Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve

By Jeremy Patton

Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve is located in Garrard and Jessamine County, Kentucky.

Banks of the Kentucky River, below the palisades

From US-27, about 1.25 miles south of the Kentucky River, drive west on KY-1845 for 1 mile. Turn right onto Jess Brim Road. Continue for about 0.75 miles to the parking lot and trailhead.

Part of Tom Dorman State Preserve resides on the north side of the river in Jessamine County. I do not believe there is a trail system there; it is closed to the public in order to protect habitat.

The preserve was named after a former employee of the Kentucky River Authority who worked to aquire the land.

A two-mile loop, Palisades Trail, follows an old stage coach route through the forest, down to the river, then back to the parking lot. I rate it as moderately difficult due to its fairly steep grade. It was well-maintained and easy to navigate.

There was very little to see from the trail (the woods were beautiful, but ordinary), aside from a few potential overlooks obscured by thick spring foliage. Sinkholes made some sections intriguing, however. I would not be surprised if cave systems lurk nearby.


A short, secondary loop called Knights Ferry Trail provided access to the river. The leaves blocked views of the marvelous 220-foot limestone palisades.

Partial view of the palisades, May 2017

Without a doubt, the best time to explore the bluffs and karst topography is during winter. My visit to Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve was a lesson in not seeing the forest for the trees. It was interesting enough to merit a return trip.


The following excerpt from the preserve’s brochure offers insights into its geology:

“Between 400,000 and 1 million years ago the river began cutting through the limestone, exposing the layers of rock visible today. Laid down hundreds of millions of years ago, these rock layers are full of marine fossils dating back to when this part of Kentucky was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea. At 450 to 500 million years old, the Ordovician limestone here is the oldest exposed rock in the state.”

Trail map


Kentucky River Float: Camp Nelson to Pollys Bend

Added 5/8/17 – Updated 8/3/17