There are so many wonderful natural areas in Kentucky to explore and the Kentucky River Palisades offer wonderful views as well as great spots for a picnic and very cool geological features!  Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve is about thirty minutes from Lexington so it’s a great day trip for a great hike!

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. Due to fragile habitats and its inaccessibility, the Jessamine County tract is currently closed to the public due to access issues. A full brochure with a trail map of the area is at the bottom of this post.

From Nicholasville, follow Rt. 27 south for approximately nine miles. Immediately after crossing the Kentucky River into Garrard County, turn right into the Parking lot (marked with a brown Nature Preserve sign.
  • Features – 220-foot limestone palisade walls, rare plants, Kentucky River.
  • Hiking – Foot trail through the forest and to the river, two-mile loop; moderately difficult, with hills and steps. (Scroll to the bottom for the map)
  • Parking – eight cars
  • Hazards – Extremely high cliffs.
  • Activities – Hiking, nature study, birding, etc.
There is parking for around 8 – 10 cars. This is not a heavily trafficked area so parking is usually available.

The beginning of the trail is a bit of a climb but it is well maintained so there isn’t any climbing over large rocks or steep steps. Once you finish this small climb you come into a beautiful flat area with lots of trees and wide trails.

Wide trails at the start of the hike are great for all ability levels.

The trails are marked with a variety of colored bird blazes. There are yellow, red and blue each indicating a different section of trail. There are also nice trail signs that point you in the direction you would like to go. You can see all those trails on the map at the parking lot of the preserve.

There are very easy to spot trail markers all along the trails.

Each trail offers different scenery and they are all unique! You can see the 220 foot high palisades along the river from both the top trail areas and right along the riverbank. You can also travel through so many neat geologic features as you hike! We loved seeing the rock formations and the openings in the ground caused by years of weathering the limestone.

The view is beautiful looking out over the 220 foot high palisades.
The rock features all along the trail are amazing!

Some sections can be a bit more strenuous so be sure to check the trail you are on before heading out if you aren’t ready for some climbing. We saw lots of folks out running the trails as well so if you enjoy running in nature this is a great spot. You can also pack a picnic because there were great spots for sitting down to enjoy a meal and time in nature. See below for a full brochure and map of the area. Enjoy your hike!

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