Running in a north-south direction from the Tennessee border to Interstate 64 in northeastern Kentucky, this beautiful and rewarding forest is filled with rivers, lakes, waterfalls, natural bridges and mountains. It truly has changed little since it was first settled more than 200 years ago.
We recommend seeing several areas of the forest. Those with lots of time and a penchant for roughing it could see all of the park's major scenic attractions by hiking the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which runs 255 mi/410 km along the whole length of the forest. Those on a limited schedule should take time to hike at least some part of the trail. Before setting off, check locally to see which sections are used by off-road vehicles; we found sharing a footpath with motorcycles to be nerve-wracking.
Be sure to see the Red River Gorge Geological Area, which has more than 80 natural arches, including the Natural Bridge (15 million tons of ancient rock suspended across a mountainside). Natural Bridge State Resort Park, which is within the national forest and part of the geological area, has breathtaking views. The gorge area draws rock climbers from all parts of the world with set routes on both public and private land. There's a lodge at the park, and other activities include camping, fishing, hiking, swimming and tennis.
Cumberland Falls earned the nickname Niagara of the South because it's the second-largest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains after Niagara Falls. Located near Corbin in the national forest, Cumberland Falls is said to produce the only "moonbow" in the Western Hemisphere—a radiant prism produced by mist and moonlight. It's an awe-inspiring sight, but you'll have to time your visit exactly right: It only occurs when the moon is full and at its peak brightness just after the winter thaw when the water level of the falls is at its highest. And if you want a photo, you'll need a tripod and multiminute time-exposure setting to capture even a glimpse of the phenomenon.
Nearby Cumberland Falls State Resort Park has plenty of activities for visitors, including hiking, rafting, swimming and camping (there's also a lodge). Just below the park are more falls at the Beaver Creek Wilderness. Daniel Boone National Forest begins approximately 60 mi/95 km east of Lexington.
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