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Explore the outdoors

Adventuring outside is good for family fun

Grotto Falls on Grayson Lake’s Far Clifty Creek is the perfect spot to explore with a kayak. Photo: Brandon Jett
Raven Run April 10, 2019. Photo by Amy Wallot
Natural Arch Scenic Trail No. 510 is a 1-mile round trip to see the beautiful arch. Photo: Stearns Ranger District
Columbus-Belmont State Park. Photo: Kentucky State Parks
Rent your gear and social distance on the water with Canoe Kentucky. Photo: Canoe Kentucky

At Grayson Lake State Park, a group of kayakers navigate through a dim grotto so narrow, they must form a single-file line to squeeze through. The soft swish of their paddles is the only sound in this sandstone tunnel of tranquility until they emerge into a sun-dappled pool where the quiet is interrupted by the roar of Grotto Falls. It’s one of the most Instagram-worthy spots at Grayson Lake’s Far Clifty Creek, accessible from, but outside of the park itself.

This quarantine is for the birds

Birdwatching is a solitary but satisfying activity, so grab your binoculars and stake out a vantage point at Sloughs Wildlife Management Area in the Ohio River flood plain just west of Henderson. Four observation towers and several other prime viewing spots offer a sweeping view of the wetlands and adjacent forest that sprawl across 10,000 bucolic acres.

Public lands biologist Thomas Young with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources says a complex ecosystem makes the site a birdwatcher’s dream.

“It’s one of only a few places in the state that provides a habitat so diverse that everything from shorebirds, waterfowl to migrant songbirds can all be spotted in one location,” Young says. 

A sapphire-plumed painted bunting may be heard crooning its distinctive song in the same area a long-legged sandhill crane forages for dinner and a bald eagle sits patiently on eggs in its massive nest.

Hiking trails and preserves

If you prefer more active pursuits, lace up your hiking boots and follow in the footsteps of frontiersman Daniel Boone. He described Kentucky’s rugged beauty as a “second Paradise” when he first set eyes in 1769 on the mountains, forests and clear lakes of the future state. Daniel Boone National Forest preserves the vast wilderness that covers 21 counties. 

Only the most seasoned of hikers could cover all the trails, but almost anyone can hike the Natural Arch Loop Trail No. 510 in the Stearns Ranger District. The entire trail is 1 mile, but it’s less than a half-mile from the trailhead to the eponymous arch-shaped sandstone rock formation. With a little imagination, it could be a free-standing architectural detail in some magnificent ancient ruin, but this arch was formed by nature, not by man. 

Raven Run Sanctuary, another popular hiking spot, is a 734-acre woodland preserve on the outskirts of Lexington with 10 miles of quiet hiking trails. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, you may need to preregister to hike, so check in advance. Experienced hikers hit the 4-mile Red Trail, a challenging hike with steep hills and tricky terrain that crosses Raven Run Creek. Those who go the distance are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Kentucky River Palisades, scenic gorges and limestone outcroppings that stretch for 100 miles. 

Recreation manager Jennifer Hubbard-Sanchez says nature lovers come for the abundance of flora and fauna. 

“In the summer, our open meadows are a great place to enjoy prairie wildflowers and search for the grassland birds and butterflies that are found in these habitats,” Hubbard-Sanchez says. “Raven Run is home to many different kinds of wildlife. Hikers may see wild turkeys and white-tailed deer.” 

Peaceful picnicking spots 

If your favorite restaurant remains closed due to the coronavirus, you can still enjoy a meal away from home. Pack a picnic basket with summer treats and head to Columbus-Belmont State Park in Hickman County, an uncrowded oasis with well-spaced picnic tables. 

Aside from the crunching of fried chicken, you’re unlikely to hear anything but the soothing lull of the Mississippi River and the scampering of wildlife. 

But this historic site hasn’t always been so peaceful. During the Civil War it was abuzz with Confederate soldiers frantically securing the site as a stronghold. General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus to monitor traffic on the Mississippi River, a potential invasion route for the Union Army. The move was an astounding political blunder that ended Kentucky’s neutrality and drove it to join the Union. 

After you’ve finished that apple pie, check out Civil War artifacts that include an anchor attached to a portion of a chain that was stretched across the river to block Union gunboats and a nearly 4-ton cannon, the largest Civil War cannon in Kentucky. 

On the other end of the state, Fishtrap Lake in Pike County is another peaceful picnic spot. No need to pack your picnic; you can just reel it in. Nothing is as satisfying as frying up catfish you caught yourself. Eat it beneath the shade of a leafy canopy and think about anything but the pandemic. 

Paddle away 

After returning a rental canoe to Canoe Kentucky in Franklin County recently, a customer said “It was a nice break from the new normal,” reports outreach coordinator Chris Howard, who wholeheartedly agrees: “You get out there and you can forget anything else in the world.” 

The business rents canoes, kayaks and paddle boards for trips on Elkhorn Creek and the Kentucky River. Howard says he is seeing more demand, which poses no social distancing challenges aquatically. However, for COVID-19 safety, Canoe Kentucky has to limit capacity to avoid bottlenecks in its parking lot, shuttle and office. “Once they’re on the water, it’s no big deal,” Howard notes. 

More people also are interested in buying their own equipment, which the company sells. “We’re having trouble keeping inventory in stock,” he says. 

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