Sheltowee Trace Trail
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Sheltowee Trace Trail
United States

The Sheltowee Trace trail is a point-to point route that runs between the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee, to The Northern Terminus, Rowan County in the north-west of Kentucky.

Much of the trail is in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Daniel Boon was captured and then adopted by the Shawnee Tribe, who gave him the name Sheltowee, or big turtle.

Other places along the trail are Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

This long distance walk is a great starting point for those who want to develop their skills in multi-day hikes.

There are plenty of entry and exit points, and the terrain is not too tough for those of average hiking abilities.

Highlights
  • Waterfalls and cliffs
  • Caves
  • Forests
  • Plants and wildlife
  • Wild camping for a real wilderness experience
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About the route

This is a trail of leafy forests and tumbling waters, and is rich in plants and wildlife.

As it passes through rugged wild areas, there is evidence of past land use such as old remnants from the logging industry and derelict homesteads.

Some parts of the trail are also used by cyclists, horse riders and off-road vehicles.

The Sheltowee Trace trail can be walked from either direction, but it is favourable to walk from north to south. This is because there are more towns along the trail in the north, allowing you to make the most of food resupply options.

There are resupply options for food every two or three days on the trail, such as small settlements just off the trail or places where you can send a food box ahead.

However there is one section along Cumberland Falls State Park where you will need to carry enough food for six days of hiking.

Water is plentiful along the route as there are many streams and rivers. Water must be purified before drinking.

There are towns along the trail that have shuttle services, so you can head for accommodation, food or medical supplies.

These towns are: Morehead, McKee, Livingston, London, and Stearns.

  • Travel

The town of Morehead is close to the trailhead at the northern end of the Sheltowee trail.

If you are arriving from another country, the nearest international airport to Morehead is at Nashville, 135 kilometres away.

There is also a regional airport, Owensboro–Daviess, at 52 kilometres away.

At the southern end of the trail, the nearest town to the trailhead is Oneida.

The nearest regional airports are McGhee Tyson Airport at 89.6 kilometres away, and Blue Grass Airport 171.4 kilometres. Nashville still the closest international airport.

  • Length

The Sheltowee Trace trail is approximately 300 miles or 482 kilometres in length, though the actual route may differ due to detours around closed sections or new additions that have been developed.

It takes around 25 days to hike, but can be done faster by experienced hikers.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The Sheltowee Trace trail is graded at 3/5.

The terrain should not be a problem for hikers of average fitness. Despite its length, the terrain is fairly level with only around 500 metres elevation gain throughout.

There may be a few steep climbs and descents in places.

Underfoot, the trail may be muddy, rocky, and slippery. Sturdy footwear is recommended.

The trail is easy to follow, with white diamond markers with turtles painted on them.

  • Experience

You do not need to have lots of hiking experience to enjoy the Sheltowee Trace trail, however if you are planning to do multiday hikes, you should prepare yourself physically.

Hiking during the day and camping each night means you need to be strong enough to carry your gear and food supplies for a few days at a time.

If you do not want to camp overnight, there are plenty of options for day hikes.

Though the trail is well-marked and no particular navigational skills are needed, it is a good idea to know how to use a map and a compass whenever you are hiking in rugged landscapes.

One thing to be aware of on this trail are black bears. While most will run away, you should learn what to do should you encounter one.

Also, keeping food in airtight containers will help prevent inquisitive bears from wandering through your campsite.

  • Permits

While no permit is needed to hike the trail, permits are required for some campsites.

You do not need a permit to wild camp, except for the Red Gorge area.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

Those who are taking on the challenge of walking the Sheltowee Trail as a through hike, as well as those on day hikes, mostly opt for a self-guided walk.

Guided hikes are available along some stages of the trail.

best time to walk

The Sheltowee Trace trail can be hiked all year round, and each season has its merits.

Springtime sees a flush of wild plants and flowers, and while it is still a little cool, it is a great time to experience this natural environment.

With snow and ice melting from winter, it is also a time when streams and waterfalls are at their fullest.

Summer brings warmer temperatures, but it can also be humid. Late summer and autumn tend to be drier.

In winter there may be snow and ice on the ground, but you do get to enjoy a quiet trail.

A typical itinerary would be:

The Sheltowee Trace is separated into 38 sections, across three districts. The distances between the sections are shown below.

How many sections you choose to hike per day is down to your own preference.

Cumberland District

Section 1: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 2: 3 miles / 4.8 km

Section 3: 1.75 miles / 2.8 km

Section 4: 6 miles / 9.6 km

Section 5: 5 miles / 8 km

Section 6: 5 miles / 8 km

Section 7: 3 miles / 4.8 km

Section 8: 3 miles / 4.8 km

Section 9: 11 miles / 17.7 km

Section 10: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 11: 5 miles / 8 km

Section 12: 14 miles / 22.5 km

Section 13: 5 miles / 8 km

Section 14: 2.25 miles / 3.6 km

Section 15: 7 miles / 11.2 km

Section 16: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 17: 9 miles / 14.5 km

London District

Section 18: 8 miles / 12.9 km

Section 19: 16 miles / 25.7 km

Section 20: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 21: 10 miles / 16.1 km

Section 22: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 23: 13 miles / 20.1km

Section 24: 13 miles / 20.1 km

Section 25: 10 miles / 16.1 km

Section 26: 12 miles / 19.3 km

Section 27: 11 miles / 17.7 km

Stearns District

Section 28: 5 miles / 8 km

Section 29: 3 miles / 4.8 km

Section 30: 9 miles / 14.5 km

Section 31: 4 miles / 6.4 km

Section 32: 2.5 miles / 4 km

Section 33: 7 miles / 11.2 km

Section 34: 1 mile / 1.6 km

Section 35: 3 miles / 4.8 km

Section 36: 11 miles / 17.7 km

Section 37: 2.25 miles / 3.6 km

Section 38: 5 miles / 8 km

Accommodation

There are official camping sites along the trail, and wild camping is also permitted.

If you want to wild camp you must be at least 300 feet away from the trail and water sources.

You must also not camp within 100 feet of a cliff base.

What to do

Visit Cumberland Falls, known as the Niagara of the South. Not only is this an awe-inspiring waterfall, but arrive during a full moon and you will see a ‘moonbow’ the night time version of a rainbow.

There are lots of other tracks the link with the Sheltowee Trace trail, so there are many options for shorter day hikes or side trips.

Learn about the history of the old mining and logging industries that were once common in the area.

Explore some of the side trails, and have rest days in some of the trail towns.

Enjoy being out in the wilderness, and hiking the trail under your own steam!

Published: February 5, 2020 Modified: February 5, 2020

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At a glance
Difficulty 3/5
Starts at Burnt Mill Bridge, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee
Finishes at Northern Terminus, Rowan County, Kentucky
Length of route 482 Km
Average time to complete 23 - 26 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsYes
Highest pointUnknown
Permit requiredNo
Countries visited United States

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