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Red River Gorge Geological Area
Sometimes erosion doesn’t wash away beauty as much as uncover it. More than 70 million years ago, wind and water carved the sandstone surrounding Kentucky’s Red River into a backcountry museum of rock arches, sweeping ridgelines, and deep gorges. A 36-mile network of trails accesses nooks and crannies studded with about 550 different plant species, some as rare as the prehistoric arches. To find solitude and scenery, start at the backpacker’s parking area on KY 715.
Contact: Stanton Ranger District, Daniel Boone National Forest, (606) 663-2852; www.r8web.com/boone.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
This 170,000-acre peninsula harbors some of the most accessible backcountry in the East, but attracts some of the smallest crowds. That’s because most visitors stick to the surrounding Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. Take the 65-mile North-South Trail from the peninsula tip in southwestern Kentucky into Tennessee, where another 26 miles of trail trace Civil War troop movements through Ft. Henry.
Contact: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, (270) 924-2000; www2.lbl.org/lbl.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Troublesome Creek. Difficulty Creek. Yep, the Kentucky Trail passes through some wet and wild backcountry. Shallow streams, wildflowers, sphagnum-covered rocks, soothing waterfalls, and sandstone arches enliven this 27-mile path, which zigzags along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, finally meeting the John Muir Trail near the Tennessee border.
Contact: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, (423) 569-9778; www.nps.gov/biso.