Pilot Knob

Friday, October 27, 2008


If you live near Lexington, Kentucky or are just visiting and you have about 3 hours (which includes driving time) to spare, this is definitely one place to check out.  Just getting to the top and back takes only about an hour, and the view is spectacular.  In fact it’s so good in the fall that when you get to the top you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of rolling hills and trees that appear as a sea of tiny, multicolored cotton balls! 

There are actually 3 separate hiking options out here which I’ll oversimplify by describing them as being at different elevations on this little mountain.  The first is what I’ll call the high level trail, and this will take you up to the top of the mountain itself.  They’ve named this after a man named Oscar Geralds Jr., who was apparently a key figure in preventing the dammed flooding of the Red River Gorge back in the 1960’s.  This hike is obviously the mot popular, and it’s the main reason why people come out here.  It’s a well-beaten, easy to follow path and it takes the very general shape of a question mark because once you hit the base of the knob ¾ of the way up; you’ll curve all the way around before ending at the top.

The second path is called the Sage Point Trail.  Its’ route is less traveled, but it is marked with red rectangles on the trees to assist you.  Maybe a little more than twice as long as the path up to Pilot Knob, it comes in at about the mid-point in terms of height as it extends out and around from the base of the knob.  It will catch back up with the main path at the end.

The third path is at the bottom and it looks like it’s very seldom enjoyed, yet it’s also the most intriguing.  It’s called the Millstone Quarry Trail, and it takes you through a numbered sequence of old milling sites and quarry stones.  The problem here is that it’s very hard to follow despite the fact that it’s also very short – maybe ¼ the length of the hike to the top of the knob.  It is marked, it’s just that the markings look to be quite old and some must be missing.  Look for pink ribbons around the trees to guide you, but be very careful – I lost the trail a couple times.  The path takes the form of a “lollipop” loop.

When I arrived at the parking circle near the trail head, I ran into a nice couple who weren’t quite sure if they were in the right place.  I could identify with this, because there really aren’t any signs out here which tell you that you’re in the right place, but I confirmed for them what they already suspected and headed up.  It’s rare that you don’t meet someone out here since it is such a pleasant experience, but sometimes it’s nice to see things in a state of total peace.  That said, I have to sheepishly admit entertaining the selfish hope of being able to have a little time atop the mountain to soak in the view in silence, but I told myself that when the couple arrived behind me I’d take off and let them experience the same.

The trail starts at the back of this parking circle, and soon you’ll cross over a little creek bed.  It’s just on the other side of this that you’ll have to  squeeze through what appears to be a series of steel posts which may have once been part of a fence or gate here – it’s hard to say.  Soon after this you’ll come to a little shelter where they sometimes have trail maps, I understand, although there are never any left when I pass through.  I was hoping to get a little more information on the Quarry Trail…

Anyway, the entrance to said path comes up shortly.  I would do this one last today, thinking that since it was supposed to rain later in the day, that I might have a chance to get to the top first and then have the leaves on the other 2 more densely foliated paths to help shelter me from the rain.  Such paths act as natural umbrellas for a time until the leaves become so saturated with water that it starts to drip off of them and the effect becomes lost.

Moving on, you’ll begin your climb in earnest.  This section can be a bit of a quad buster as it’s the most difficult (moderate +, I’d say).  You’ll know you’re almost done when you start to catch glimpses of the base of the rock ahead of you.

The first of 2 trail junctions for Sage Point comes into view once the trail levels out a bit, with the next one coming up shortly, and it’s between these that you’ll spot a little spring on your left.  The bridge you’ll cross will pass over the little creek it forms.  I should point out that it doesn’t appear to be a part of the recognized trail system, but that there’s a steep climb up that I’ve known some people take here.  I’ve not done it (in fact, it may be discouraged), but one time when I was out here at the top of the knob, I heard some voices from just below.  Turns out, it was some people who had climbed up this and were on another lookout point directly beneath me.

As you continue to wind your way around the mountain you’re certain to start noticing some interesting rock formations as well as some pretty amazing vistas around you.  These are pretty sweet, but wait until you see what’s waiting for you at the top.

Once you’ve curved around and leveled off at the top, there will be a rock formation directly in front of you.  One of the vistas is located above this, but there’s another (and in my opinion, a more expansive one), if you keep following the trail as it curves right and goes past the rocks.  Wait for it… 

Wait for it… 

BOOM!!!!  How about that! 

You’ve simply GOT to check out both vistas, too!  You’ve worked pretty hard to get up here.  Take a chance to fully enjoy it from as many different perspectives as you can get - and breathe in that wonderful air as you catch a possible pine scent from the trees along with that fall foliage smell!  This is absolutely one of my favorite spots in the state – and in the fall this is a perfectly stunning Halloween greeting card from Mother Nature!  How well must Mr. Geralds have been thought of for people to have named this amazing trail after him!


Believe me, you won’t want to leave here, but you’ll eventually have to head back home!  So, after about 15 minutes, when I heard the aforementioned couple behind me, I decided to move on.  I forgot to mention, too, that there’s a rock formation right here which forms a perfect seat to view all this.  It was here that I was honored to take a picture of this nice couple at their request.


I stopped at the other lookout point for a few more minutes before taking my leave, and then moved on to check out the Sage Point Trail.  I had explored this last year, and had lost the path at one point, but this year it was much better marked.  I had no problems.  As mentioned, this path sweeps out from the main trail in a wide arc, and it’s a fairly level compared to the path just taken.


The first section of this arc will take you on a very pleasant stroll through the woods, and it was here that I realized I’d forgotten something again - nothing to repel any unfriendly dogs I might come across.  I needed something…  Looking around I spotted an old downed tree.  It had been a young tree, possibly losing the battle with the other trees for adequate sunlight.  Breaking it off from the base, I found it to be the perfect height and shape, with a “V” at the top that I could hang my cap on if I didn’t need it.  What I’d also notice later was that it had a knot in the perfect position to wrap my thumb around and another to support the bottom of my pinky finger.  Absolutely perfect!  I hadn’t had a walking stick before - hadn’t really wanted one until now, but some things are just meant to be.  I have my walking stick!

You’ll eventually arrive on a gravel road.  Follow this as you form an “S”, going about – oh - 100 yards I’d say, and then look for the trail to branch off to the right over a small embankment (following the red rectangles – like the ones shown on the trees to the bottom right of the picture below). 

After another pleasant stroll you’ll pass through the first of 2 clearings formed from the process of making room for some power lines.  As you walk in this area you may notice that you’re trodding on a bed of moss which, if you look at it closely, has the appearance of 100’s of tiny little ferns!  Upon realizing this, I began to tread very carefully around these.

This, in fact, wasn’t the only interesting sight of moss that I would have today.  Not soon after, upon crossing a stream bed, I came across the sight in the picture below.  I hope someone can tell me more about what kinds of plants or mosses these are…

The last part of this hike might have been the most colorful, but most of my best pictures turned out blurred!  It might have been the darker skies and the more persistent rain at this point that brought out this color to a greater degree.

Anyway, by the time I got back to the main trail I no longer had my natural umbrella, and I was starting to get pretty wet, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave until I checked out the Millstone Quarry Trail.  Some friends and I had tried this trail over the summer, but we were a little unsure of ourselves and I’d forgotten my guide book.  I was determined to try and see the whole thing today.  Although I lost the path a couple times, it turned out to be OK.

When you get to the end of the “stem” on this “lollipop” loop, you’ll find an arrow on a post which directs you to the left.  This is because there’s a sequence of numbers on this circle which correspond to different points of significance.  During the pioneer days, I understand, they did a lot of quarry work out here.  The stones were quarried at this location, and then moved – via an old road – to points elsewhere.  I ran across 7 numbers, a couple of which must have been the actual quarry sites.  Others looked to correspond to the rocks of different shapes (one circular, while others were triangles or rectangles) that they must have left here.  Still others must have marked where the road used to be.  If I can garner more information about this I’ll update this page.

Upon emerging from this trail it was clearly time to head home.  The rain was just starting to really come down and, in fact, I saw a first flash of lightning just as I reached my car – no lie.  It’s was like: “James, I’ve waited for you long enough.  Get out of here so I can water my plants, please!”




I took I64 out of Lexington and then veered onto the Bert T. Combs Parkway.  At the Clay City exit for KY15 I turned off this and made an immediate right onto KY15 in a northbound direction.  After 3 miles I came to the turnoff.  Taking a right here will put you on Brush Creek Road, and you’ll follow this all the way to the end (about 1 ½ miles).  The trail begins at the back of the turnaround.  Please park way off to the side on weekdays though, as this is a bus turnaround.