By Guest Contributor Oliver Starks (@Os83)
Last year, I decided to hike a new trail within easy driving distance of Lexington. One of the first options I found on Google Maps was Jim Beam Nature Preserve, in Jessamine County just south of Nicholasville off of US 27. The preserve was established in 1995 to celebrate Beam's 200th anniversary, and the 115 wooded acres are cared for by the The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky. According to their website, they own 40 preserves and protect more than 45,000 acres within our commonwealth. There is only one trail on the property - a 1 mile, fairly easy loop that takes you to some impressive (albeit tree-obscured) views of the Kentucky River palisades, a series of series of steep, scenic gorges and limestone outcroppings that stretch for approximately 100 mi, along the Kentucky River.
If you are coming south from New Circle Road in Lexington, you'll be on US 27 for approximately 16.5 miles. When you see the Camp Nelson Heritage Park on your left, you're getting close. The next thing you'll see will be whiskey aging buildings on top of the hill to your right, and you turn right immediately afterward onto Hall Road.
Those distillery buildings, though adjacent to the Beam Preserve, are actually owned by Wild Turkey (based in Lawrenceburg, in Anderson County). Like virtually all barrel aging facilities, they are coated in Baudoinia compniacensis, a black fungus that has a preference for airborne alcohol.
You'll be on Hall Road for approximately 3/4 of a mile and pass two streets (Church and Bowles) on your right.
Your last turn is onto Payne Lane.
As you can see, Payne Lane is very narrow, but you get some spectacular views of the countryside to your left.
After about 300 yards, the road will curve to the right. Don't follow this curve - you will go straight ahead, between the fences on a gravel drive. You can see why I missed it the first time - snow was piled up in front of the access road, making it look like anything but a road. There are no signs at this spot.
Once parked, you'll see that there is a kiosk with a simple map of the preserve, and a sign-in station.
The beginning of the trail is the same regardless of which direction you choose to take for the loop.
Once you get back in the woods and reach the branching point, the quicker way to the overlook is to your left. But the entire trail is worth seeing, and sufficiently short, that I can't imagine wanting to take shortcuts. I started to the right, and tried to get a variety of plant close-ups on my way to and from the cliffs.
The views of the palisades are beautiful, but don't expect to get fantastic landscape photos with all the trees in your way. Even at the lookout point, you'll run into the same issue.
The whole trail was stunningly beautiful though, even in the dead of winter. I would love to come back in the spring or summer this year. Here are my photos from the trail:
I highly recommend that you explore this and all the other beautiful nature preserves Kentucky has to offer. Lastly, I urge you to support The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky's vital conservation efforts by making a donation if you have the means.