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Author Topic: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed  (Read 1707 times)

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KYhiker40

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Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« on: December 06, 2016, 06:35:58 AM »

I'm working to plan my next trip, looking at mid January.  I've never been to the Rockcastle Narrows area and I recall many people here suggesting this as a can't miss hike. 

I can do 2 or 3 full days for planning purposes and I'm open to car camping and day hiking or backpacking, either way works for me just fine.  So, help me make sure I don't miss the can't miss sections in this area. 

Is the Rockcastle Narrows East loop with Van Hook Falls the premier hike here? 
Is Rockcastle Narrows Trail 503 also a great hike?  If so, is it worthy of car camping and doing each of these as a day hike?  Or would a 1 night 6 mile backpacking loop on Narrows East be the thing to do?

For that matter, is there an easy river crossing to connect the 2 trails and a make a 2 night loop?

Any input appreciated. 

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laurelwanderer

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2016, 07:01:41 AM »

You can cross a nice walking bridge over the river at Bee Rock campground. If you do the east trail from the campground you will have to cross Cane Creek without a bridge so the water level could be a factor. Access to the east trail can be from the campground, Vanhook Falls Trail (Sheltowee) or Forest Road 119.  The Bee Rock loop on the Pulaski side is also nice especially if it's been raining. There are some seasonal waterfalls and interesting geological features if your willing to leave the trail.
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Mark W

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2016, 12:38:17 PM »

I'm working to plan my next trip, looking at mid January.  I've never been to the Rockcastle Narrows area and I recall many people here suggesting this as a can't miss hike. 

Is the Rockcastle Narrows East loop with Van Hook Falls the premier hike here? 
 . . .  Or would a 1 night 6 mile backpacking loop on Narrows East be the thing to do?

Parking at the Sheltowee Trace trailhead at the junction of KY-192 and KY-1193 and doing the approximately 10 mile partial loop as a backpacking trip (1 night if you stick to the trail, 2 nights if you decided to do some off-trail exploration along the way) is without a doubt one of the best backpacking loops in Kentucky. You take the Sheltowee Trace for around 2.5 miles to Van Hook Falls, then shortly after that you start the 6 mile Rockcastle Narrows East Loop, then you backtrack the 2.5 miles to the parking lot.

There is a really nice campsite (but a bit hard to see from the trail) right beside the Narrows. Listening to the rapids while sitting around a campfire is pretty perfect. You can also scramble (carefully) onto the riverside boulders for a good view of the stars and/or moonlit rapids.



There are several nice campsites that pop up after about the first mile or so of trail, and then another one near where the ST traces a small tributary of Pounder Branch about two miles in (in case you get a late start). Other than those, I've found the campsite near the Narrows to be the most appealing.

A few other notes:

- Pounder Branch is well worth scrambling down and exploring. Some really neat waterfalls in there!

- Winding Stair Gap Trail was extremely difficult to find from around 2009 to 2012, but I guess they cleared it out because when I was there in 2013 (last time I was there actually) it was much easier to find. A friend and I hiked it from the top to the bottom (we were off-trail camping and exploring in a drainage adjacent to the trail) and were blown away by how cool a section of trail it was. To top it off, there's a small trailside arch:



There is some great stuff to check out off the trail . . . if the weather has been frigid you might get treated to a frozen waterfall:



Van Hook Falls can also freeze up and it is truly a sight to behold. Huge ice column:



If it has been cold for a while, you should definitely take traction devices (i.e. Yak Trax or similar) for your shoes as some sections of the trail near the base of cliffs (right around Van Hook Falls and one really sketchy spot on the Rockcastle Narrows East Trail) can turn into solid ice and be very dangerous.

Here are some other threads about the area on here if you're interested in further reading:

http://www.kywilderness.com/forum/index.php?topic=7089.msg46004#msg46004

http://www.kywilderness.com/forum/index.php?topic=6478.msg43989#msg43989

Please post a trip report when you get back!
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MikeGibson

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2016, 03:17:15 AM »

I partially hiked this about 10 years ago. Very scenic I thought.
I learned some good things from this thread.
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Drift Woody

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2017, 10:40:59 PM »

This is definitely a loop I want to do, but I'm a little unclear on the route and the length. The hike linked below shows a 6 mile loop using Rockcastle Narrows East and a section of the Sheltowee Trace. Does the 11 mile loop consist of this section plus something else?

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dbnf/recarea/?recid=39700
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Mark W

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2017, 10:54:13 AM »

The 11-mile route is completed by hiking 2.5 miles on the Sheltowee Trace from the parking area at the KY-192/KY-1193 junction, which connects with the Rockcastle Narrows East loop (6 miles), and then returning on the same 2.5 mile section of the Sheltowee Trace for a total loop of approximately 11 miles.
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Drift Woody

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2017, 09:28:50 PM »

The 11-mile route is completed by hiking 2.5 miles on the Sheltowee Trace from the parking area at the KY-192/KY-1193 junction, which connects with the Rockcastle Narrows East loop (6 miles), and then returning on the same 2.5 mile section of the Sheltowee Trace for a total loop of approximately 11 miles.
Thanks, I see it now. The map in the link from my previous post has the trailhead at the north end of the 6 mile loop, near the junctions of forest roads 119 & 1198. I can see how to get to that spot via a number of forest roads, but I don't know if the condition of those roads are suitable for a regular passenger car. Would I be correct in assuming that trailhead is seldom if ever used due to the difficulty in getting there?

Another question:
Do you recommend hiking the loop clockwise, or counter?
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Mark W

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2017, 12:45:07 PM »

I don't think the alternate trailhead (off the forest roads) is used often and I believe those roads are gated in various places and opened/closed at different times of the year to facilitate access, usually for hunting season, trail work, prescribed burns, etc. So yes, you are definitely correct in assuming that trailhead if seldom used to hike the Rockcastle Narrows East trail.

Also, the 2.5 mile section of the Sheltowee Trace from the parking lot to Van Hook Falls is a really gorgeous hike and great section of trail.

I have always hiked the loop clockwise (heading down Cane Creek and then up the Rockcastle from the junction near Van Hook Falls) and believe that is probably the most scenic way to hike it.
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Drift Woody

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2017, 01:45:28 PM »

Thanks Mark W, that's exactly what I needed to know. It's a 7+ hour drive for me to get there, so I'll probably car camp at Bee Rock campground then do the 11 miles in a leisurely overnighter. After that I have the rest of the week to spend in BSF. This will be in late March, as I have to use my carry-over vacation by the end of that month.
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Mark W

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2017, 02:06:07 PM »

You're welcome. That sounds like a good plan. There are several nice campsites about a mile down the trail if you decide to hike in on your first night and do it as a two-night trip. I've done that several times and never regretted it. Bee Rock is a nice campground though so you can't really go wrong.
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laurelwanderer

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Re: Rockcastle Narrows East - advice needed
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2017, 08:24:45 AM »

I don't think the alternate trailhead (off the forest roads) is used often and I believe those roads are gated in various places and opened/closed at different times of the year to facilitate access, usually for hunting season, trail work, prescribed burns, etc. So yes, you are definitely correct in assuming that trailhead if seldom used to hike the Rockcastle Narrows East trail.

Also, the 2.5 mile section of the Sheltowee Trace from the parking lot to Van Hook Falls is a really gorgeous hike and great section of trail.

I have always hiked the loop clockwise (heading down Cane Creek and then up the Rockcastle from the junction near Van Hook Falls) and believe that is probably the most scenic way to hike it.

The Forest Road was gated about 3 weeks ago when I was out there.  Going from Bee Rock and doing the loop and back to Bee Rock should knock off around 2.5 miles instead of hiking the Sheltowee from Hwy 192 and back to Hwy 192.  But Mark is right, the Sheltowee section from Hwy 192 to Vanhook is fantastic and Pounder Branch is swollen right now from all the rain.
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