For those looking for great views and a robust workout, the Siltstone Trail is sure to please. Despite the fact that the trail never crests higher than 895 feet, day hikers will pound out over 3,000’ of total elevation gain as they climb and descend the chain of high knobs. Spacious views look out from the ridgeline’s highest aspects before the trail burrows back down into the deep forests of the Tom Wallace Recreation Area. While this trail can be done as a long out and back of 13.4 miles, a more modest 6.7 mile point-to-point from the Tom Wallace Lake area to the Scotts Gap Trailhead is possible.
What Makes It Great
The Siltstone Trail brings a taste of the Great Smoky Mountains home to the Louisville area. The 6.7 mile one-way trail connects the Tom Wallace Lake Trailhead and Visitor’s Center on Tom Wallace Road to Scotts Gap Trailhead off Scotts Gap Road. Done as an autumn point-to-point hike when the trees are blazing red and orange, this may be the best day hike in Jefferson County.
Even though the out-and-back mileage of 13.4 miles may seem intimidating, it’s well within reach for most hikers. Fit hikers can reach the Scotts Gap Trailhead and return in about 6 hours at a normal pace. Perhaps the most challenging segment of the Siltstone Trail comes less than a half-mile from the start of the trail, where 300’ of elevation gain awaits. A steep slope ascends to the start of the rolling ridgeline that connects the knobs and thankfully, the rest of the way eases up a bit (though there will still be a few drops and climbs down to a trio of road crossings). 796’ Pine Knob is the first of four named knobs, each surrounded by trees but spacious enough to afford excellent views. The aptly named High Knob comes next at the peak elevation on the trail at 895 feet. Rolling westward, hikers will cross 855’ Flint Knob and 846’ Circle Knob before descending to the Scotts Gap Trailhead. For the ambitious, a few easy hiking loops can be tacked on from the Scoots Gap Trailhead to add more mileage to your day.
While most of the trail is shaded by the forest canopy, make sure to bring plenty of water—natural sources to refill are sparse along the ridge. Also be aware that poison ivy outcrops can line the trail in places, so watch out for those nasty “leaves of three”.
Who is Going to Love It
While this is a challenging day hike, it’s not so difficult that you need to be an elite athlete to enjoy it—the trail is popular with local scout troops, so kids can have fun here, too. Perhaps the toughest section of the trail is the climb from the Tom Wallace Visitor’s center to begin. It’s an abrupt, steep, slope of about 300’ that really gets your heart going—rest assured, the trail gets a bit more tame as it traverses the ridges, knobs, and crossings. A full 13.4 mile out-and-back is a great way to spend an entire day in the wilderness. The terrain is never too difficult, the trail is in fine condition, and the exposure along the ridge is minimal. Note that while the trail seems ideal for backpacking, overnight stays are not allowed.