Buffalo Trace Trail – Blue Licks Battlefield State Park

Who would drive 90 minutes for a 0.2 mile hike? Well I’m that guy. I was intrigued by two things; the opportunity to see an endangered species, Short’s Goldenrod, and to hike on a buffalo trace.

Buffalo traces were the paths that bison, as well as deer and elk, traveled on from one area to another, looking for new pasture or mineral licks. Kentucky had many of these licks and therefore a number of traces. Pioneers, and later highway departments, used these existing pathways for road development. In fact, much of Dixie Highway (US 25) was built on a buffalo trace that ran from Northern Kentucky toward Lexington.

The buffalo trace on this trail was basically an abused piece of landscape which reflected the millennia of herds of massive Bison using this route to migrate. There was exposed shale and limestone and virtually no soil due to years of erosion. Because of this, there were trip hazards.

The flora alongside the buffalo trace is what you would expect to find along any tortured piece of land in Kentucky, including Winged Sumac, Poison Ivy, Ironweed, Post Oak, and Sensitive Plant (see below).

But the prize siting of the day was indeed Short’s Goldenrod. While it is vertically challenged, like this hiker, the name arises from Charles Short, the botanist who first identified it at the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville, in 1840. It is only known to occur in 13 isolated colonies in 3 counties (Nicholas, Fleming, and Robertson) in Kentucky and a relatively recent report of one site in Indiana (see the Nature Conservancy link below). In fact, it appears that its rarity leads to it being omitted from wildflower field guides, or at least the several in my house. It typically flowers in September and October.

Heritage Trail

After lunch we opted to take the 2 mile Heritage Trail down to the Licking River. While it was not formally identified as such, parts of this trail may have also been a buffalo trace, with exposed shale and limestone, and leading to the historic mineral springs. Otherwise this 2 mile trail was somewhat typical for an outer Bluegrass location with gentle hills and some early stage reforestation. Notable flora and fauna included Queen Anne’s Lace, wild turkeys, Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly, Shagbark Hickory (nut), Honey Locust tree, and Ox-Eye Sunflower.

History Bonus

When we got to the end of the 0.2 mile Buffalo Trace trail there was this sign.

We were on hallowed ground. It turns out that the colonial pioneers used the buffalo trace to advance on the British/Native American forces in August of 1782 at what became known as the Battle of Blue Licks. It was a staggering defeat for the Americans/pioneers and according to reports took place after the end of the Revolutionary War, but before the Treaty of Versailles was signed. News traveled slowly. As the sign reads, Daniel Boone was a leader there, and in fact, his 25 year old son Israel was a casualty. It was surreal that we were there, on the very ground of the attack, 239 years later, almost to the day. I suspect that the hillside was a little more prairie than forest at the time of the battle.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Blue Licks Battlefield State Park is about 80 miles from Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati but much of the route is rural and took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to arrive.

Parking – abundant as this is a state park

Facilities – excellent. Lots of picnic tables, nice restrooms, and a restaurant on site.

Trail Condition – terrain is moderate with trip hazards.

Benches – none noted on the trails we were on.

Kids – would do well here. Lots of changing scenery and there is a fort mock up on the heritage trail.

Suggested Paired Hike – There were 3 other hikes in the park that we did not experience.


https://parks.ky.gov/carlisle/parks/historic/blue-licks-battlefield-state-resort-park https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/indiana/stories-in-indiana/shorts-goldenrod/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blue_Licks


    • There was much more history there than I related, since it was not the driver of the visit, but it was a pleasant surprise. The mass grave of the causalities certainly caught my attention.

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