day weekend trip for you. Hold on to your butts, here it is.
THURSDAY: LAUREL RIVER LAKE
Stock the car with friends, Slim Jim’s, and Rampage. Oh, and your hiking/camping gear… that stuff’s important too. Use the first evening to make the three-hour drive to Laurel River Lake, one of three large lakes within Daniel Boone’s boundaries.
You’re gonna head to the Holly Bay Campground, which has both reserved and first-come, first-serve campsites. If you have work that day, you’re not gonna get there until at least 9 p.m., so we’ll call this evening a wash and let you rest up for tomorrow.
FRIDAY: RISE AND SHINE (AND HIKE AND SWIM)
It’s tomorrow. Yes, already. But you’re up before dawn, you’re invigorated by the promise of nature, and you’re ready to get hiking. Fortify yourself first, though, because this will be a long one. Oh, and grab a thick branch for use as a walking stick; it might not be necessary, but it’ll greatly add to your childlike sense of adventure.
From the campground, head north on the Sheltowee Trace trail. In about four miles you’re going to meet the Rockcastle Narrows East trail at Van Hook Falls. Pause to gander at the 40-ft. waterfall, then begin the strenuous six-mile loop. You have a number of options here, including something called the Winding Stair Gap Trail. But no matter how you go, you’re sure to have an adventure on the cliff lines.
After you’ve returned to Holly Bay, have your fill of Laurel River Lake. You can rent a boat to take on the water or have a swim at the public beach located nearby. If you brought snorkels, snorkeling is definitely worth it. Otherwise settle back into the light of the campfire and have a beer or two. No, life doesn’t get better than this.
SATURDAY: CAVE, RUN, LAKE
Pry yourself from the sleeping bag the following morning and get in the car. You’re headed to Cave Run Lake, but you’re not gonna go straight there. Instead, you’re gonna stop at Red River Gorge. If you want to challenge yourself, go for the Swift Camp Creek Trail -- but be warned, it’s a very difficult 7.2 miles. For a smaller hike (and arguably a greater payoff in terms of the panoramic views), the Auxier Ridge Trail is great. Though, admittedly, it has a lot of hills, meaning your glutes will be screaming at you all the same. Sorry about that.
Get back in the car and drive the remaining 40 minutes to Cave Run Lake. Has all that hiking kicked the crap out of you yet? Well, I have good news. You booked a cabin at Zilpo Campground. (Way to think ahead there, tiger. Now enjoy that hot shower.)
What will you do the rest of your day? Well, Zilpo Campground has a sandy beach and a roped swimming area. So, pretty much that. Drink some beer, go fishing across the lake, build a fire to cook dinner, and relax. After 20 miles of hiking in two days, you definitely earned it.
It’s worth repeating: Daniel Boone has so many recreational activities and wonders of nature within its bounds that you could stay there for a year and still not have seen it all. Sadly, civilization is a jealous beast, and it will always beckon you back too soon.
Sunday comes, and you’re in the car again. Slim Jim wrappers and Rampage cans are strewn across the back seat, all inside jokes are worn out, and every mind is lost in a campfire reverie. Two-hundred miles, three bathroom breaks, and one glorious (then not so glorious) stop at Taco Bell later, you’re in The Queen City again, counting down the days until you can return to Daniel Boone.
Fear not, brave adventurer. It’s always just a long weekend away.
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For more information about the Daniel Boone Forest, one can visit the website.
And don't forget to scroll back to the top and peruse the photo gallery to see what we've been describing for your weekend of adventure.