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The Best 13 Hikes in Louisville, Kentucky (A Local’s Guide)

The best hikes in Louisville, Kentucky! Also includes the best hikes NEAR Louisville.

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If there are three things that make Louisville (and all of Kentucky) special, it’s bourbon, horses, and beautiful forested landscapes. But people don’t talk about Louisville’s natural beauty enough! Like, did you know that Louisville is home to the USA’s largest urban forest? Or a giant urban park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed NYC’s Central Park? Louisville is way under-the-radar, y’all.

Whether you’re exploring an urban park in central Louisville, hunting down an abandoned theme park, relaxing on a beach (yes, really!), exploring caves and waterfalls, or befriending wildlife (ethically) in the forest, Louisville – and just outside of it – has tons of opportunities to put on your hiking boots, strap on your hydro pack, and get out in nature!

This guide to the best hikes in Louisville was written by Practical Wanderlust’s own Editor-in-Chief Richie Goff, Louisville resident and avid hiker. Take it away, Richie!

Psst: Planning more adventures in Louisville? We have a BUNCH of posts about Louisville! It is my hometown, after all! Take a look below at our other Louisville travel guides.

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We also have a Podcast episode all about Louisville! Horse races, bourbon, baseball bats, and a…death tunnel? Today we tell the story of Lia’s hometown: Louisville, KY! We trace the history of the city from its frontier origins to the modern-day. Louisville’s history runs deep, and it’s not always pretty. So pour yourself a bourbon and tune in. Unless you’re driving – that’s not cool.

Listen above or just click here to launch your Podcast app! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.

Oh! We’ve also compiled all of our suggestions for where to go, what to do, where to visit, what & where to eat, and what & where to drink (and taste bourbon) into one downloadable PDF Local’s Guide to Louisville. Subscribe below to get the download and save it to your smartphone or tablet to take with you on your trip to Louisville! We’ll also send you our favorite insider tips for visiting.

Get a FREE Louisville Travel Guide!

We’ve compiled everything you need to know for a trip to Louisville into a downloadable Local’s Guide to Louisville. Print it out & take it with you! We’ll also send you insider tips to help you plan your visit.

hiker at harrods creek in prospect kentucky
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Kentucky has some of the most beautiful, forested hiking!

Hiking in Louisville: Things to Know

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you head off onto the trails on the right foot.

  • Most of Louisville’s best hikes are outside of Louisville. Though there are plenty of beautiful parks in Louisville, there are even more state parks and forests outside of the city limits. An hour drive or less will take you to some of the best hikes in the area.
  • Spring and Fall are the best time to hike. Hiking in spring will show off Kentucky’s beautiful wildflowers, and fall showcases colorful, changing leaves. Summer is also nice – but hot – so plan to hike early on summer days.
  • Bug repellant is your friend. During the warmer months in Kentucky (May-September), not only are the mosquitoes running rampant but there’s also ticks! If you are a prime all-you-can-eat blood bank like me, for the sake of your skin get some good bug repellent. You can also spray your clothes before you go with Permethrin spray for extra protection.
  • Respect our beautiful wilderness. Please remember to follow all Leave No Trace Principles. They help to keep this land what it is:  wild, lovely, pristine and healthy.
  • Be respectful of wildlife. While you are not likely to see more than deer, birds and squirrels while hiking, do be aware that there are snakes and coyotes in the forest as well. Give all animals a wide berth, and keep in mind they’re more scared of you than you are of them.
  • If you’re an ecowarrior, bring a trash bag with you. I always find it a bit disheartening to see trash along the trail, so I try to bring a little trash bag and pick debris up along the way. Gloves may also be a good call, and don’t try picking up broken glass or rusted cans (not that I know from experience…).
  • Be respectful of others’ hiking experience. This means keep your voice / music down for others to enjoy their hike. Nothing irks me more than hearing people screaming or blaring music for everyone to hear within a mile radius. Rude.

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The Best Hikes in Louisville

There is no shortage of fantastic places to hike in Louisville! Most Louisville hiking trails are in their own park systems, each of which has a myriad of hiking trails to choose from.

I’ve listed the best parks for hiking in Louisville, and my recommendations for hiking trails within each park. 

Cherokee Park

Cherokee Park is a big, beautiful park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted winding right through the Highlands, the artsy, historic neighborhood in the middle of Louisville.

Cherokee Park is hilly and forested over 389 acres, and through it winds a myriad of walking paths, hiking trails, and biking routes.

It even boasts a 2.4 mile scenic loop that you can walk or do by car if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get lost easily and is able to follow signs (the secret is to keep turning left to stay in the park, and turn right to exit!).

While the scenic loop is nice, it’s not quite an immersive natural experience. So let’s trek into the forest!

Cherokee Park Trail

  • Distance: 4.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 393ft | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide 

While many visitors to Cherokee park spend most of their time on the paved Scenic Loop, the real magic of Cherokee is found on the Cherokee Park Trail, a meandering loop that takes you through the true heart of Cherokee Park.

The trail isn’t particularly difficult, it takes you up and down rolling, forested hills, passing by oaks and tulip poplar trees, across meadows and by rolling creeks. The great thing about the trail is that you can pretty much enter from wherever: the trail opens up and crosses various parts of the scenic loop so you can hop on, or off, whenever you like. 

Along the loop, you will also see plenty of birds, like the cardinal, blue jay, hummingbirds, hawks, owls, and heron, and there is even a bird sanctuary along the trail for more serious ornithologists. Springtime is an especially beautiful time to hike the loop: look down, and you will see colorful spring flowers like yellow woodland poppies, white trout lilies, bluebells, and trillium.

The forests of Cherokee Park are still very much in the center of Louisville – though it doesn’t feel particularly urban – so you can expect to see many hikers, joggers, and bikers on this trail, but it’s also long enough that you will definitely get some alone time. 

Jefferson Memorial Forest

Jefferson Memorial Forest is the best place to go to get away from the city (while still being within Louisville’s borders). Located just 30 minutes from downtown, Jefferson Memorial feels like stepping out into undisturbed nature.

Which makes a lot of sense because, at 6,500 acres, it is the largest municipal urban forest in the United States! I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Home to a lake and a designated Wildlife Refuge, Jefferson Memorial is also where you’ll find more rugged and challenging hikes. Sure, we don’t have real mountains, but we have some pretty steep hills, okay?

So if you wanna get away from it all and get a taste for some true Kentucky b̶o̶u̶r̶b̶o̶n̶ nature, here are two excellent hiking trails:

Scott’s Gap Trail

  • Distance: 3.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 776ft | Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult | Trail Guide

Starting at the aptly named Scott’s Gap parking lot, this hike will really give you a feel of the more difficult Kentucky terrain but will reward you with one of the most stunning hikes in the Louisville area.

I suggest taking this trail counter-clockwise although it’ll make the first part of this hike harder, hiking up a pretty steep 180 ft. climb to the top of a knob, but you’ll immediately be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the rolling hills of Kentucky. 

From the gorgeous overlook, you’ll head along the ridgeline, canopies of trees overhead with dipping ravines and hills all around. At just over a little of a half-mile you’ll come to a “shortcut” route, and if you choose, you can head back to the trailhead and only do a 1.3 mile loop. But hey, you’ll miss the best part!

As you hike deeper into the forest, you’ll lose elevation, getting closer to the forest floor and taking in lush, Jurassic-looking ferns next to the deep red clay of Kentucky. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a rainbow myriad of mushrooms – I went in late July and photographed over 20 different varieties.

This trail truly highlights the best part of Kentucky’s terrain, so this is not one to skip!

mitchell lake in jefferson memorial forest in fairdale kentucky
Mitchell Lake is beautiful and serene, and the perfect place for a picnic lunch!

Yost Ridge Trail to Mitchell Lake Trail

  • Distance: 3.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 800ft | Difficulty: Moderate | Trail Guide

For this particular hike, you will start at the Jefferson Memorial Welcome Center, which is a great place to learn about Jefferson Memorial Forest, pick up a trail map, and hit the bathrooms before you venture out.

The first part of this hike takes you to the top of the ridge, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can sometimes get a glimpse of downtown Louisville through the trees 7 miles away (in the winter it’s easily visible!). 

After 1.1 miles of winding ridgeline, you’ll reach a sign for Mitchell Lake Trail and follow it down, deeper into the woods lined with pine trees, flecks of sun breaking through the canopy of trees.

You’ll eventually reach another fork for the loop around the pond: I suggest going to the left, and while it will take longer to get to the water, after a short initial ascent most of it is downhill through lush ferns to the lake.

The lake itself is sunny and bright, and the perfect place to eat a picnic lunch! There are picnic benches just for this reason, so take a load off and enjoy this secluded and happy spot. 

Since this trail starts from the Welcome Center, expect it to be a little more crowded than some of the other Jefferson Memorial Trails.

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harrods creek in prospect ky
Harrods Creek is shallow enough to wade in; perfect for a warm day!

Harrods Creek Park

Located about 20 minutes from downtown in the suburb of Prospect, Harrods Creek is located in a subdivision called Hunting Creek. So don’t be confused when you’re directed to drive up into a fancy neighborhood while thinking “this can’t be right, a place to hike, here?!” It’s true! Sometimes we hide fabulous parks in fancy neighborhoods. (See also: Cherokee Park and the Highlands.)

You can either park on the road by the “Harrods Creek” sign and hike the trail in, or drive down a narrow road and try to park in the world’s tiniest parking lot. I suggest the first option. 

Blue Trail / Orange Trail

  • Distance: 2.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 370ft | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide

After parking on Montero Drive, you’ll hike down into the forest by a little stream which will take you to the parking lot you didn’t park at. From there you’ll follow signs onto the blue trail, which is a rolling little path that will take you into a nicely shaded forest. 

Along the way, you’ll find two lookout points with swinging benches, where you can sit and enjoy the views of rolling meadows below. You can just sit and just enjoy nature, it’s allowed!

This trail also crosses little creeks on quaint wooden bridges and past big moss-covered boulders that I like to think are fairy apartment complexes.

The blue trail itself is pretty short, and after a mile, you’ll reach what you came here for – the beach! It’s a small but sandy beach, but it’s the perfect place to stop and rest for a while.

In the summer you will find people picnicking on the shore, and wading in the cool, shallow water. Harrods Creek is also a popular kayaking spot, so you may see people cruising down the river.

Do keep in mind that the opposite side of the creek is private property, so be respectful of where you snoop around.

On the way back, you can either take the Blue trail back or the Orange trail. The Orange trail is the same distance but will take you walking through the valley section that can be seen from the swinging benches. While some of the Orange trail is shaded, most sections leave you exposed to the sun so be careful on sunny days!

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The Parklands of Floyds Fork

The Parklands of Floyds Fork is located about 20 miles away from downtown, where you’ll find a more rural part of the city and one of the biggest parks in Louisville!

While I call it a “park”, it’s actually 4 separate parks that span over 4000 acres. This place is seriously ENORMOUS! You can do so many activities here, including exploring 60-miles of hiking trails. Who knows, you may even see a monster or two.

  • Note from Lia: This is right near the family farm where I grew up! And yes, the Pope Lick Monster and the haunted train trellis are very much part of local lore…

Wild Hyacinth Trail

Distance: 2 miles | Elevation Gain: 144ft | Difficulty: Moderate | Trail Guide

The Wild Hyacinth Trail is located in Turkey Run Park, and let me tell you, it is a gem. I only recently hiked it for this post, after seeing people raving about how this is the best hike in the Parklands. Within the first couple minutes of hiking this trail, I started talking to a fellow hiker and I told him it was my first time hiking this trail, and he said, “this may be the best hike in the whole park.” Facts are facts, America.

To find the trailhead you will need to park in the Ben Stout House parking lot, then take the paved trail across the street. You’ll immediately dip into a deep lush forest then across a hilly meadow, where you will find all sorts of wildflowers dotting the hills. There are black-eyed susans, echinacea, milkweed, and plenty of other colorful flowers with busy bees flitting to and fro.

Once you head back into the forest, you will climb up and down rolling hills, passing along shallow streams and creeks.

Once you finish this stretch, you will pass across the paved Louisville Loop, the main pedestrian artery of the park, and the estimated 100-mile long loop that will eventually encircle the city (stay tuned).

Head back into the forest and you will come to a fork in the road: what to do! Well, it’s a loop, so go to the right or left (for this trail, it really doesn’t matter)!

Around the loop, you will pass luscious ferns, narrow tree-lined sections, and over shallow streams with limestone rock formations which are really fun to explore. This really has all the scenery you’d want in a hike; don’t miss it!

Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden Trail

Distance: 1.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 147ft | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide

Located in Broadrun Park, the Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden Trail is an easy hike, but one that packs in a lot of wildlife in a little space. 

The Parklands designed the Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden to show off the best of Kentucky native shade plants, covering this woodland hillside with thousands of native perennials, like mayapple, as well as other shrubs and ferns. The idea was to create “spaces within the undergrowth that feel like rooms”, and that’s exactly what you can expect hiking through this woodland trail.

This trail takes you up a forested hillside along Floyds Fork, the main stream that cuts through the park, with stunning overlooks of the water (and there are trails to take you down if you want a closer look).

Along the way, there are benches, little trails that branch off (like one with elevated stepping stones), and lots of whimsical, artistic touches, like a stone arch bridge that was made in the traditional way of interlocking rocks.

This trail feels more like a magical experience, passing a large Venerable Oak, a Cathedral of cedars, and even a section named the “Garden of Whimsy”.

While this hike may not be for people looking for a blood-pumping experience, it’s definitely worth checking out to see what can be created with native plants, imagination, and a little ingenuity. 

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The Best Hikes Near Louisville

If you don’t mind traveling about thirty minutes to an hour outside the city, there are a few more hiking trails you should definitely check out. The extra travel time adds to the allure (I think) and sometimes a day trip is just what you need to connect with nature!

Here’s where to go for the best hiking near Louisville, and my recommendations for hiking trails in each spot.

Bernheim Forest

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located about 30 miles south of Louisville, and is well worth the drive to discover the 16,137 acres of land and over 40 miles of hiking trails.

Bernheim is a well-curated nature sanctuary – from their beautiful welcome center and cafe, to their wide array of events and programming (hello, night hikes!), to the myriad of sculptures and art around the park. It’s the total package!

The land for Bernheim was originally provided by Isaac Wolf Bernheim in 1929, who dedicated this land as a gift to the people of his new homeland after emigrating from Germany.  Bernheim believed that land and nature are important for the heart, mind, and spirit, and that it is regenerative for all people, regardless of race, creed, or economic status. And you know what? It is!

Forest Giants Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles | Elevation Gain: 50ft | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide

The biggest attraction at Bernheim are the famous Forest Giants, a collection of three larger-than-life giants that were created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo from natural materials from the region. The giants have become the iconic marker of Bernheim, and people flock to see these 30’+ natural statues. You can even read a fairytale story about the Giants here!

The two-mile out-and-back trail takes you across Bernheim, starting from the Visitor Center. The first part of the pathway is paved and takes you along the Olmstead Ponds, where you will find the first Giant Little Nis, staring at his reflection in the pond. From there, you cross the Big Prairie – an expansive stretch of land in the middle of the park which has native grasses and wildflowers. 

Once you’ve crossed the prairie, you’ll enter the Sun and Shade Loop which will take you to the second giant – Mama Loumari! Mama Loumari reposes with her hand on her belly, pregnant with a new baby giant.

The final section of the trail will take you across several bridges of Lake Nevin, past the cypress tupelo swamp and magnolia trees, to see the final giant, Little Elina, who sits by her lonesome holding a rock. 

While this hike is mostly paved and pretty easy, a lot of it is uncovered by trees so make sure you wear a sunhat and sunscreen. Also, arriving when the park opens will help you to be hiking with fewer people since this is a popular trail.

Elm Lick Trail

  • Distance: 5 miles | Elevation Gain: 646ft | Difficulty: Difficult | Trail Guide

The first time I ever did the Elm Lick Trail in Bernheim I was on a trail running kick, so decided to run this in the middle of summer with very little water. Don’t do this. 5 miles is a pretty long distance in the summer without water, and your hike will be a lot more enjoyable (and safer) with fluids!

That being said, this is a gorgeous hike near the back of Bernheim forest. Here you will really feel away from the city, and even the more popular parts of Bernheim forest. It’s quiet, serene, and really gives you the impression of being out on your own in the wilderness.

The trail is a loop, and either way you go you’ll be descending about 646ft down to the forest floor from the hills above. Going clockwise will take you down a series of switchbacks, while going counterclockwise will take you on a steeper descent – I’d think about which one you’d rather do at the end of your hike!

On the forest floor, you’ll pass over creeks and riverbeds, see irises (in spring) and other forest flora, and even encounter an old grain silo from ages past. The forest is expansive all around you and there are plenty of places to stop for a picnic lunch, and a myriad of mushrooms to gander at as you hike along. 

  • Pro Tip: After your hike be sure to check out the Canopy Tree Walk, which is located a short drive from the trail. The bridge takes you 75-feet over the forest canopy and is absolutely stunning in fall when you can see the bright red, orange, and yellow leaves!

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Charlestown State Park

This park is technically in Charlestown, Indiana, but at only 30 minutes away from downtown Louisville, we are lumping this one into “Kentuckiana“.

This is one of the best places within a stone’s throw of Louisville to hike, and it’s a huge 15,000-acre park that many Louisviillians haven’t taken the time to explore. And what’s more, it’s right on the Ohio river, meaning some trails have river views! It’s hands down one of the best places to go hiking near Louisville.

It is a state park, so entry during the warmer months is $7 for Indiana residents and $9 for out-of-state visitors.

Oh, and there is a 1920s abandoned amusement park / resort. Whaaaaat?! Yes, y’all: welcome to Rose Island.

rose island at charlestown state park indiana
At Rose Island, you can explore the remains of what was once a jazz age hot spot!

Trail 3 / Trail 7 (Rose Island Loop)

  • Distance: 3 miles | Elevation Gain: 370ft | Difficulty: Moderate | Trail Guide

So you’re here for some 1920s abandoned amusement park lore, right? Good, I thought you might be! Originally, the island was purchased by the Louisville Ferry Company in 1881, and became a popular stop for fancy Victorian tourists on riverboat excursions from Louisville and other cities down the river. 

In 1923 it became Rose Island – though it’s really a peninsula – when it was purchased by businessman David Rose (no, not that David Rose) to become a summer resort. He added an amusement park with a small wooden roller coaster, a dance hall, golf course, dining facilities, riverfront cottages, the Rose Island Hotel, and even a zoo with a wolf, monkeys, and a bear named “Teddy Rosevelt”. You know, everything you need as a fancy Victorian tourist to keep yourself amused.

Rose Island operated until the Great Flood of 1937 that submerged 70% of Louisville, which really put a damper on the vibe and it was left abandoned.

For photos of Rose Island in its heyday, check out this website.

Today, you can discover the ruins of a bygone era by taking creatively named Trail 3 down a steep, paved path (and I mean steep, you do need to be in decent shape to get back up it!) to the Rose Island Bridge, which will take you over to the ruins of what was once a jazz age hotspot.

While there isn’t a ton to see there now, you can visit the old swimming pool (now filled with gravel), the old dance hall ruins, and the central walk with large iron archways which were once garlanded with roses. Along the way, there are interpretive signs, and you can get close to the water and see where the ghosts of yesteryear would have arrived by boat. 

Once you’re finished exploring the park, you’ll take Trail 3 back through the woods, passing by big moss-covered boulders and towering trees. Or you can simply hike back up the paved trail, which on a summer day is unshaded, so definitely wear a hat and sunscreen.

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Trail 6

  • Distance: 2.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 249ft | Difficulty: Moderate | Trail Guide

Trail 6 is right down by the river, at the farthest end of the park. It’s a beautiful drive just to get there, passing by forests and meadows and all the lush greenery that inhabits the river’s edge. Driving to this trail also gives you a feel for how big this park really is.

Once you get down by the water, park at the first parking lot you see (the Riverside Overlook), not the second (Charlestown Landing)! If you look at this map you will see the trailhead is opposite the Riverside Overlook – it’s easy to miss if you’re not keeping your eyes peeled.

The first time I visited this trail I parked at Charlestown Landing and walked around for a small eternity trying to figure out where the F the damn trailhead was. Eventually, I had to ask an employee. So don’t make the same mistake I did!

This trail first takes you through a stretch of dense forest, then up a steep little section until you reach the top of a river bluff. From there you can see the rushing Ohio river through the trees as you make your way deeper along the bluff into the forest, crossing a bridge over a waterfall.

Along the way you’ll see colorful mushrooms and hear birds singing in the tree canopy above, as well as stone ruins of old buildings. As you near the end of the bluff, you’ll come to a meadow covered in wildflowers (especially in spring). Then, the trail then winds down to take you back to street level. 

The last stretch is along the bottom of the river bluff, with towering limestone to your right. Eventually, it turns into a gravel road as you pass an old ammunition plant, leading you back to the parking lot where you started.

Deam Lake State Recreation Area in Clark County indiana
There are so many lovely spots along Deam Lake to hang out and enjoy a beautiful day.

Deam Lake

Located about 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, Deam Lake State Recreation Area is located in Carr Township, Indiana. The drive into rural Indiana is pastoral and peaceful; it’s nice to leave the city behind, isn’t it?

Most visitors to Deam Lake are coming to swim in the warm water and relax on the sandy beach: Deam Lake is the best and closest beach to Louisville, and makes a fantastic summer day trip. But in the cooler months, it’s also a wonderful place to go hiking.

The 194-acre lake was fabricated in 1965 – yes, it’s a man-made lake – and named after Charles Deam, Indiana’s first state forester. It’s hard to believe this lake was constructed and not always there, with whitetail deer, turkey, and foxes running about, milkweed lining the lake, and all the other flora and fauna that have thrived in the new environment. 

Knobstone Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles~ | Elevation Gain: 100ft~ | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide

Knobstone Trail is a trail. What I mean by that is that is actually 60 miles long and the longest in the state of Indiana! While you could hike all of this if you’re a hardcore hiker, the abridged version is more leisurely, and I think, a nicer way to spend an afternoon.

The real reason I love the trail is that, after a brief descent into the woods, you come along a grassy trail that takes you across a grassy dam on the southern part of the lake. Wildflowers blow in the breeze off the lake and you can watch swimmers, boaters, and kayakers in the distance. This is a perfect spot to bring a picnic and feel like you’re in a Studio Ghibli film; it’s incredibly pastoral and relaxing.

You can keep heading across and up into the woods, which will take you on a pretty big ascent and afford pretty lake views from a higher elevation, eventually taking you up north past the lake altogether.

But personally, I suggest walking across the scenic dam and then treating yourself to a swim in the lake from the sandy beach!

You’ll find the Knobstone Trailhead by making a right on the first road you come across once you enter the park.

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Clifty Falls State Park

Located about an hour from Louisville in the charming city of Madison, Indiana, Clifty Falls State Park has trails surrounding a canyon, with waterfalls spilling from impressive precipices into the depths below. It also has several bat caves and has some of the more elevated hiking trails in the area. 

Trails #5 (Tunnel Falls to Lily Memorial)

  • Distance: 1.75 miles | Elevation Gain: 305ft | Difficulty: Moderate | Trail Guide

Trails #5 is a 1.75 mile out and back trail, taking you along the tree-lined, limestone cliffs. From the parking lot, you’ll take a long set of stairs down until you reach the trail along the precipice of the cliff. If you are looking to see a waterfall, lucky for you, there’s one right there!

Casacading into the gorge below is 83′ Tunnel Falls, which is the largest in the park and one of the largest in Indiana. According to the park website, the waterfalls in the park “change moods with the weather and the seasons and can range from roaring plunges to delicate bridal-veil mists to gleaming frozen titans.” Definitely an excuse to visit during all seasons!

As you continue along the embankment with the towering cliffside on your left of you and the gorge on your right, you’ll cross various wooden bridge and pass lush shade-loving plants like ferns. Soon you’ll approach the star of this trail: the bat cave!

What was originally dug as a train tunnel in 1852 and then abandoned, the 600-foot long cave is now home to bats which hibernate in the late fall through the winter. You can hike though the cave from May 1st – October 31st, and though the cave is not too long it is still pretty dark and damp, so be sure to bring a headlamp. Inside you’ll find a small waterfall and a pool, and keep your eyes peele for cave spiders, bats, and red-spotted salamanders – all the better reason to have a light source!

Once you exit the cave, you’ll follow along the gorge more until you reach the road. You can follow the road back, but hiking the trail back will be more scenic. And you can venture into the bat cave…. again!

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Abbey of Gethsemani

About an hour-long drive outside of Louisville, close to the city of Bardstown (of Bourbon distillery fame) is the Abbey of Gethsemani, which is known for its famous Trappist Monk Thomas Merton.

The Abbey is still a working monastery, and what a lot of people don’t know is that it also has 1,500 acres of forests, lakes, and knobs to explore, making it one of the best opportunities for hiking near Louisville!

Trail to the Statues

  • Distance: 2 miles | Elevation Gain: 124ft | Difficulty: Easy | Trail Guide

If you haven’t been to Gethsemani before, the remoteness and solitude of the monastery surrounded by trees, fields, and nature will definitely bring on an instant feeling of calmness. What may disrupt your chill, however, is trying to find the dang traiheadl!

The first time I visited I could not figure it out, but once you know where it is it’s simple. Cross Monks Road (the road you came in on) and head north until you come across a little opening in the woods with a sign that says “trail to statues”.

The trail itself is an easy, 2-ish mile out and back trail. The first part takes you through the woods until you come across a big pond, which in the summer, is filled with huge, blooming lotuses. From there, you’ll take a set of steep stairs that will take you along a ridge in the woods, passing religious statues and various rock formations. In the spring, trout lilies line the trail as well.

As you get nearer to the “Statues” proper, you’ll pass larger and more impressive statues, like one of the Virgin Mary in a stark, sleek, modern style.

Eventually, the forest opens up to wide, rolling hills, but you’ll hug another forested area to head into the Statues forest, which is a small loop with depictions of the Stations of the Cross.

Even if you aren’t particularly religious, this hike is worth the drive from Louisville for such a remote slice of nature.

Bonus: Even More Louisville Hikes!

Look, there is NO shortage of amazing hikes in Louisville, KY and the adjoining areas. But I haven’t done them all, and this post is already pretty darn long.

So, I wanted to share with you the rest of the hikes on my To Do list! Many of them were sourced from my neighbor who’s an avid hiker (and Practical Wanderlust reader, hi Ben!) as well as my own research.

I hope you don’t mind that I haven’t included a whole write-up for each of these – but after I complete them, I will!

  • Millennium Trail, Bernheim Forest. 13.75 miles, 2,280 ft elevation gain. This is by far the longest trail in Bernheim, so long that you need to check in at the visitor’s center or at the trailhead before starting (so they know who returns… and who doesn’t). According to the website it takes 6-7 hours to complete, and the trail “winds through ridges of oak-hickory forests to valleys and streams of beech-maple forests” which sounds frankly gorgreous.
  • Coral Ridge Loop, Jefferson Memorial Forest. 2.9 miles, 328 ft elevation gain. This loop affords you gorgeous views of wildflowers, plenty of shade, and a stunning view of Louisville in the north!
  • Otter Creek Trail, Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area. 8.6 miles, 721 ft elevation gain. I have never been to Otter Creek, but it looks so darn pretty. There are plenty of shorter trails you can take as well. There is also a place to swim at the blue hole swimming area – I’m there!
  • Rocky Ridge Bike and Hike Trail, Harrison-Crawford State Forest. 2 miles, 200 ft elevation gain. This loop trail goes through deep ravines, up scenic rocky slopes, and has stunning views of the Blue River. Sounds like a winner!
  • Garvin Brown Nature Preserve, Prospect, Louisville. 2ish miles, flat. While this isn’t so much of a proper hike, this 46-acre nature preserve is the perfect place to walk down by the Ohio river and enjoy wildflowers and sunshine.
  • Iroquois Park Overlook, Iroquois Park. 1.2 miles, 213 ft elevation gain. Iroquois Park is another Louisville Olmsted Park, and the real gem of it is the overlook at the top! Hike your way up and be rewarded with gorgeous views of the city in the distance. You’re welcome.

Day Hiking Essentials

Before we send you off on your hike, here are our absolute must-have day hiking essentials.

  • 50-100oz of water: Bring water! Seriously, don’t skimp. We always bring a Hydration Pack filled with clean water and snacks. You’ll still have room for the rest of our gear, too. 
  • Hiking Shoes & Socks: We like to hike in Trail Runners (his & hers) rather than heavy duty hiking boots – they’re lightweight and travel friendly, more flexible and comfortable, and they dry super quickly when it rains or after a water crossing, so your feet will stay toasty and try. Pair them with well-made wool socks. Our favorite wool sock brand is Darn Tough: they’re soft, durable, and they come with a lifetime guarantee in the event of holes (that’s how you know it’s real). When things start getting wet, pull a pair waterproof socks on over top of your wool socks to keep your feet dry and blister-free.
  • Sun & Heat Protection: On exposed trails, even when it’s cold you’ll be getting lots of sun exposure. Slather on high SPF sunscreen on any exposed skin, including SPF chapstick to protect your lips. To protect yourself from midday heat, keep a bandana or buff around your neck so you can soak it in water and keep your core temperature down – or use it as a tieback for your hair. Sunglasses and a sun hat go a long way to protecting your face and eyes from the sun as well.
  • Snacks:  A hungry hike is a miserable hike! Always bring a snack, even for a short hike, just in case your hike goes on longer than planned. You want something nutritious, with a good mix of complex carbs, fats, protein, and electrolytes to fuel your body. My favorite hiking snacks are peanut butter filled pretzels, dried fruit (like apple rings or dried mango), and almonds.
  • Headlamps: If there’s any chance you’ll be starting your hike before dawn, hiking after dark, or exploring a cave, bring a good headlamp like this one to light your way hands-free. They’re small and lightweight and easily fit in any pack. Bring one. YES, even on a day hike! You never know if you might need it and if you do, you’ll be SO glad you brought it. (After our disastrous night-hiking incident in Cataract Falls, I’ll never hike without a headlamp again even when I’m starting well after dawn.)
  • First Aid Kit: You need a first aid kit that covers you in the event of a variety of calamities. We happen to be disaster magnets, so we’ve whipped ours out a few times. Your first aid kit doesn’t need to be big – this one is pretty small – but it should have the basics. If you’re DIY-ing your own, we recommend including bandaids, sterile alcohol wipes, waterproof matches, burn and bite treatment, and moleskin patches for when you feel a blister coming on, which can easily change your fast pace into a disastrously slow one! Be sure to include a compass as well.
  • Whistle: This teeny tiny little tool takes up no space in your pack but is an incredibly useful emergency tool. Not only does a whistle help signal people off in the distance if you should become hurt, but it can also be helpful in scaring off wildlife predators.
  • Emergency Walkie-Talkies: I know these Radio Signaling Walkie-Talkies are overkill for most hikes. But if you’re going a little further away from civilization or heading into potentially dicey weather conditions, these just might save your a$$. These bad boys have a 35-mile mountain to valley range, are fully waterproof (and even have a water-activated flashlight, nifty), and have a handy emergency alert button that will sent out a signal the minute you need help. Sure, you’ll probably never need to use them…  but think of them as the best insurance policy you’ll ever buy.

About Our Guest Poster: Richie Goff is a Louisville native and has a great love of the outdoors. When he is not growing flowers for fun (and sometimes profit), he is the Editor-in-Chief of Practical Wanderlust. He has been a friend of Lia’s since high school, and they have taken plenty of their own diaster-prone adventures together!


Which hike are you hitting first? Leave us a comment below!

Psst: Planning more adventures in Louisville? We have a BUNCH of posts about Louisville! It is my hometown, after all! Take a look below at our other Louisville travel guides.

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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our complete guide to trip planning.

  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly, vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO (they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record.) You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We’ve also used TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use Stasher or LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. On Stasher, you can use the code PW10 for 10% off your booking!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!

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