Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hike 2011.055 -- Canal Loop Trails, Land Between the Lakes NRA, KY

Hiked Saturday, August 20. Hiking trails in the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) are scattered among three primary centers. In addition to the North-South trail that goes from end to end, there are clusters of trails near Fort Henry (south end of the park), near the Nature Station (Hematite and Honker Lakes, near the middle of the park), and near the canal that links Lake Barkley with Kentucky Lake (at the north end of the park). Today, I hiked the last of these areas, up in the northern section of the LBL. The flyer for the Canal Loop Trails is here.

The Canal Loop Trails can be easily accessed either from the North Entrance Station or from the parking area for the Canal Overlook. Both are along "The Trace," which runs north/south through the park. If coming from I-24, look for KY-453 and take that south. Alternatively, from KY-80/U.S. 68, exit at "The Trace" and head north. The North Entrance Station is either about six miles south of I-24 or about 19 miles north of KY-80/U.S. 68.

Either because it was nice weather on a Saturday morning, or because of the relative proximity of the great megalopolis of Paducah to the Canal Loop, this trail was far busier than the others I have walked on so far. It's also open to mountain bikers, and most of the people I encountered were mountain bikers (not surprising, given the relative speed of bikes versus hikers). Most were relatively well trained (meaning, they hollered or made braking noises well in advance, and warned their friends behind them of a hiker ahead; also, I usually heard them before they saw me).

The Canal Loop trails are marked somewhat similar to what I saw at Fort Henry, with color-coded blazes and numbered or lettered signs. However, on this trail, the letters or numbers were not always at the junction. Also, at least one junction was very well-hidden.

On the linked map, you can trace my route today: From the North Entrance Station, I headed west, on the "D" trail, then north, towards the "11" main Canal Loop Trail. I intended to turn east at the "C" trail, but it was not marked. Instead, I continued north, crossed a narrow paved road that I later deduced to be Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive), climbed somewhat, and found myself at the base of a very tall radio tower that a turkey vulture was considering landing on.

Just a bit later, I reached the next junction. Turning left, I saw a "B" instead of the "C" that I expected, and stopped to ponder my next step. Although continuing along the "B" trail would only have added another 1.7 miles for the day, I was planning to make a return trip to walk the northern section of the Canal Loop (just as I plan to make return trips to the far western and eastern sections of the Fort Henry trails).

Instead, I backtracked .7 miles, and kept my eyes peeled for the "C" trail. I went back up a hill, passed the radio tower, crossed the road, and came to a couple of small bridges. Just after the bridges (on the south side), was a very faint but unmarked trail, which was really just a slight break in the foliage. I paused for a moment, contemplated my choices, then slipped through the narrow opening. Not 50 yards later, a short wooden crossing was there. Across a meadow (actually, the tree cut for a power line right of way), the trail continued, and I saw a few yellow blazes. This assured me that this was an actual trail and not just a use trail.

This "C" trail eventually crosses "The Trace" just south of where Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive merges with The Trace. The view down The Trace from here is peaceful, just as it is along pretty much the entire drive.

It still amazes me as I crossed The Trace and went from one section of trail to another, how different trail heads are here in Kentucky. The foliage is so thick that you could easily drive right by this section of road (as I had earlier this morning) and not even known that a hiking trail crossed right here.

I made a right at the next junction, and had a few peeks at Lake Barkley on this section of trail. Apparently, when the water is higher, a whole lot of floatsam makes its way into these pockets, and there was quite a bit of junk scattered around here: bits of styrofoam from coolers, empty bottles of water, juice, and motor oil, shoes, rubber balls, you name it. Don't know how much of this is from boaters and how much just gets washed or blown into the lakes from the shore.

After the turn, it was 1.8 miles (according to the map) back to the Entrance Station. There were a few nice views of Barkley Lake, but the best viewing spot was occupied by an RV with a generator: Right near the shore, overlooking a bay, and having several large boats bobbing near by.

Total mileage for the day (including the 1.4 mile unintended detour) was 6.6 miles. Despite the relatively short distance and near-lack of topography, the humidity just seems to sap my energy. Of course I could have gone somewhat longer, but I was feeling I had gone far enough as it was.

Few flower along the way. I guess it's high summer, now. I had previously seen some thistle like on this trail. It seems softer than the thistle back home. The small, datura-like flower, was new to me.

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