Wednesday July 30, 2008


Berea College Forest



Some days you’re meant to fail.  Recognize this, and these inevitable days will be a whole lot easier. 


I started out the day ready to get out on the water again , but over morning coffee I overheard 2 ladies discussing the weather.  They were saying how it was supposed to rain later in the day and how they were going to plan around it.  Well, I believe that the things you experience in your life speak to you if you’re open to them, and so I decided that instead of paddling today it might be nice to go hiking instead and see an old friend in the process.


I’ll tell you one thing about Berea College Forest:  I think everyone in the state should come out and see it!  It’s got 5 different peaks which offer spectacular views of the Kentucky countryside, and some are simply stunning!  Besides the East and West Pinnacles on the ends, there’s the Eagles Nest, Buzzards Roost and the unbelievable Indian Fort Lookout.


Today, however, I was a little concerned about the ticks that I’d had problems with earlier in the summer.  What ticks me off (get it?...ticks…ticked off? funny?...OK, nevermind!) is that the “bites” I got on the last hike I took a month and a half ago are still there!  I was thinking that if I were to have any tick run-ins today, I might put off hiking until the fall!  There are, after all, 3 other seasons to do this which are probably even better. 


Well, I was to be OK, but it was not all smooth sailing.  I'd gotten half way to Berea when I realized that I’d forgotten to take my wallet and phone out of the pants I'd worn the previous day and transfer them to my jeans.  “Oh well!  Too late to go back!”  I was thinking.  “If I get pulled over it’s my own fault for being absent minded!”  I had to also hope though that I wouldn’t need a phone...


The rest of the drive went OK despite this realization and I noticed that it looked like the Boone Tavern ( had reopened.  They'd been closed for quite a while, but I couldn’t remember why. 


At any rate, I pulled into the parking lot of Berea College Forest a little after 9AM and at this point I need to relate a prior experience to give some background.  The first time I visited last year I pulled up and there was a dog there.  I assumed it was a stray because I didn’t notice a tag.  It seemed like a very nice dog and I felt for this poor stray dog! 


I gave it some of the water I’d brought and even some of my protein bar.  Well, the dog ended up following me all the way up the mountain, left for a time, and then I saw it again on another peak.  It later followed me all the way back down the mountain.  Well, half way down I finally noticed the tag and I was going to call the name on it so that they could get their dog back.  As I read the tag my heart leapt into my throat.  Here’s what it said:


Hi!  My name is Tillie

I am not a stray

I live next door

Let’s go for a hike!


!?!  Stunning.


I guessed that the owner, having grown sick of all the people like me calling up and reporting a stray dog, decided to just put this heartwarming tag on Tillie’s collar.  What fantastic people to do something so endearing!  It was also very kind of them to share their pet with the hikers who come to this place.  Long live Tillie!


I always hope to see Tillie again when I come out here.  I don’t always.  Sometimes I don’t see her at all, and other times she’ll be hanging out with other people (she seems to follow those who are new to this forest – she only followed me the first time).  Every time I do see her though she seems to recognize me and will jog out from under whatever car she’s lying under to let me pet her. 


Well, I got lucky today.  There she was, under the car I had pulled up near.  She sauntered out when she saw me and we were able to “catch up”.  I hadn’t seen her since last year.  By the way, when I tell people the above story, I get the feeling that they think it’s too incredible to be true and that Tillie must be a figment of my imagination.  Well, here’s a picture of the figment!



As I set off on my way down the beautiful winding trail through the park I noticed the gnats well before I’d gotten to the Indian Fort Amphitheatre.  I’d need my mesh hat.  This is a baseball cap I have that unzips at the top and lets down a net which will cover your entire head and prevent the gnats from getting into yours eye’s, nose, ears or mouth.


I need my hat…let’s see… not in that pocket… not in that… DAG!  I must have left it in the trunk of the car!  I walked all the way back to the car and looked for it.  Not there.  This was getting a little ridiculous!  I’d been having really bad luck in bringing things with me but I did have good luck in seeing Tillie.  I decided to go on.  There was an old t-shirt in the trunk which I draped over my head instead.  That would help a little bit in keeping the gnats away.



The good thing was that from here on out my day would get better.  I wouldn’t get quite as far as I wanted, but it was a lot better.  I began my hike down the winding paved path which was bordered by large trees through the first part of the park.  I understand that they have craft fairs in this area.  The aforementioned Indian Fort Amphitheatre lies further down this path.  I know they use this for the craft festivals too, but I’m not sure if they still have shows here anymore.  If anyone can tell me I’d be curious.  It would sure be a pleasant place to see one.


The trails really start here at this one path, and then they’ll begin to branch off at the top of a fairly steep climb which takes you directly up the first part of a mountain.  Not having hiked in a while, I could start to feel my quad muscles by the time I reached the trail junction at the top.  Logs have been cut and placed in the ground throughout this grade to provide “steps” and make the footing easier.  The path kind of winds up in spots and at one point there’s a very sharp turn in which you almost completely double back upon yourself.


At the junction on top I turned right and began following the path to the East Pinnacle.  The first part of this path is relatively flat as it winds through the forest.  I didn’t notice it for some reason this time, but I know there’s a marker in this part which indicates that a forest fire occurred here in the 80’s.  Apparently arson. 


I think I missed the sign because I was noticing quite a few flower blooms.  I’ve seen so many diverse kinds of flowers on my trips but I’m woefully ill equipped to comment more on them because I simply don’t know what kinds they are.



In a cleared out spot at the next trail junction there were a lot more of these.  I was somewhat surprised that flowers were still blooming this late in the summer.  Looking to my left at this cleared out spot I saw an outcrop in the distance which could have been the Eagles Nest.


The trail junction just mentioned was that for Indian Fort Lookout/East Pinnacle, and it indicated that the pinnacle I was heading toward was 2000 feet further.  I passed through the clearing which was now getting a little overgrown, and began an ascent to the pinnacle.  When you reach the top there are plenty of little paths which you can follow to different points of this rock outcrop.  Each one offers a different view.  All are awesome.



Some offer unbelievable views of the Kentucky countyside with its farms, and some have views of rolling mountains as they weave and cascade into the distance.  There looks to be some water running through the mountains in one spot which is dammed up at this end.  By the way, before you get to each of these pinnacles, you hike through a little pine forest which often smells wonderful!



After you’ve taken all this scenery in (and by all means, take your time at these!) you can head back down.  You’ll follow the path you came in on back to the aforementioned junction.  Here I headed in the direction of the Indian Fort Lookout.  There’s another fairly steep climb after this junction as you climb up another mountain (East Pinnacle is on one mountain, Indian Fort, Eagles Nest and Buzzards Roost are on another, and West Pinnacle is on a third). 


By the time I made this climb I was definitely feeling the burn in my quads.  It felt good though!  Paddling works your upped body and core muscles while hiking works your lower body and core muscles - combining the two makes for a powerful combination which can really get you into shape quite rapidly.


Once you finish this climb you’ll come to another junction.  The sign here has a lot of info on it, but I had decided to visit each of the peaks in sequence from east to west, so I headed in the direction of the Eagles Nest (right).  You can shorten the trip and head directly to Indian Fort Lookout if you want though - this seems to be most popular spot. 


It’s relatively level again as you head toward Eagles Nest.  Actually, this path will take you to both Eagles Nest and Buzzards Roost.  Before the trail junction for these 2 lookouts though, there’s another path which branches off on the left.  I took this path once and it goes for quite a way but it eventually just ends.  It’s a bit confusing and I wasn’t sure if it was actually a recognized part of the trail system. 


Passing this I presently came to an unmarked junction.   To reach Eagles Nest (a shorter hike) you turn right while Buzzards Roost will be to the left.  I again passed through a pine forest just before reaching each of these.  You’ll have to climb over and through some rocks at the Nest.  Please be careful at all the peaks but especially this one.  Each time I’m here I startle some turkey buzzards into flight. 


Once I’d enjoyed this particular peak for a while, I retraced my steps and headed towards the Roost.  There will be a rocky clearing with more views just prior to reaching this and you might think that that’s it.  I hope you’ll stop to enjoy these, but if you keep going the path continues at the far end of these rocks and you’ll soon reach a large level boulder on the left which will be the actual place.


As you climb up this peak offers the clearest views yet until you reach Indian Fort Lookout, and it may be my favorite because not as many people come out here.  This time though, there’d been some vandalism.  Someone had started a fire, and the rocks were charred.  There was also some string strewn about.  One strand was thrown over the pinnacle and had landed on one of the trees in the midst of the view; and, since this tree is over the cliff, someone would have to risk their life to get it down.  Disappointing to say the least - this is outright contempt both for the forest and for others.  Please don’t let this thoughtless act spoil the spot for you though.  The views of the farms below are simply incredible!


Once on your way you’ll retrace your steps again, and as you come back to the junction, turn right (going straight will take you back to the Nest).  You’ll soon be back at the junction with the multipoint sign on it.  From here I headed toward Indian Fort Lookout. 


After the sign you’ll want go right at the first junction (going left will take you back down the mountain to the parking lot if you want – this was the way I ended up coming down).   


Go straight at the next point (going right will take you down to a cave ominously called the Devil’s Kitchen which I didn’t visit today since it was starting to look stormy) to reach the peak.   You’ll soon start to see signs of a clearing ahead - this is the Indian Fort Lookout.  A sign back at the theatre had indicated that the Indians ( Hopewell culture) had held this place to be sacred, and you can certainly see why as the views here may the most spectacular in all of Kentucky.



When I arrived, however, it was quite clear that a storm was coming from the look of the clouds that were moving in.  I was only able to get a few quick pictures before having to head back down.  I met some guys up here on another day who informed me that you can see the University of Kentucky water tower from this point! 


Please keep a sharp eye on where you came in here because there are many intersecting paths which can be confusing.  I ended up going back the way I came in, turning right at the first trail junction.  The West Pinnacle would have to wait for another day.


The way down is pretty steep, and they still have the log steps, but you’ll have to watch your footing nonetheless.  The large rocks can be quite slippery even when they aren’t wet, and this klutz has fallen on them a couple times. 


The forest was getting quite dark on the way down, and I got my gear in the car and headed out just as a downpour was starting.  I had some great fortune on the way out though!  I heard somebody calling Tillie in and I decided to risk asking them about the dog.  I was very happy to discern who Tillie’s owner was so I could thank them for sharing.   Sure enough, they did put the tag on her because of all the concern expressed for this “stray”.  Hiking in this park is, indeed, an amazing experience in many ways!


Some days you're meant to fail, it's true, but those seeming failures may lead to an experience which MORE than makes up for them! 




I75 to KY21 exit.  Go left on KY21 into the city of Berea.  Keep a sharp eye out for signs for this road as it veers right just in front of the Boone Tavern.  From this point, go almost exactly 3 miles and you’ll see 2 entryways on your left for Indian Fort Theatre.  There’s quite a large parking lot here.  The trails start directly ahead of you as you pull in.