Nothing says have a safe and good time like outstanding trail signage. That is especially true in the late fall and early winter when the trails are frequently covered by fallen leaves. Bernheim Forest and Arboretum does a great job with both their trailhead signs and their printed maps.
We selected to pair the Guerilla Hollow Trail with our Forest Giants Trail hike (https://footpathsblog.com/2021/12/06/forest-giants-trail-bernheim-forest-clermont-ky/) because it was noted to go through one of the more mature woods on the 16,000 acre facility and the 1.2 miles supplemented nicely the previous 2.1 miles of the Forest Giants Trail. That said, this was not an old growth woods. When Isaac Wolfe Bernheim donated the property in 1929, the land was quite abused due to the mining of iron ore, and nearly devoid of trees. The beauty of the place is a testament to the implementation of his vision.
The trail starts at the mouth of Guerilla Hollow, which is named in historic reference to the Civil War confederate guerillas who used this remote area as a base camp; and then climbs up a hill making up the eastern side of the basin.
We were surprised when we came upon this 9 foot fence with a weighted gate as we headed up the grade. Bernheim staff report that it is to keep deer out of the Arboretum that lies in the valley below.
The Guerilla Trail starts at about 550 feet above sea level and ascends somewhat quickly to its peak of 750. The overall altitude change is not alarming but was somewhat challenging due to the slope and the fact that leaves covered the trail and the trip hazards of roots and surface rocks. It weaves through a mix of hardwoods whose most obvious characteristic was a great number of young American Beech trees, holding on to their persistent leaves.
The interesting thing was that the momma beach was nowhere to been seen in the immediate environs.
As we reached the crest of the hill, the understory changed. The young Beeches were less numerous and the forest floor was largely a confluent grassland. The trees were also smaller, suggesting that perhaps the soil here is thinner, much like it is at the nearby Pine Creek Barrens Preserve (https://footpathsblog.com/2021/09/13/pine-creek-barrens-nature-preserve/).
This was a very relaxing part of the hike, a stroll through a wooded grassland with views to the surrounding hills.
At the end of the ridge the trail heads north into Cull Hollow and the forest, especially the forest floor, changed significantly. The descent, like the ascent, was somewhat challenging due to leaves covering trip hazards and the steeper slope. Here we saw several American Hollies, a somewhat less common tree in our largely deciduous woods.
Bordering the creek at the base of this valley, the trees were larger and consisted of White Oak, Chinkapin Oak, Tulip-poplar, and some massive American Beeches. Because we were walking west along a north facing slope, which gets less direct sunlight, there were ferns, more moss and minimal grasses.
In addition, there were more prominent surface rocks and exposed limestone.
The trees along the creek bed were towering including this twin Tulip-poplar.
I was glad that I had the opportunity to utilize my new fern field guide (Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky, by Thomas Barnes and S. Wilson Francis). The dark brown wiry stalk and arcing shape identify this as Maidenhair Fern.
At this point the trail meets back up with the fence and gate and it is just a quick descent to the parking area.
While on this hike we were passed twice by a couple, once each direction. Our pace is slower due to the photography and plant identification. When we got to the fence near the end we came upon them for a third time. They were somewhat perplexed and unsure where they were and how to get out, stating that they did not go through the fence on the way in on their hike. It turns out that they had started hiking on the Cull Hollow Trail one ridge over and somehow, probably due to leaf cover, got off their trail and ended up on the wrong ridge. They had been to Bernheim before and seemed confident in their skills, but did not have a map, and on this day, given the dropping temperatures and trail conditions, that could have been a costly mistake. Luckily, I had found an extra map on our earlier hike that someone had dropped and gave it to them. The four of us exited to the trailhead and there, utilizing the trailhead and paper maps, we could pin point where they had parked, again a hollow over, and they were able to get back to their car.
In most facilities, especially one this size, and certainly in the late fall or winter, a map is a must. If nothing else, take a photo of the map at the trailhead for guidance.
Plant of the Day:
Christmas Fern is endemic to all states east of the Rockies with the exception of the Dakotas. It prefers moist shady locations and that explains us finding it here. It gets it name because it is evergreen and pretty during the holiday season. One of the characteristics that helps identify it is that each leaflet has a lobe at its base, such that it resembles a boot or Christmas stocking.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 20 miles south of Louisville and about 2 hours from Cincinnati.
Parking – Asphalt pull off on Guerilla Hollow Road within Bernheim.
Facilities – Indoors at Education Center and outdoors throughout campus.
Trail Conditions – Overall condition is good but more challenging this time of year by the leaves blanketing the trail. In my opinion, the trail would benefit from more liberal use of the yellow paint markings on some trees.
Benches – None noted on this trail.
Kids – Kids over eight should do OK. The grade on the ascent and descent would be challenging for shorter legs.
Dogs – Welcomed in outdoor areas while on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There are numerous hikes within Bernheim Forest, ranging from 0.25 mile to almost 14 miles, with ratings from easy to difficult. Their website has excellent descriptions.