The winding Kentucky River cuts a 400 foot deep gorge through the limestone of the Bluegrass region around Wilmore, KY. Towering cliffs line the outside of riverbends; bluffs and narrow landings line the inside of the bends. The palisades are well known for their scenic beauty and are home to a number of endangered species.
Asbury University’s Equine Farm (home to the Equine Center, Mission Farm and Challenge Course) has approximately a mile of cliffs along the river and a ravine which leads down to the river and provides access. There are over two miles of hiking trails available to students and the public.
The Trails and Nature Area include approximately 50 acres along the bluffs, including two ravines which lead to the river. There are over two miles of trails, with a variety of environments and difficulty. One trail follows a pioneer wagon road down to the river landing and ford. Originally the road crossed a ford in the river and continued on to Danville, KY. Historic, geologic and environmental features have been marked, and there is a self-guided trail brochure.
Go south from Wilmore on Hwy. 29. Turn right onto Shanty Hill Lane (0.4 mile past the Lowry Lane stop sign). There is a sharp corner 0.7 mile down the lane, the farm gate is right at the corner. Park in the area inside the gate.
8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
(Oct. – March 8 a.m. to sunset)
No overnight use
The trails are open to students and the public. Leashed pets are welcome. For more information call the Science Department office, 858-5230.
The Bluegrass area was originally an oak savanna (grassland with scattered clumps of fire resistant trees). Most of the old trees are gone and the prairie sod replaced with pasture grass, but the vista you see today is not that different from the original view. Along the edges of the woods in the Natural Area are some patches of Svendsen's wild rye, one of the original native grasses. Biologists are not sure if bluegrass was actually native to this area.
The bluffs along the river were always covered with forest. While there has been some logging, the woods on the Nature Preserve are a good representative of the native forest. Most areas support a mesophytic (medium moist) forest dominated by oak and ash trees along with a variety of wildflowers.
Some areas with thin soil and high exposure to wind support a drier ecosystem, dominated by cedar, ash and grass. The sheltered slopes of the ravines have a moist, cool ecosystem with trees such as maple and ironwood. The woods along the river are dominated by basswood and sycamore. The cliffs also have a unique ecosystem and a number of rare species. The trails allow you to visit all of these environments within a short period of time.
The meadows on the Asbury farm are in fact abandoned farm fields. The South Meadow is in the process of reverting back to woods.
The bluffs are also home to a colony of feral goats, which are hard on "rare species" but fun to spot.
The Palisades area owes its unique character to two forces, geologic uplift and the cutting action of the Kentucky River.
The winding (serpentine) course of the river tells us that many years ago it was a slow river on a flat plain. About 10 million years ago eastern North America experienced a broad uplift, forming the Allegheny Plateau and rejuvenating the worn down Appalachian Mountains. The uplift in this area was about 400 ft. (the distance from the bluffs to the river). The "flatness" of the plateau can be nicely viewed from the North Meadow.
The river has now finished cutting down to its base level and is beginning to widen its valley. The river cuts on the outside of bends, forming cliffs. On the inside of bends floods deposit silt forming landings; Ward's Landing is across the river from the farm. The ravines on the farm have formed a small gravel delta where they enter the river. This delta deflects the current, allowing a landing to also develop on this side of the river. The combination of two landings and a gravel bar made an ideal spot for a ford across the river.
The cliffs are made of limestone, laid down in shallow seas during the Ordovician time period (460 million yr. ago). The rock at the bottom of the valley is the oldest exposed stone in Kentucky. The rock strata show a variety fossils and forms, including cross bedded stone.
A series of small faults runs through the Natural Area and are nicely exposed along the Pump Station Road.
A) Hillside Trail
1/2 mile. Elevation gain/loss 60 ft.
Follows the bluff through woods, across a ravine, and ends in a meadow.
Nice views of the valley. You may return via the service lane and gravel road.
B) Old Stage Road
3/4 mile. Elevation gain/loss 350 ft. Slippery when wet.
Follows a ravine from the bluff down to the river.
C) Great Wall Trail
1/4 mile. Elevation gain/loss 80 ft. Some steep places.
Follows base of the cliff along the river. Striking rock formations. Please stay on trail.
D) Pump Station Road
3/4 mile. Elevation gain/loss 350 ft.