Back Country Camping in Kentucky

Back Country Camping in Kentucky
With the Appalachian Mountains on the east, several of the nation's great rivers flowing through its west, and rolling Bluegrass country and caves in the middle, Kentucky offers plenty of activities for outdoors-lovers of all stripes. That includes backcountry camping with areas in the national parks, forests and recreation areas of eastern, western and central Kentucky. As all backcountry camping areas in Kentucky are on federal enclosures, all campers are required to adhere to "leave no trace" standards wherever they camp.

Beaver Creek Wilderness

Part of the Stearns District of Daniel Boone National Forest, Beaver Creek Wildnerness consists of 4,791 acres of south-central Kentucky, located 20 miles from Somerset and nestled between I-75 and U.S. 27. The wilderness was acquired by the national forest in 1937 and has been unihabitated since then, but this was not always the case. The abandoned 1900s-era Bauer Coal Mining settlement, the stonewalls of bygone farmers, and even the rock shelters of Native American hunters remain for the sharp-eyed hiker to find. There are few established hiking trails in the Beaver Creek Wilderness, and those that do exist are primitive. Instead, the backcountry is criss-crossed by disused mining and logging roads. As there are virtually no signs, orienteering skills or a good GPS unit are a necessity. Backcountry camping is permitted anywhere in the area, so long as the campsite is 300 feet from any road or stream and out of sight of any trail.

Beaver Creek Wilderness
Stearns District Office, Daniel Boone National Forest
3320 Hwy 27 N
Whitley City, KY 42653


Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap was the original gateway for frontiersmen and settlers to pass from the eastern seaboard to the lands of the west. The park has 85 miles of hiking trails, some of which lead deep into the Appalachian backcountry of the park. All backcountry campers must have a permit, available free of charge from the park's visitors center. Only a limited number of permits are handed out at any given time, however, and reservations are available up to three months in advance. The Appalachian forests of the Cumberland Gap are black bear country, so bear safety measures are necessary throughout any stay in the backcountry. Keep all food and cooking utensils in bear-safe containers, do not wear perfumes, and make plenty of noise on the trail to warn bears of your approach.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
PO Box 1848
Middlesboro, KY 40965

Land Between the Lakes

Land Between the Lakes, or LBL as it is known locally, is a national recreation area situated between the dam reservoirs of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and shared between the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. The backcountry of LBL is accessible either by hiking trails or by boat to the more than 300 miles of shoreline in the area. Campsites are permitted anywhere that is at least 200 yards from a paved road and is not a cemetery, picnic area, developed campground or inside the Environmental Education Area. A backcountry permit is required and is available at any LBL visitors center.

Land Between the Lakes
100 Van Morgan Drive
Cadiz, KY 42211-9000

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave has drawn tourists to its gargantuan cave system since the early 19th century, but the modern national park also offers backcountry camping. Two types of backcountry campsites are available at the park. The first are the designated campsites off the longer trails in the park, while the second are in the floodplains of the park's rivers and reached by boat. Campsites in the floodplains must be a half mile away from any ferry crossing or developed campground. A backcountry permit is required to camp in either type of campsite, and is available at the visitors center up to one hour prior to closing.

Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
P.O. Box 7
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259

Clifty Wilderness

Clifty Wilderness is a 12,646-acre enclosure inside the Red River Gorge, which in turn is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The gorge is most noted for its sandstone and limestone formations, such as its natural stone arches and striking cliffs. Backcountry camping in the wilderness is permitted and does not even require a permit, but it is subject to a number of regulations. Both campfires and campsites must stay at least 100 feet from cliffs and rock shelters, while campsites need to remain at least 600 feet away from Gray's Arch and 300 feet from any road or trail. Backcountry camping in parking lots, developed campgrounds or anywhere with a posted "no camping" sign is banned. While the wilderness has hiking trails, these trails are not signposted and therefore either orienteering skills or a GPS unit is required to hike there.

Gladie Learning Center
3451 Sky Bridge Road
Stanton, KY 40380


Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

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