Top 5 Running Trails in Central Kentucky


Occasionally we get a customer who comes in and asks about trail running in our area. Unfortunately Lexington isn’t exactly Boulder or Chattanooga when it comes to trail running. That said there are a few places you can go that aren’t completely terrible. Here is my list of the Top 5 Running Trails in Central Kentucky, and by Central Kentucky I mean within an hour’s drive of Lexington. I have run all of these trails, some of them many times. I realize I’m leaving off a few popular spots but I wanted to keep it at a nice round figure of 5. I’m also thinking of the list from a Lexingtonian’s perspective in terms of distance. So, here we go, the Big Five according to me.

5. Veteran’s Park – Lexington. Our only real trail system within the city of Lexington, VP has about 3 miles of wide singletrack. Well designed and maintained so it holds up in wet weather. Not bad if you live in Lexington and need a quick trail running fix.
The Good:
– Inside the city of Lexington
– Very well built and maintained
– Nice and smooth and 100% runnable
The Bad:
– Somewhat twisty with few hills
– Only 3 miles total
– Not a real “wilderness” experience

4. Raven Run Nature Sanctuary – Lexington. The largest trail system in Fayette County with about 10 miles total. Very well maintained but does get muddy in winter and spring. Has some legitimate climbs so a good place to work on your climbing and descending.
The Good:
– Fairly close to Lexington
– Enough miles of trail to make it interesting
– Great place to see the wildflowers in spring
–¬†View of Kentucky River is beautiful

The Bad:
– Can be muddy in winter and spring
– Very busy on good weather days
– Sections can be weedy during warmer months
– OK “wilderness” experience; better in spring and worse in winter

3. Skullbuster Trails – Stamping Ground. The newest of the trails on this list, SB has about 12 miles of singletrack built by mountain bikers and runners in northern Scott County. 100% singletrack with some nice ups and downs but completely runnable. Great design means it holds up pretty well in wet weather.
The Good:
– Good flow without a lot of twists and turns
– Enough hills to make it interesting
– Good mileage if you’re looking to do a long run
The Bad:
– Hard to find and little to no mapping, both by design
– Use caution during hunting season
– Decent “wilderness” experience

2. Pinnacles of Indian Fort Theater – Berea. I think “The Pinnacles” is the most undervalued trail system in the area for runners. Well maintained trails with some serious ups and downs, some of which are pretty technical. Some of the best views in Central Kentucky. If you run everything you are looking at about 7-8 miles total. Map.
The Good:
– Great views and interesting rock formations
– Smooth, pine needle covered singletrack on the ridgetops
– Plenty of parking
The Bad:
– Can be busy on good weather days
– Some sections must be run as out-n-backs
– Climbs can be slippery during wet weather
pinnacles3 pinnacles4

1. Red River Gorge – Slade. “The Gorge” barely fits into my 1 hour from Lexington criteria but I thought I had to include it since this is far and away the best trail running experience in the area. Many miles of well developed singletrack, a lot of which can be run even in wet weather. Lots of stuff to see; rock formations, beautiful creek crossings, lush vegetation, The Gorge has something for everyone. You like climbing and descending on technical terrain? Get ready for plenty of it. Bonus points for having the option of hitting the Natural Bridge State Park trails while you’re up there.
The Good:
– Real wilderness experience
– Enough mileage for anyone
– Spectacular scenery with lots of green year round
– Good mapping and trail markings
The Bad:
– Busy on most weekends
– A daytrip for people in Lexington
– Not necessarily bad but a lot of the trails are technical and somewhat remote so be prepared
Trail
Photo courtesy of outrageGIS Mapping

There you have it, my Top 5 Trail Running locations in Central Kentucky. No matter which area is your favorite get out and enjoy some time on the dirt. It’s a great break from all the concrete and asphalt we have here in Lexington and it might even improve your running.

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