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Hit the trail (town)

Recreational areas keep visitors coming back for more

Happy trails to you. Happy scenic, rugged, diverse trails, rich with outdoor adventure and all with the credentials to back up their claims to good times—fishing, hunting, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, paddling and more. 

Trail Towns are a big deal in Kentucky. Nearly 20 communities have been certified as such and another 30 or so are applying for the coveted designation.

“The criteria for application to begin the program is pretty flexible,” says Seth Wheat at the Kentucky Department of Tourism. “Towns located adjacent to a significant recreational site (such as a national park, state park, national forest, popular river) must have enough recreational activity to keep a user in the area for at least one overnight.”

Trail Town hopefuls must check required boxes, including making a connection to the recreation area trail system; completing a tourism assessment of their town; and creating a plan of action to address issues uncovered in the assessment. 

Meet a few of Kentucky’s Trail Towns:

Dawson Springs

Kentucky’s first Trail Town, certified in 2014, was Dawson Springs in Hopkins County, near the Kenergy Corp. and Pennyrile Electric service areas. Just a few miles from the 14,000 lush and rolling acres of Pennyrile Forest, Lake Beshear and Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, Dawson Springs is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with horseback riding, hiking and canoeing/kayaking the Tradewater River topping a list of recreational fun that also includes fishing, hunting and biking.

Making Dawson Springs even more alluring are enhancements made in the past five years, like horse trailer campsites at Pennyrile Forest, along with a handicap-accessible mounting ramp for horseback riding, an outdoor pavilion with restrooms and parking and a direct trail from the trailhead to the campsites.

Additionally, primitive campsites with picnic tables and firepits have been built near Dawson Springs’ Blue-Way Trails (navigable water trails) and RV campsites with water and electricity have cropped up in Historic Riverside Park, which was built in 1914 as a spring training park for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The park has the distinction of being home to the only ballpark of its kind—constructed completely of wood—in western Kentucky.

Local cyclist Eddie Bruner cycles all over the world but praises Horse Cave’s local scenic rural roads as some of the best he’s ever traveled. Photo: Eddie Bruner

Cave City/Horse Cave

One of Kentucky’s newest certified Trail Towns is actually a combination of two communities in two counties: Cave City in Barren County and Horse Cave in Hart County, in the Farmers RECC service area.

“You can stand with one foot in Cave City and one in Horse Cave,” says Sandra T. Wilson, executive director at Horse Cave/Hart County Tourism. “Both counties (along with Edmonson County) are part of Mammoth Cave National Park, where public tours have been taking place for more than 200 years—making us the state’s oldest tourist area.”

Above ground, the top trail activity is road cycling. In fact, the recently approved U.S. Bike Route 23, connecting Kentucky’s Cave Region from U.S. Bike Route 76 to the Tennessee border, helped push Kentucky into the top five states with the most miles on the U.S. Bicycle Route System, according to Adventure Cycling Association. Additionally, the new trail town is on the Mammoth Cave Loop of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, connecting trails with Mammoth Cave National Park and Green River water trails, part of the National Water Trails System.

Below ground, there are trails at Mammoth Cave National Park, Hidden River Cave and Mammoth Onyx Cave in Horse Cave; and at Onyx Cave, Crystal Onyx Cave and Jesse James Cave in Cave City. Additionally, equestrian trails liven up Kentucky Action Park in Cave City and walking trails meander through both towns.

“We are blessed with various outdoor adventure experiences here as well, including zip lining, rappelling, an adventure zoo and canoe/kayak experiences,” says Wilson. 

LONDON TRAIL TOWN Known as the Cycling Capital of Kentucky and host of the annual Redbud Ride, which attracts over 1,000 riders from more than a dozen states, London also is famous for its scenic and rugged horse trails. This Trail Town will be featured on the June 21, 2019, episode of Best of America by Horseback, (“America’s Premier Equine Travel and Trail Riding television show”). The show airs on Tuesdays and Thursdays on RFD-TV and Monday through Friday on The Cowboy Channel. See the schedule at

Above, Hang ’Em High Horse Camp offers trail riding in the Daniel Boone National Forest. A must-see location is known as “Hole in the Wall,” named after a cowboy gang from the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Photo: London Laurel Tourism Commission 


London’s trail town assets are practically legendary. Known as the Cycling Capital of Kentucky, London and surrounding Laurel County, some of which is served by Jackson Energy, offer road and mountain cyclists a collection of cycling routes with challenges and scenery that put it in a class with the finest in the country.

Also nearby are the family-friendly Wildcat Adventures Off-Road Park, with over 100 miles of trails; Laurel River Lake in Daniel Boone National Forest, offering a variety of water activities, including scuba diving in one of Kentucky’s deepest and cleanest lakes; and the Sheltowee Trace Recreational Trail.

Says Kelly Burton, co-director for London-Laurel Tourism Commission: “Hikers and mountain biking enthusiasts follow varied terrain as they twist around the lake’s shore interspersed with epic views.”

In Daniel Boone National Forest, Hang ’Em High Horse Camp adds even more miles of trails—enough for several days of riding. An expanded campground now provides 20 electric and water hook-up camp sites as well as primitive camping with bathrooms and shower houses, and 53 barn stalls with unlimited sawdust for horses and mules.

“We have opportunities for adventures for all platforms, including hiking, biking, equestrians, motorcycles, off-road vehicles and waterways,” says Burton.

Kentucky’s Trail Towns

Get an overview of Kentucky’s current Trail Towns. There are nearly 20 such towns, with several additional Kentucky communities working hard to become certified.

Berea  Visit Berea; (800) 598-5263

Cave City/Horse Cave(270) 773-8833; (270) 218-0386

Columbia Columbia-Adair County Tourism Commission; (888) 837-8012

Cumberland, Benham and Lynch  Cumberland Tourist & Convention Commission; (606) 589-5812

Dawson Springs City of Dawson Springs; (270) 797-4248

Elkhorn City (Santa Train–from Shelby to Elkhorn City) (606) 432-5063

Jamestown Visit Jamestown; (270) 343-4594

Livingston Livingston Tourism; (606) 453-2710

London London-Laurel County Tourist Commission; (606) 878-6900

Manchester  Clay County City Hall; (606) 598-3456

McKee Jackson County Tourism; (606) 287-4714

Morehead  Morehead Visitor Center; (606) 780-4342

Munfordville Visit Munfordville; (270) 524-4752

Olive Hill Carter County Tourism Commission; (606) 474-5366

Royalton Trail Town(859) 608-1557

Russell Fork Elkhorn City; (606) 754-5080

Slade Powell County Tourism Commission; (606) 663-1161

Stearns McCreary County Tourism Commission;
(606) 376-3008

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