The Twenty Week Hiking Challenge has increased in difficulty quite notably in recent weeks, with hikes including Honey Creek Loop, Blue Heron Loop, Angel Falls Overlook and the Devil’s Racetrack — all of which were strenuous and tiring.
This week’s hike is a significant step backward. In fact, it’s a leisurely stroll in the woods compared to the recent hikes.
The destination is Princess Falls, located on the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
The out-and-back hike is just a little over a mile in either direction. And, with 95 feet of elevation gain, it is the most level hike of the entire hiking challenge.
Whether it’s the easiest hike of the 20-week challenge depends on whether it has recently rained. If it has, the trail to Princess Falls will be somewhat muddy — moreso in some places than others. The payoff for the mud, though, is that significant rain will have the waterfall flowing at a good rate. If it hasn’t recently rained, the trail to Princess Falls will be mostly dry.
Either way, it’s one of the easiest hikes of the challenge, and a scenic, fun hike that leads to a picturesque waterfall.
Princess Falls is formed by a rock ledge along Lick Creek not far from the Big South Fork River, creating a curtain of water that drops 20 feet to a pool below.
Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail has a northern terminus deep in Kentucky, and a southern terminus right here in Scott County, at Burnt Mill Bridge near Robbins in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
The segment of the Sheltowee Trace that is the subject of this week’s hike begins on Ky. Hwy. 92 at Yamacraw, on the edge of the Big South Fork, and treks a short distance into the Daniel Boone National Forest.
For more than half a mile, the trail parallels the river, passing several smaller waterfalls. Officially, this is Sheltowee Trace #100. Eventually, the trail reaches a wooden foot bridge that crosses Lick Creek. Instead of crossing the bridge, hikers should turn right and continue east along Lick Creek Trail #631, which reaches Princess Falls in about a quarter of a mile.
The Sheltowee Trace is named for Daniel Boone, the notable American explorer who lends his namesake to the expansive national forest that covers much of eastern Kentucky. Sheltowee was the name given to Boone by the Shawnee Tribe after he was adopted by Chief Blackfish. Sheltowee means “Big Turtle.”
Boone, who blazed the route through the Cumberland Gap that was taken by 200,000 Americans as they moved west from North Carolina into Kentucky and Tennessee, was not actually friendly with the Shawnee Indians of Kentucky. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was captured by members of the tribe while on a trapping expedition in 1769. Later, his oldest son James was brutally tortured and killed by Shawnee warriors in a massacre in Powell Valley, not far north from Claiborne County.
Boone later battled the Shawnee during Dunmore’s War in 1774 and during the Revolutionary War. In 1776, the Shawnee captured Boone’s daughter, Jemima, and two other teenage girls. Boone pursued the party and rescued the girls in an episode made famous by the fictitious account, The Last of the Mohicans.
In April 1777, Boone was wounded during a Shawnee raid on Boonesborough that was led by Chief Blackfish.
The following winter, Boone led an expedition of men to find salt for food preservation and was taken captive by the Shawnee. He helped convinced his comrades to surrender rather than put up a fight, and convinced the Shawnee not to attack Boonesborough, saying the women and children who were encamped there would be ready to surrender by the spring.
That’s how Boone came to be “adopted” by the Shawnee. It was a custom of the tribe to adopt prisoners to replace fallen warriors. Though Boone was said to have lived happily with the Shawnee for several months, he escaped in June 1778 when he learned that the warriors were planning to attack Boonesborough. He made it back to the fort in five days to warn the settlers about the pending attack, and helped the whites defend the encampment against Blackfish’s warriors during a 10-day siege.
Following the battle, Boone was court-martialed because it was believed that he had switched his loyalty. But he was acquitted, and his court testimony helped make him a legend.
Still later, Boone’s brother was attacked and killed by Shawnee warriors. Believing they had killed Daniel Boone, they beheaded his brother and carried his head away as a souvenir.
Princess Falls at Lick Creek is named for Princess Cornblossom, the legendary — and, some say, mythical — Cherokee war princess.
As legend tells it, Princess Cornblossom was born in 1765, the daughter of Chief Doublehead, or Chuqualataque, of the Cumberland Cherokees. She married Big Jake Troxel, a trader from Wayne County, Ky. The Troxels had seven children, but died in the Yahoo Falls massacre of 1810 — a completely different legend that tells the story of defenseless Cherokees, mainly women and children, being murdered by Indian hunters under the direction of John Sevier.
One of the daughters of Big Jake and Cornblossom was Catherine “Katy” Troxel, the first wife of Jonathan Blevins — who established the farmstead that is today known as Charit Creek Lodge in the Big South Fork.
Before the internet made genealogy research easier, the legend of Princess Cornblossom was generally accepted. However, as Troxel descendants researched their family and exchanged notes via the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they began to doubt that the validity of the legend.
Today, both the Yahoo Falls massacre and the very existence of Princess Cornblossom are doubted by historians.
Genealogy experts say it’s unlikely that Cornblossom existed because there’s no evidence to support the claim, and Cherokee women did not bear the title of princess; there was no royalty in the Cherokee tribe. Jacob Troxell, they say, likely did not marry an Indian woman.
The legends of Princess Cornblossom and the Yahoo Falls massacre began with a 1958 book written by a Troxel descendant. That book was the first documentation of Cornblossom.
In fact, some genealogy websites list Katy Troxel — wife of Big South Fork settler Jonathan Blevins — as being the daughter of Jacob Troxel but do not list her mother’s name. Those genealogists say that Troxel’s wife — Katy Troxel’s mother — was unknown.
Nevertheless, Princess Falls is a beautiful waterfall, and the trail getting there is quite scenic.
Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north to near Whitley City. Turn left onto Ky. Hwy. 92 and continue about 6.3 miles to the Big South Fork River. Just before the Yamacraw Bridge, there is a parking lot and trailhead. The Sheltowee Trace departs the highway on its north side.
Be Careful For: The trail is muddy in places, particularly after a rainfall. If exploring around Princess Falls, be careful for slippery rocks.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to email@example.com, along with the names of all members of your hiking party, in order to log your miles.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you pack it in, please pack it out!