At first step, Lick Creek isn’t an especially entertaining trail. But, after a short walk, the trail becomes one of the most elegant found anywhere in McCreary County.
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Lick Creek is a 6.3-mile, out-and-back trail that accesses several waterfalls and spectacular rock formations. It is well-trafficked and although it earns a moderate rating because of its overall length (it ties with Litton Farm Loop in the Big South Fork for the second-longest hike of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge, just behind Blue Heron Loop), it’s actually a fairly easy trek.
The Lick Creek trail is not a part of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail that runs much of the length of the national forest before eventually terminating at Burnt Mill Bridge in the BSF. But it is a connector to the 319-mile trail that begins much deeper in Kentucky. In fact, the connector between the Sheltowee Trace and Lick Creek Falls actually leads hikers to Princess Falls, which was a destination on the hiking challenge just a few weeks ago.
From the trailhead on Stearns Ranger Station Road — located just off Ky. Hwy. 1651 outside Whitley City — the trail begins a bit unspectacularly, following an old roadbed along the forested ridgetop. But, after a mile, the trail descends some 300 ft. into the Lick Creek gorge and completely transforms — going from uninspiring to spectacular. A series of metal staircases leads hikers into the gorge, where they walk behind and through several rock shelters and pass a wet-weather waterfall before reaching Lick Creek itself about 1.5 miles into the hike.
At 2.25 miles, the trail forks. Continuing straight will lead to Princess Falls and, eventually, the Big South Fork River at Yamacraw. Turning left leads us to our destination: Lick Creek Falls. It’s another half a mile or so to the waterfall, and the trail crosses the creek several times. The creek isn’t deep, but it’s a little wide in spots, so there is the potential for getting one’s feet wet.
The 78-ft. waterfall isn’t actually located on Lick Creek, but on the unnamed tributary that the trail follows for its final half mile after leaving the main Lick Creek trail. After arriving at the waterfall, hikers simply retrace their steps back to the trailhead.
Although it’s best hiked after plenty of rain, so that the waterfalls will be at full strength, the rock formations and the scenic hike along Lick Creek itself lend this trail a flair that makes it an enchanting hike for all seasons.
Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north from Oneida, into Kentucky. At the traffic light by Hometown Furniture, turn left onto W. Williamsburg Street, then turn left again onto Ky. Hwy. 1651 — which connects Whitley City to Stearns — and travel for about nine-tenths of a mile before turning right onto Ranger Road. The trailhead is located almost immediately on the left. It is a 25-minute drive from Oneida to the trailhead.
Be Careful For: The trail is muddy in places, particularly after a rainfall. There are several short steel staircases, as well as stream crossings.
Make It Better: Plan to have a picnic lunch on the sandy area by Lick Creek Falls. You can also make the hike better by continuing on along Lick Creek Trail to Princess Falls after you’ve explored Lick Creek Falls. Better still: plan ahead by parking a second vehicle at Yamacraw, and you can hike from Lick Creek Trailhead to Yamacraw Bridge. It’s a bit longer — about seven miles total — but almost all downhill!
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!