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May 21, 2008   

Rockcastle-Cumberland Junction Loop as per "Hiking Kentucky" Falcon Guide  

   

Today I decided to try a trail I hadn’t hiked before.  There are a lot of them in this general area but I felt like doing a day hike and this looked about right.  It turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected though due to some missed confluences and some deadfalls which blocked the trail in some spots.  In fact, while driving in I think I would have missed the trailhead itself if there hadn’t been another car stopped there (see directions below).

The trail is called Ned’s Branch (trail #405) and I had probably gone ½ mile or so when I came to my first problem.  The trail just seemed to end and I looked around for a while to see where I might have gone wrong.  I knew it couldn’t possibly have ended so soon because I had the trail book with me.  Frustrated, I eventually decided to head back and, having done so, I ended up finding the trail again a about a hundred yards down.   

The descent here is a pleasant one with a dense feel to the forest.  The canopy isn’t extremely dense but it feels like it with rock outcrops and little steams which sometimes trickle over them.  This leads to the area being something of a fern and moss haven.  There were also quite a few rhododendron thickets and more than a few new blooms which I took some pictures of.  Spring is such an awesome time of renewal!   

Further down I came to my second quandary.  There right in front of me was a cluster of downed trees.  The cluster came in 3 series.  Upon crossing a first series there was a second which effectively formed a fence of 3 large trees - one right on top of the other.  It completely blocked the trail and I had to actually climb this fence to continue.  Once passing the third series I was on my way again.

 

Soon after this came the convergence with the Lakeside North Trail, and at this point I got confused again.  You’ve really got to be on your toes on this trail!  It seems to peter out quite a bit and you have to really be alert to find your way.  The markings are kind of sparse too and a little confusing – especially at this particular point. 

You’re supposed to follow Ned’s Branch Trail, but it’s not readily apparent which way to go (at least it wasn’t to me).  Having come to a rock outcrop I went left, crossed a little stream, and the trail was gone.  I went back to the outcrop, went right and that was the correct way.   

You’ll soon catch views of the Rockcastle River and will presently find yourself on a paved road.  You've reached the loop at the end of the Rockcastle Campground.  This campground looks pretty nice and, according to the Falcon Guide it has 24 campsites with drinking water.  There are also restrooms here.  You’ll follow this road a little while and once you see a sign for Scuttlehole Trail (#404) on your left, you can follow this if you like up to an overlook. 

As you can image it’s a fairly steep climb to the overlook, and at one point a steep set of wooden steps takes you straight up a cliff face.  Once at the top the trail kind of meanders around and there’s a series of stone and wood fences which, in themselves, are nice to look at.  They offer great views of the Rockcastle River confluence with the Cumberland River. 

It was quite amazing the difference between what the river looked like in the Falcon Guide picture and what it looks like now with all the work being done on the dam.  The river is supposedly 1/3 lower than normal or something like that but it looks more like ½ here.

After taking quite a while to enjoy the view, I returned down to the road at the campground as the guide directed.  You could make the trip shorter if you wanted by continuing on Scuttlehole Trail until it ends back at KY3497 (the road you'll come in on).  Once there you can take take a left on the road and follow it back to your car (assuming you parked where I did).   

Today I hiked back down to the camp's road and took a left.  I followed it past a large parking lot with a boat ramp and continued on past the London Dock Marina which was down a hill near the confluence of the rivers.  The road then turned into KY3497 and I followed this for about ¼ mile I’d guess.  There’s supposed to be a sign for the trail.  The signpost itself was there but there was no sign on it! .

This is Lakeside South Trail (#412) and it descends to the bank of the Cumberland.  Right after the entrance though there was another large deadfall which went over the trail.  You’ll want to be careful here if it hasn’t been cleared.  It’s a fairly steep fall down if you lose your footing. 

This trail takes you in a semicircle which follows the banks of the river and crosses several streams which empty into it.  Many of these are disappointingly trash strewn, however.   

In a couple miles or so you’ll come to Clark’s Bottom which, according to the guide, is a private summer community which has a few cabins.  It also has its own road which heads down toward the river.  I was tempted to go down, but at certain point on these hikes (generally after several miles) my knee joint area begins to act up.  That's the point when I know I should probably get to the business of getting back directly.   

Anyway, a couple miles further you'll come to the Twin Branch Shelter, a 3 sided structure for backpackers.  It looked to have an outhouse as well.  After this, the trail curves back up to the road again (becoming Twin Branch Trail at some point along the way) but not before you come to a really pleasant spot with a little trickling waterfall.  Even though I was getting pretty tired here, I did stop for a while to enjoy the sights and sounds of this spot.

The last part of the trail is an ascent back up to the road and you’ll emerge from the trail on the other side of the road from you car – almost directly across.  The car that was there when I arrived was gone.  Considering the state of the trail and the lack of footprint evidence, it seemed to me that we might have been the only hikers to have explored the trail so far this year.  This was quite a nice lttile adventure!

DIRECTIONS:   

Take exit 38 of I75 and turn right at the end of the ramp onto KY192.  Then turn left at the fork about 15 miles down onto KY1193.  Shortly after that curve right on KY3497 and about 4 miles down you’ll see an unpaved spot in a grassy/meadow area before it gives way to the woods.  Be on a sharp lookout though for the sign.