1.25 miles to the summit point. After taking a few photos from the overlook, many people enjoy returning via the Sage Point Loop trail. For a bit more mileage, add the Millstone Quarry Trail, a one mile round-trip from the parking area.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
This trail gets a strenuous rating as there is a steady climb, and decent elevation gain (730 feet), but it’s short enough that most hikers with some fitness can make it with few issues if they take their time.
Time To Complete
As with just about any trail in Kentucky, it can be a bit muddy in the spring and fall and summer brings out the songbirds. But what makes this hike really shine is that it’s a great winter or early spring trail. It’s particularly gorgeous after an ice storm, however crampons or cleats are recommended.
Legend has it that Daniel Boone saw the Bluegrass region of Kentucky from the summit of this hike for the very first time in 1796. From this panoramic view it’s possible to see the Blue Grass region, the Knobs region, and the Cumberland Plateau regions, though it may be hard to tell which is which. Plant your feet on the sandstone outcrop at the southeast end on the knob. Unsurprisingly it’s known as “Boone’s Overlook”. Try to imagine how it might have appeared over 200 years ago when he first laid eyes on it.
The area also has a rich history in millstone making and there is a quarry site, with several unfinished millstones on the preserve—check for a brochure in the kiosk for their locations along the Millstone Quarry Trail which begins from the same parking area.
What Makes It Great
Two words can sum up the main reason to hike the Pilot Knob Trail: spectacular views. As one of the highest points in Powell County, three distinct regions of Kentucky can be seen from the summit. And on a clear day it’s possible to see all the way to the Lexington Financial Center, known locally as the “fifth third”—the tallest building outside of Louisville.
Winding up through the second growth forest of oak-hickory, take a break from the steady upward climb to listen to the variety of songbirds flitting through the trees while catching a breath. Continuing on up, note how the landscape changes the closer to the top the trail goes. The trees become more stunted, mostly blackjack oak and Virginia pine, which are better adapted to harsh conditions.
Geology buffs get a treat as the summit draws near. There is an outcrop of rock that is Pennsylvanian sandstone, approximately 280 million years old, and is a sedimentary rock made up of a mixture of sands and gravels deposited by an ancient stream. It is this type of rock that the area is famous for, and that the millstones are made from that can been seen elsewhere in the preserve.
At the top, brace for some possible windy conditions and to be wowed by the main attraction, the scene that unfolds into a panoramic view. Keep a watchful eye on the footing as the cliffs command attention and it’s possible, though very unlikely, to spot a venomous snake on the trail or summit. If time is short and history and a spectacular end-point sound like a good time, the Pilot Knob Trail can’t be beat.
Who is Going to Love It
This is a fantastic trail for a day tripper who is looking for a lot of bang for the buck. This trail has it all—challenging climbing for some cardio, flora and fauna along the way, and a breathtaking overlook as the reward at the top for hikers who like to have a landmark or reward as their destination.
The view at the top is famous around the area. And if you like to get alone in nature this trail can be very quiet with nothing but insects, bird song, and the sound of a hikers own footsteps being the only sound. Winter hikers will love this trail. It’s accessible, with the proper equipment of course, all year-round. Brace for windy conditions at the top and some icy patches.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
In Powell County from the junction of the Mountain Parkway and KY 15 at Clay City, follow KY 15 north for 2.7 miles. Turn right on Brush Creek Road for 1.5 miles to gravel parking area. The parking area accommodates 7-8 cars and one or two buses, but there is generally not enough traffic to make it an issue.
The trail entrance is on the opposite side from a creek, so waterproof boots or shoes would be helpful. And please note that there are no facilities.