Black Squirrel Trail – Highland Cemetery, Fort Mitchell, KY

We awoke on Martin Luther King Day to our first accumulated snow of the season. We had about 2 inches of snow, but it was paired with a 25 degree temp that afternoon and 15 mile per hour wind gusts. With an element of trepidation we bundled up and headed to Highland Cemetery’s nature trails, where the trailhead, as the crow flies, is only about a long par four from our back porch.

Highland Cemetery, which was established in 1869, is a Northern Kentucky institution and hosts grave monuments of some of the region’s historic individuals and families. It has a great diversity of well cared for and aged trees and has consistently embraced its role as green space in the community. About 30 years ago the cemetery began to establish 4 miles of hiking trails on the 150 acres of undeveloped hillside along the northern and eastern aspects of the property.

In total there are 13 identified trails ranging from 0.03 to 1.19 miles, with most of these arising off the Black Squirrel trail, which was the trail we selected for our snowy hike.

I had been on the trails several times in the past but not recently. I had forgotten about the hilly grade, and the descent at the outset of the hike became a bit of a thrill ride, especially for the photographer who was toting her Nikon digital, and appropriately coddling it like a baby.

The trail crossed the running creek seen in the photo above and headed up some well placed but challenging ice and snow covered stone steps. Much to our surprise, boot prints told us that there were already numerous hikers out ahead of us.

For the most part the trail leveled out and the footing was less threatening. The highway noise faded as we were well into the valley and the sounds of the running streams helped dampen the remaining ambient noise.

As we continued on the trail we came upon a series of unexpected and thought provoking poems, quotes, and tributes: Sometimes on trailside benches, sometimes mounted on trees.

It was not till after we had completed the hike and were contemplating a theme to this essay that it struck us: How appropriate to experience these inspiring passages on the very reflective Martin Luther King Day. An impactful life well lived, but tragically cut short way too early.

27,676 Martin Luther King Jr. Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty  Images

As we had hoped, the timing of the hike did allow for some beautiful scenes of the interplay between the snow and flora along the trail (American Beech, invasive Privet)

One advantage of wintertime hiking is that you get the opportunity to see things that you might have missed at other times of the year, like this large paper wasp nest, which also is topped with snow, and surprisingly, in a healthy ash tree. It is perhaps a Blue Ash tree as they have an 80-90% survival rate with Emerald Ash Borer, and there are others in the formal part of the cemetery.

To close out the recap of this challenging, frigid, interesting and reflective hike, we can add another adjective: Informative. As a long term Fort Mitchell resident I was aware of the unique black squirrels in the area but I did not know the entire story that was outlined on this plaque.

In summary, first, a shout out to Highland Cemetery and their nature trail volunteer Gayle Pille. Their level of commitment is obvious as evidenced by the outstanding trail signage, numerous benches, overall trail condition, and nuggets of education and inspiration they offer. It is advantageous to have this kind of facility close to home when you need a short dose of nature to right your world, unwind, and exercise. While the individual trails are on the shorter side, many of the them could be completed serially to extend a hike. The woods is a mid-age mixed wood with a surprising number of buckeye trees and many sugar maples. In addition there are some old white oaks and many young beeches. Per the trail literature it has outstanding spring ephemeral wildflowers.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns except for the MLK photo.


Location – Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, on Dixie Highway, just south of I-75. When you enter the cemetery pass the office and overseer’s house and stay to the right. You will pass two metal work buildings and then a road will branch off downhill with a pond on the right. Take that road and go up over the small ridge. Eventually parking will be seen on the left. There are maps at the trailhead.

Parking – Asphalt lot for 6-7 cars at trailhead.

Facilities – None

Trail Condition – Moderately difficult trail with a descent to begin the trail and moderate climb at the terminus out of the woods. The creek is crossed two times. The trails are well marked.

Benches – Numerous

Kids – Kids 5 and over should do well here

Dogs – Welcomed but only on the nature trails, with or without a leash. Not in the cemetery itself.



  1. Pat, great writing and thanks so much for this. Looking very forward to reading more of your blog. And loved the article on Red Cedars, a favorite tree. And check out the Rock Garden Trail at Natural Bridge mid-April. You won’t believe the wildflowers. Hike on!

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