Cedar Sink Trail | 2.5 Mile Loop
Cedar Sink Trailhead Location | Google Maps
Located a short six minute drive from the Turnhole Bend Nature Trail, I decided to add the Cedar Sink Trail to my most recent trip within Mammoth Cave National Park. This little visited part of the national park has undergone several upgrades in the last few years with freshly graded trails, updated signage, and a new parking area. A note to those with mobility issues; this trail contains a 300 ft descent down several flights of stairs in order to enter the Cedar Sink. With only a few short hours left before sunset, I arrived at the trailhead to discover that I had the whole place to myself. The Cedar Sink Trail is split into two distinct sections with the hike in consisting of a 1.0 mile straight shot through a narrow opening into the far western edge of Smith Valley and Joppa Ridge. Connected to this is a 0.8 mile loop descending into the depths of Cedar Sink.
The abandoned community of Joppa Ridge is one of the first areas of Edmonson County to be settled by early pioneers in the 1790’s after Daniel Boone blazed a path known as the Wilderness Road through present day Cumberland Gap. Many settlers explored and settled the Green River Valley shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War when hostilities with the local Shawnee and Cherokee had subsided. Coming from western Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, they bestowed many of the local traditions we now associate with the isolated communities of Appalachia. One of the only three remaining buildings from that era is the historic Joppa Church and Cemetery. Coincidentally it is also reportedly one of the most haunted sites within the park. Originally built as a log schoolhouse in the late 1800’s, it was later turned into a church to service the residents of the area. Though not open for regular service, Joppa Church holds an annual Homecoming on the second Sunday of September.
This is as lovely a nature walk as anything you can find at Mammoth Cave National Park. Being mid-May, the forest floor is awash in brightly colored wildflowers. Unlike the heavy shade of the Turnhole Bend Nature Trail, this area has gaps in the forest canopy, allowing sun drenched spans of woodland meadows to form. Taking up most of the lime-light are the towering purple blooms of Tall Larkspur. Native to the central and eastern United States, they are surprisingly related to the tiny Buttercup flowers more commonly found in sprawling meadows. There are a few benches spread throughout the trail for those wanting to sit and enjoy the serene landscape.
Despite being a short walk, this hike travels over three separate creek crossings aided by wood plank bridges. The entire area is filled with small streams, which drain directly into the Cedar Sink up ahead. Crowding every creek bank in sight are the popsicle shaped blossoms of Foamflower and the drooping yellow Bellwort. As we near the Cedar Sink, the trail splits off into the latter 0.8 mile loop. We took the LEFT path at the “Y” intersection. Emerging out of the forest onto an overlook of Cedar Sink just as we approach the stairs leading down into it, you get a much better sense of how large this sinkhole truly is. At a little over 7 acres, it is the largest of its kind in Kentucky.
Though the stairs might pose a challenge for those with mobility issues, it is one of the gentlest I’ve encountered in any park. Unlike the blood curdling stair descent into Yahoo Falls in the Big South Fork, this one has a pedestrian friendly pitch and several landings to stop and take a break on. Still, the view from the top is quite dramatic. Once inside the Cedar Sink, there are plenty of options for exploring the area both on and off trail. The main loop continues straight to an overlook of the Hidden River. Known as a karst window, this geomorphic feature common to karst landscapes occurs when an underground river is visible from the surface within a sinkhole. There are a total of 6 windows at the bottom of Cedar Sink where this stream can be viewed. I had the pleasure of visiting a few of these on my last trip to explore Twin Caves, Bronson Cave, and Donaldson Cave at Spring Mill State Park in Indiana.
Though the river disappears into the side of the hill up ahead, it will reemerge a few miles north of here at the Turnhole Bend Spring, as it empties into the Green River. For those feeling more adventurous, there is a network of side trails in Cedar Sink that lead to many of its cliff-high rock houses. With a source of freshwater, plentiful game, and a wide array of wild fruits and nuts to harvest, the Cedar Sink was regularly visited by the prehistoric Native Americans that once lived in the Green River Valley. Not inhabited year round, the cliff dwellings were used seasonally as camps for processing food. Archeologists have uncovered many artifacts in the area including, broken pieces of chert, pottery shards, preserved vegetable rinds, and animal refuse.
The entire bottom of Cedar Sink can be thought of as a huge natural garden. Plants that generally would not thrive on the drier upland ridges do so down here due to the higher organic content of the soil. Gazing over the wildflower filled meadow surrounding the trail, I can spot some milk-cap mushrooms, of which there are several edible species. Agrimonia grows in abundance down here. In ancient times it was widely used as a medicinal plant to cure many ailments from tired feet, to eye ailments, diarrhea, erectile performance, and disorders of the gallbladder and kidneys. Many of the flowers found at Cedar Sink are also hosts to some of the most colorful butterflies and moths seen in the park like the white admiral, red admiral, and question mark butterfly. All of which at one point or another I spotted floating around.
The ascent out of Cedar Sink from the opposite end of the trail is a lot gentler and only half the height. It is adjacent to an overlook of the sinks largest rockhouse. Once topside, the loop continues another 0.35 miles through a picturesque forest before meeting back up with the main trail in. Depending on how much exploring you decide to do within Cedar Sink, on average this trail takes 1 hour to complete, but with so much to see it’ll fly by in a pinch. Make sure to check out some of our other trail guides within Mammoth Cave National Park including our primer for the secret Arches and Waterfalls hunts here.
Up next we’ll be driving 155 miles due west to explore the expansive trails of the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois with our first stop being the Rim Rock National Recreational Trail. Stay tune and as always, see y’all on the trails!