Daniel Boone National Forest by Chuck Sutherland
Rockcastle watershed

Daniel Boone National Forest

National Park/Park


3320 US 27 North, Whitley City, KY 42653



The Daniel Boone National Forest is one of Kentucky’s true gems. Encompassing over half a million acres in eastern Kentucky, this expansive acreage comes with abundant opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. 

The forest’s expansive trail network, sandstone arch features, stunning cliffs, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes draw more than 1 million visitors annually. Within the forest’s territories lie 4 rivers, 3 lakes, waterfalls and wetlands, 2 designated wilderness areas, and 5 wildlife management areas. Visitors are invited to explore this scenery and take advantage of the forest’s features by hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, swimming, and more. 

With 635,000 acres to explore and countless ways to do it, the possibilities for outdoor adventure seem endless at Daniel Boone National Forest. Read about some of the highlights below.


The national forest offers camping and cabin rental options for those looking to make their trip a multi-day adventure. 


Looking for a camping experience? Daniel Boone National Forest hosts many campgrounds, dispersed camping, and group camping options. The forest has over 20 campgrounds throughout its acreage, each unique its location and variety of amenities offered. Several of these campgrounds host group camping options. All campground accommodate tents, while a select few have sites for RVs. Check the forest’s website to find the perfect campground for your stay. 

Those looking to engage in a more solitary camping experience can check out the park’s 5 designated areas for dispersed (or primitive) camping. These areas have no bath area, running water, or trash services. 


Those looking for a roof over their heads during their stay at the national forest can choose to rent a modest cabin at Zilpo Campground, near the park’s Cave Run Lake. Several nearby Kentucky State Parks also offer cabin rentals. 

Trail Use

Daniel Boone National Forest is home to an expansive trail network. The forest hosts over 600 miles of trails that visitors can explore by foot, bike, horseback, or ATV. Trails range in levels of difficulty, terrain, and length; almost anyone can find a trail suitable for their desires.


There are abundant hiking opportunities through the national forest’s trail network. Trails take visitors up mountains, through forests, over wetlands, and past the park’s most prominent features. Exploring the forest by foot offers a rewarding experience for hikers to see the unique cliffs, arches, and other geological formations. Trails can be categorized into 5 distinct areas throughout the forest.

Day hike and overnight backpacking hiking options exist at the forest. A detailed list, along with descriptions, of the hundreds of trail variations can be found on the national forest’s website. 


Those looking to explore the forest’s trail system on their bicycle can do so on a variety of trails. Mountain bikers will find an abundance of challenging terrain to test their skills. Many mountain bike trails were designed as hiking trails, and therefore are multi-use and can be extremely steep and challenging to navigate at times.

Road cyclers will find themselves in a biker’s paradise, with more than 900 miles of road within the forest. Many of the trails are gravel or dirt, and take bikers through the forest and along rivers and lakes. 

Trail lists and detailed descriptors can be found on the national forest’s website. 

Horseback Riding

Daniel Boone National Forest lives up to Kentucky’s reputation for horses with its outstanding opportunities for horseback riding. Equestrians can ride their horses on hundreds of miles of trails, many of which are multi-use for hiking, biking, and off-road vehicles. 


The National Forest offers 150 miles available for visitors to explore the forest’s sights by all-terrain vehicle. The Redbird Crest and White Sulphur Trails are the two official designated ATV trails in the forest and require a fee pass to ride on. Other trails are multi-use and shared by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. 

ATV trail use is a popular option for hunters in the forest. Shorter designated ATV trails provide access to hunting areas. 

Be sure to look at the motor use vehicle map, which can be found on the national forest’s website, to ensure ATV use is permitted on the trails you desire to explore.

Water Recreation 

Daniel Boone National Forest’s many rivers, waterfalls, and lakes make for many water recreation opportunities for visitors to engage in during the hot months of Kentucky summer. Swimming, boating, fishing, and SCUBA diving are all permissible and popular activities that visitors can take part in.


Avid boaters can take advantage of the abundance of waterways in the national forest on both motorized and non-motorized boats.

More than 30 boat access areas and marinas give motorized boating access to the forest’s popular lakes. Cave Run Lake and Laurel Lake stand out as bodies of water that offer exceptional boating opportunities for those looking to spend a relaxing day on the water.

These lakes are also popular destinations for boaters in non-motorized boats. Aside from the forest’s lakes, its many rivers offer opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. The rivers offer both relaxing and thrilling paddling opportunities; visitors can choose for an easy trip downstream or test their skills on rapids. Be sure that you are prepared and research the section of river on which you wish to paddle before launching to ensure the safest, most rewarding experience. 


Looking to cast a line or two during your trip to the forest? You’re in luck. Daniel Boone National Forest offers premier lake, pond, river, and stream fishing from shady banks and boats. Fishers can expect trout, bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish catch, among others. Check the website for more details on designated fishing locations and instructions for obtaining a KY Fishing Permit before your visit.


After a day on the trails or exploring the forest’s famous natural features, be sure to take a break and cool off in one of the designated swimming areas. 

Cave Run Lake offers swimming and beach-going from the Zilpo and Twin Knobs campgrounds. Laurel River Lake has a designated swimming river near the dam spillway. 

In addition to lake swimming, hot hikers can cool off in most rivers and waterways along the forest’s trails. Be sure to exert caution when swimming in running water and be aware of any posted signs prohibiting swimmers in certain areas. 

Notable Forest Areas

While one can find an abundance of activities and attractions in any area of the forest, a few particular areas are of particular notability for their unique offerings. Read more about them below.

Red River Gorge Geological Area

The Red River Gorge Area is one of the park’s most popular destinations. The area is designated as a National Geologic Area and attracts thousands of visitors a year to view its unique geological formations. The area features impressive sandstone arches, dramatic cliffs, and the scenic Red River. 

Visitors can find awe-striking views from the Sky Bridge Trail, a one mile loop that showcases some of the area’s most dramatic features. Those looking for a waterfall hike on a less-traveled route can embark on the Rock Bridge Trail, a 1.4 moderate trail. 

Natural Arch Scenic Area

Daniel Boone National Forest has the most natural arch formations of any place in the eastern US. There are 13 arches to explore throughout the park that can be found by hiking, biking, or ATV riding. 

Perhaps the most famous of these arches is Natural Arch. Located in the Natural Arch Scenic Area, this 100 foot long sandstone arch stands out as a spectacular feature. The scenic area offers multiple trails for visitors to get close-up views of the arch. There is also an overlook which provides panoramic views of the formation. The area has picnic spots, playgrounds, trails, and an amphitheater for visitors to explore once they’ve taken in the spectacular sight of the arch.

Beaver Creek Wilderness

Those looking for a rugged experience within the forest can look no further than the Beaver Creek Wilderness area. This nearly 5,000 acre area offers the same spectacular features as other places in the forest- sandstone arches, majestic cliffs, streams and waterfalls- without as many people. No motorized vehicles or equipment is allowed within the area. Rugged terrain, limited signage, and strenuous hikes characterize the wilderness area. Be prepared for an immersive, limited-contact experience if you choose to embark on a trip in the Beaver Creek Wilderness. 


There are many more destinations, attractions, and activities to explore within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Visit the forest’s website to learn more about the extensive recreation options available and detailed information on trails, activities, accommodations, and access points.

MORE PLACES in this watershed