Sally Brown and Crutcher Nature Preserves – Lancaster, KY

A visit to the Kentucky River Palisades was penciled onto our schedule for this winter, awaiting the leaf fall to allow for better views of the river and valley. Online research suggested a visit to the combined 759 acre Sally Brown & Crutcher Preserves would give us a broad trail selection on these Nature Conservancy properties.

Frankly, I was so excited to be hiking the clifftop trails, I backslid into my pre-retirement hurried persona, which definitely took away from the experience.

The parking area for the combined preserves is at the very end of a single lane country road. There is good signage for a trailhead map but I only gave it cursory study. We headed out into a several acre meadow of native grasses and forbs, and descended down a somewhat steep hill on the edge of the field. I should of slowed down to check for some quail in this ideal habitat.

The trail transitioned into a young wood threaded with several spring fed streams, and then a medium age wood. Here we stopped to admire a cluster of fair sized Kentucky Coffee trees, something that you do not see very often.

The first 0.3 miles were the Sally Brown/Crutcher Trail, marked in red on the map and the trees. We then blended onto the Crutcher Trail, which was marked in black and gave the best promise of river valley vistas.

In my hastiness to get to the palisade cliffs above the river, I blew through a woods that was teeming with woodpeckers and nuthatches , not taking the time to really investigate who was present. Luckily the photographer was a little more patient than I was. (White-Breasted Nuthatch).

Unfortunately, with following the preserve rules of staying on the trail, the 0.6 mile Crutcher Trail only gave mediocre views of the Kentucky River and did not take you to the top of the limestone palisades. My haste was unrewarded.

At this point we entertained taking a shortcut back to the van and visiting another nearby preserve (Jim Beam Preserve or Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve), but instead, opted to take the full 0.9 mile yellow Crutcher Loop Trail that meandered through woods and field edges, and gave us some outstanding views of creek valleys.

It also gave us the best view of the Kentucky River which is shown in the title photo above.

Halfway through the Crutcher Loop Trail we faced another decision, whether to take the Creek Loop Trail diversion marked in green. After discussing the reference to “historic mill stones” noted to be along the trail, we added that route. This trail was more challenging, largely going up hill, and sometimes requiring walking on rocks in the creek bed with active water flow, a favorite childhood activity revisited.

Turns out that the mill stones were located in exactly the same place we were – the middle of a flowing creek.

The trail continued uphill, now on a slight grade above the creek, with the numerous small waterfalls providing an excellent background hum.

After completing the green Creek Loop Trail, we returned to the yellow Crutcher Loop Trail that worked through a young wood at the top of the hill and led to the pink Far Hill Loop Trail, which runs through a field in succession, where this Red Osier Dogwood, which is at the southern part of its range, caught my attention.

But even that somewhat rare siting was secondary to the view from the nearby formal overlook at the top of the hill.

Here the trail switchbacked down through a field that was full of the fluorescent pink berries of the native Callicarpa, which many are familiar with as a landscape plant.

This trail runs back into the red Sally Brown/Crutcher Trail which takes you back up the hill to the parking lot and gives you views of the picturesque neighboring Palisades Palominos Farm.

In summary, while the trails that we hiked did not offer views from the tops of the palisades, there were many other vistas and settings that made this hike worth the drive. The numerous trails intersect but there is no directional confusion as the individual trails are well identified with color markings on the trees. It is possible that the 2.9 mile white Sally Brown Trail which we did not hike might have allowed better river and valley views. The only down side to the experience was the near constant gunfire from the shooting range at the Bluegrass Sportsmen’s League, which is on a ridge across the Kentucky River from the preserve.

New Fern of the Day – Ebony Spleenwort. The characteristic features are the dark brown leaf stalk that gets almost black with age, and the alternating leaflet pattern along the stem (not opposite each other). Also, the roots are black.

And one last tribute to the bountiful springs located along these trails.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Location – 20 miles south of Lexington and about 2 hours from Cincinnati. I would recommend using the address 1596 Bowmans Bottom Road with your GPS. It is actually the address to the farm that is adjacent to the trailhead but will get you there.

Parking – Well maintained gravel lot.

Facilities – Porto-let in the parking area.

Trail Conditions – Overall condition is good. There are many springs in the preserve and sometimes one has to balance on rocks to cross them and keep your feet dry. All the trails we took were listed as easy, but all in all they were more challenging than that, especially the Creek Loop Trail. There was about 430 feet of altitude change over the course of the trail and upon return there is a steep hill back to the parking lot. Perhaps we need a 5 point rating system rather than the easy – moderate – difficult system. Most of these would have been a 2 and the Creek Loop closer to a 3. Either print a trail map out at home ( or take a photo of the map at the trailhead as there were no maps to pick up there. In retrospect, a counterclockwise route would have have been a better choice for photography and birding as the low winter sun to the southeast presented lighting and contrast issues.

Benches – Several noted over the course of this approximate 4 mile hike. Learn from my error, sit down and enjoy the environs.

Kids – Kids over six should do OK but may need a little help on the creek crossings.

Dogs – Prohibited.




Leave a Reply