Hiking the Kentucky River Palisades Trail


This weekend we drove over to the Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve and enjoyed hiking the Kentucky River Palisades Trail. The trails were muddy from recent rain, but the temperature was perfect and the scenery beautiful. It’s always a great memory maker to be outside with the family enjoying a new hiking trail.

Hiking the Kentucky River Palisades Trail

Located about 30 minutes south of Lexington, right below Nicholasville, KY is the Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve. There are no restrooms, visitors center or big parking lot. The Preserve is located at the end of the road with a simple sign welcoming you, a place to sign in, and a map on the back of the welcome sign.

tom dorman state nature preserve

You start your hike on one side of the parking lot and finish the loop on the other side of the small parking lot. This is not a well developed trail with park benches and gazebos. But the path is easy to follow.

Part of the hiking trail is almost overgrown
Part of the hiking trail is almost overgrown

Things to Know

  • The trail is definitely not for strollers or those who have a hard time walking long distances. There are some fairly steep parts along the hike with very uneven terrain.
  • You never get really close to the edge of the cliffs but you do have to be aware of the drop offs if you are hiking with children.
  • Don’t let the distance fool you.  It may only be 2 miles round trip, but it is a moderate to difficult trail at times.
Hiking Trail
  • You will want to take a water bottle with you.
  • Down by the river, there are many stinging nettles.  They don’t hurt for long, but can cause quite a bit of discomfort.
  • This trail would probably be the most beautiful in the late fall when the leaves have started to fall so you can really see the palisades and rock walls.
  • Make sure your kids know what poison ivy looks like before you hit the trail. This path was full of the ivy.
Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve

The Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve is one of the largest protected natural areas in the Kentucky River Palisades region. The Garrard County part of the preserve is open to the public, sunrise to sunset year-round

  • Features – 220-foot limestone palisade walls, rare plants, Kentucky River.
  • Access – Foot trail through the forest and to the river, two-mile loop; moderately difficult, with hills and steps.
  • Facilities – None
  • Parking – eight cars
  • Hazards – Extremely high cliffs.
  • Activities – Hiking, nature study, birding, etc.
  • Directions – From Nicholasville, follow Rt. 27 south for approximately nine miles. After crossing the Kentucky River into Garrard County, continue for an additional 1 1/4 miles. Turn right on Rt. 1845 and follow for one mile. Take the next right. Follow this road (straight, do not bear left) for approximately 3/4 mile. Park in the parking lot at the end of the road.


Did I mention that the trails were pretty muddy? I have to admit that several of us did some great mudslides while hiking. These are the things that make for some great family memories.

Read more about the Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve.

hiking the Kentucky River Palisades Trail

Have you ever hiked around the Kentucky Palisades or here at the Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve? I’d love to hear your favorite time of year to enjoy this hike.

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  1. Important to note that no dogs are allowed on the trails. My girlfriend and I drove from Lexington with our dogs only to have to turn around.

  2. This is like two seconds from my house! It is SO pretty there, I am so glad your family discovered it too!

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