This is Part 2 of our series of hikes at Horine Reservation. At a combined 6,500 acres, Jefferson Memorial Forest offers 35 miles of hiking trails that wander through the Knobs Region of Kentucky on the outskirts of Louisville. It is separated into several distinct areas; Scotts Gap, Tom Wallace Rec., Waverly Park, Fairmount Falls, Kulmer Beach, Paul Yost Rec., and Horine Reservation.
On my last visit here, I spent the afternoon hiking the Orange Trail, which was an easy 2 mile hike that anyone can jump on for a leisurely, hour long stroll. The adjacent Red Trail however, is a different beast altogether. This 2.5 hour long, 4.8 mile hike, follows the densely wooded ridges along the knobs of Jefferson Memorial Forest. During fall, these hills put on a spectacular show of colors, with its vibrant foliage, which then gives way in winter to wide views of the rolling landscape for which Kentucky is famous for.
The Red Trail shares its trailhead with the Orange Trail located just beyond the gravel lot, past those same bright red campround latrines, that resemble mini cottages. After a short 0.2 mile walk the path splits off, with the orange trail going left and the red trail continuing straight. During the usual spring and summer season, the dozen campsites here would be overflowing with families spending the weekend camping or hosting events, but these sites have all been temporarily closed during the covid pandemic.
Even so, true diehards still venture out onto these trails to get a little R&R and its a pleasure to come across a fellow hiker and exchange pleasantries, even if we have to remain six feet apart. With such an extensive trail system, its not uncommon to come across people whom have wandered here all the way from the Tom Wallace Recreation Area. Todays forecast called for scattered rain showers, bringing dense cloud cover to the area, giving these hills an erie and ominous glow. Not twenty minutes into this hike, the sky opened up with a light yet steady downpour. If you come prepared, a little rain is nothing to fret. Keep calm and hike on.
This very forest has been attracting visitors for thousands of years. The naturally occurring mineral springs, nicknamed “salt licks”, brought animals to this area creating a rich hunting ground utilized by early Native Americans and European settlers.
Herds of woodland bison, which once ranged through large swaths of North America, roamed these same upland forests in search of salt licks, inadvertently creating the very same routes that explorers like Thomas Bullitt would use to survey the western frontier of the state. Squire Boone, brother of Daniel Boone, was even noted to have hunted bison just down the road near Bullitts Lick.
A half mile past the campgrounds the red trail meets another split. For those unsure of their dedication to finish this long hike, they’re in luck as the red trail has a built in shortcut. Take this 0.4 mile path and it’ll cut the trail down to only 3.1 miles and shave an hour off your journey. Continuing along the main path, the trail begins its winding descent down a sharp ravine. Even in mid spring, these hills are lush with ferns glistening in the rain and various wildflowers adding pops of colors to draw one forward along the trail.
Following the succession of spring blooming wildflowers is our native spiderwort, with their calming purple petals, highlighting bright yellow stamens. When the stems of spiderworts are cut, a vicious stem secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, like a spiders web, hence the common name.
The diffused lighting created in these conditions is one of my favorite for photography, as it tends to give colors a natural vibrancy. After reaching the bottom of this valley, you’ll hit the first of several crossings of Brushy Fork Creek. For about 0.4 miles, the creek and trail become one as you hike along the shallow water, jumping from one bank to the other to avoid the deeper parts of the creek.
Everywhere in front of me I could see ripples, as toads were diving into the water to avoid me. One such creature that didn’t mind my presence was this small eastern box turtle. The bright yellow streaks along its shell caught my attention right away. I’ve never had the pleasure of looking at a turtle up close, noticing the marbled color of its rough skin and deep orange eyes.
Leaving the turtle to continue on its own journey, I followed the sound of water till reached the Falls at Brushy Fork Creek. More often than not, the creek is dry, but after a week of heavy rains I knew my chances of seeing it were better than not. Unlike most falls emanating from the edge of a stone cliff, this one was falling through a ledge of dense tree roots twisted up into knots. As the rushing water continues to wash the soil downstream, it has hollowed out a cavern underneath the tree next to it, making it look as if it was levitating above water.
The climb back up onto the ridge from here is pretty tough, especially with a heavy pack and no poles to use for leverage. Its hard to get a solid footing on the silty surface which slides downhill with every step. On the bright side, the light soil and exposed areas of this climb are home to one of the most stunning wildflowers in bloom right now, Silene Virginica which also goes by the name Fire Pink. There are only 3 counties in the entire state where this wildflower thrives, so seeing it in bloom is a rare treat. The brilliant red flowers are a hummingbird magnet.
Im reminded of local saying I hear a lot from folks in this part of the country, as within a few moments notice, the clouds began dissipating into a perfectly clear and sunny sky, “If you don’t like the weather in the Ohio valley, just wait an hour.” From this point, the trail meets back up with the other end of the shortcut we passed earlier in our hike. Passing that intersection we began taking a series of sharp bends as our hike heads towards another creek crossing spanned by a simple plank bridge.
Although this next climb back out of the ravine is just as steep as the last one, the railroad tie steps buried into the hillside gave us a much better foothold, as well as a flat landing to rest in between steps. Hikes like this make me more conscious of how much my day pack weighs, especially my camera gear. At the top of the hill lies an interesting historical marker for those that aren’t easily spooked, the Horine Cemetery.
The Horines have a long history in Bullitt County dating as far back as 1784, when some of the first pioneers settled this area. Over the decades, the family slowly acquired small parcels of land, eventually totaling over 1200 acres. Wanting to preserve the woods they loved so much, the Horines donated their land in the 1960’s to Jefferson Memorial Forest, creating the Horine Reservation. Their wish was to create a perpetual natural refuge for birds and animals and to preserve this land as a natural resource for people to enjoy.
Seeing as tens of thousands of visitors flock here each year to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, it seems their vision of creating a sanctuary has become a reality. Not only are these woods a place that I visit, to seek refuge and solitude, but I also bring my kids here. My hope is that they can learn to appreciate the importance of spending time in nature, to disconnect from some of the facade of trivial everyday life and to connect with something real. T’ill next time, so y’all on the trails!