As we enter summer’s infamous “dog days,” there may be few thing more miserable than a hiking trail in the mid-afternoon heat, complete with ticks, chiggers and 95 percent humidity.
And, yet, it isn’t as though the opportunity to get outside just disappears. There are still trails to be hiked, sights to be seen, and, for those who hike for fitness, a need to get outside. A day spent outdoors can be just as soothing for the mind and the soul in mid July as it can be in April or October.
With that in mind, the ideal summer hike is one that doesn’t involve especially treacherous trails, and a good water source somewhere nearby. A good excuse to get wet along the trail is a good opportunity to cool off.
Here are five trails in the region that seem to have been made especially for summer:
5.) Oscar Blevins Loop Trail
Distance: 3.7 miles. Difficulty: Easy. The first trail on the list, Oscar Blevins Farm Loop, doesn’t really fit the description laid out above. There isn’t much water along this particular hiking trail, although it does follow Bandy Creek for a short distance and a feeder stream for another distance.
But the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop, which begins and ends at Bandy Creek (the trailhead is the first left past the Bandy Creek Visitor Center), is a nice summer hike. It’s easy, relatively short, and makes for a great late-evening hike. Whitetail deer can often be seen with their fawns in the fields at the Blevins Farm as the sun sets, and taking along a flashlight with plans to complete the hike in the dark affords hikers the opportunity to watch the fields come alive with fireflies as darkness descends on the farm.
The Blevins Farm was occupied until the federal government purchased the property for inclusion into the Big South Fork in the 1970s. The original cabin still stands on the farm, along with the more modern farmhouse that eventually replaced it as the Blevins’ family’s main dwelling. Hikers can explore the farm at will, including the other structures that are in place on the farm. The National Park Service stables its horses there, and kids are fond of the official farm cat, who keeps mice out of the barn.
Getting there: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida to Bandy Creek Road. Turn right on Bandy Creek Road and travel to the second left (first left past the visitor center).
4.) Yahoo Falls Loop Trail
Distance: 1.2 miles. Difficulty: Easy. The Yahoo Falls Loop Trail leads to the tallest waterfall in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. In fact, Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in all of Kentucky — Cumberland Falls not withstanding.
The 1.2-mile trail that leads to Yahoo Falls can be extended to as much as 2.5 miles, and it’s all easy, with the exception of a set of metal steps that must be ascended or descended, depending on which direction hikers decide to tackle the loop.
Yahoo Falls is often little more than a gentle trickle during the summer months, but it’s entirely possible to stand beneath the falls and cool off. And even if you aren’t adventurous enough to wander off the trail, you’ll find the deep rock house behind the waterfall cool and relaxing compared to the outside air.
Getting there: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north from Oneida to Whitley City, Ky. Turn left onto Jesus Hill Road just past Bradley’s Gourmet Coffee and More, then turn right onto Ky. Hwy. 1651. In 1.3 miles, turn left onto Ky. Hwy. 700 for 3.4 miles. Then turn right onto Yahoo Falls Road.
3.) Colditz Cove
Distance: 1.7 miles. Difficulty: Easy. Located in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area just outside Allardt, Northrup Falls is among Tennessee’s most stunning waterfalls. It plunges 60 feet off a ledge into a narrow gorge that includes 200-year-old white pines and hemlocks, along with rhododendron and a variety of other plants. Several varieties of rare salamanders live in the stream, and the 165-acre natural area surrounding the waterfall is named for the family that operated a grist mill above the waterfall in the 1800s.
The hiking trail that leads from the trailhead to the waterfall and back again is easy, with the only real challenge being the entrance and exit to the gorge area and the area beneath the waterfall, which can be slippery.
Getting there: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south from Oneida to S.R. 52 in Elgin. Turn right onto S.R. 52 and travel 17 miles to Allardt. Turn left onto Northrup Falls Road and follow it 1.3 miles to the trailhead on the right.
2.) Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole
Distance: 2.1 miles. Difficulty: Moderate. As the second sons of English gentry — along with Americans — settled the Rugby colony west of Elgin in the late 1800s, they bathed in the Clear Fork River just outside the village. In those days, of course, the gentlemen and the ladies couldn’t bathe in the same pool of water, so the women had their own bathing place a short distance upstream of the gentlemen’s swimming hole.
Today, Rugby’s premier hiking trail still leads to the Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole. It’s a 2.1-mile loop trail that also leads to Meeting of the Waters, which is where White Oak Creek empties into Clear Fork.
As hikers descend into the river gorge from Laurel Dale Cemetery, they retrace the steps taken by those who followed British author Thomas Hughes to the Rugby colony in the late 19th century. And the Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole is every bit as inviting now as it was then — the perfect place to jump in the river and cool off on a hot summer day.
Getting there: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south from Oneida to S.R. 52 in Elgin. Take S.R. 52 to Rugby, then turn right onto the old highway to continue into Rugby. Once in the village, take a right onto Laurel Dale Cemetery Road. The trailhead is located at the end of the road.
1.) Burnt Mill Loop
Distance: 4.5 miles. Difficulty: Moderate. Although the Burnt Mill Loop Trail near Robbins earns a difficulty rating of moderate, that’s mostly because of the ascent from the river gorge to the top of the plateau. For the most part, the trail is an easy hike that is perfect in just about any season. It follows the Clear Fork River for much of its length, except for the climb over the plateau.
From Burnt Mill Bridge, hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction. Once you’ve hiked to the top of the plateau and dropped back to the river, you’ll be ready to cool off. There are ample opportunities to do so. Watch for Burnt Mill Shower, a wet-weather waterfall located just off the main trail. A narrow footpath to the left leads to the waterfall, which is ice-cold on even the hottest day. (Be careful for the slippery rocks at the base of the waterfall.) It will only be a trickle in dry weather, however.
Further down the path, look for footpaths that lead to the river’s edge, offering opportunities to wade into the water. The river here features a solid-rock bottom, with water depths ranging from ankle deep to waist deep. There are a couple of swimming holes along the way, too.
Getting there: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south from Oneida to New River. Turn right onto Old Hwy. 27 and continue to Mountain View. Turn right at the old Shoemaker’s Store, then immediately left onto Mountain View Road. At Black Creek-Crossroads Baptist Church, turn right onto Honey Creek Road and continue to Burnt Mill Bridge.
This story is the July 2018 installment of Focus On: Outdoor Life, presented by Ray Varner Ford on the first week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Focus On series. A print version of this story can be found on Page A3 of the July 5, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.