By Jeremy Patton
Sheltowee Trace: KY-192 to Vanhook Falls, is located in Daniel Boone National Forest, Laurel County, Kentucky.
Park near the trailhead at the junction of KY-192 and KY-1193. The parking area is small, but not usually filled to capacity. Cross the road and hike north on Sheltowee Trace #100 for 2.6 miles.
This hike is moderately difficult. Starting with gentle hills and open woodlands, numerous streams and creeks cross the Trace until you encounter two waterfalls on your left, nearly side by side. They reside approximately 0.75 miles from the trailhead.
At about 1.5 miles, the Trace joins Pounder Branch. Look for a small, but beautiful waterfall and pool on your right. I call it Pounder Branch Falls #1.
A few hundred yards north you can visit Pounder Branch Falls #2. You cannot see this cascading beauty from the trail, so follow your ears.
At approximately 1.75 miles, a tributary of Pounder Branch crosses the trail, zig-zags down several chutes and crashes into the gorge. Unfortunately, you cannot see it from here and it is too dangerous to peer over the bluff. I intend to bushwhack into the gorge this winter and view the waterfall from below.
The trail continues, ascending high cliffs as Pounder Branch cuts a deep gorge. At about 2 miles, look across the gorge for a waterfall that plunges into the depths. I call it the Falls of Pounder Branch Gorge. Be cautious here and do not venture too close to the edge.
The Trace levels out near the end of the hike then winds steeply downhill; it crosses two bridges: Pounder Branch and Cane Creek. Both waterways are robust and flanked by huge rock slabs, making them pleasant areas to rest, eat and watch the water rush by.
After crossing Cane Creek, the trail climbs again along Vanhook Branch before reaching Vanhook Falls.
Vanhook Falls is located less than a quarter mile from the Cane Creek bridge and plummets about 40 feet into the boulder-strewn creek below. Erosion has carved a rock shelter behind the falls that is shady and cool.
The best time to hike is during spring or after heavy rain when the creeks are high. If you go during summer, many waterfalls will be reduced to a trickle.
This is one of my favorite day-hikes for its scenery and solitude. There are numerous ways to reach Vanhook Falls, but all of them involve hiking several miles over rugged terrain, so visitors are few.
I do not know how Vanhook Falls received its named, but when I find out I will update this article.
I visited Vanhook Falls during a drought on Halloween 2016. I expected it to be severely diminished, but I was shocked to find that it had vanished — not even a trickle. I have never seen our local waterways so low.
I also discovered a new platform and stairs on Sheltowee Trace overlooking Vanhook Falls. I could still smell the freshly cut wood. My friend Russell Kersey heard that it was built by volunteers with permission from the Forest Service.
Added 11/6/15 – Updated 11/4/16