Source: Roadtrips and Rollercoasters
By Sara Beth Wade
February 15, 2021
During a stay in Louisville, Kentucky, I took a morning to visit the Bernheim Forest Giants, a charming art project in the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. The Bernheim Forest is located in Clermont, Kentucky, about 30 minutes south of downtown Louisville.
In general, the Bernheim Forest is a beautiful place to visit, with over 16,000 acres, 40 miles of trails, picnic areas, lakes, gardens, and art. Especially around the Arboretum area, the trails are level and easy. It’s just a lovely place to be outside. And there is a fun drive from the main area through the thicker forest to some overlooks, which I really enjoyed.
Currently, the cool-looking Visitor’s Center is closed as is the cafe inside, and the Education Center. There are also usually art programs, education programs, guided hikes, and four big festivals held every year but it all looks to be on hold for now.
As for how the whole thing got started, Mr. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, once a poor, teenaged German immigrant with $4 in his pocket, eventually became a successful bourbon distiller in Kentucky. After his success, he bought and endowed the main area of the park back in 1929. In 1931, he brought in the Frederick Law Olmstead firm (who landscaped New York City’s Central Park and North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate) to rearrange some lakes, and the park opened to visitors in 1950.
The Bernheim Forest Giants
My visit was to see the Bernheim Forest Giants. The Giants were installed for Bernheim’s 90th anniversary. (So I assume 2019, and due to stay up for at least three years. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay around longer – it’s been a weird year or so.)
I had NO idea what I was in for! I parked at the Visitor’s Center and followed the large yellow footprints around to the back. After a bit, found a huge, wood-shingled giant (with a mask on, no less) starting at his own reflection in the lake.
There are signs at each giant that tell a little about each one – this first one is Little Nis, the youngest and the smallest of the forest giants.
A walk through a central prairie takes you to Mama Loumari. She is the largest of the giants and the mother of the other two. In fact, she is pregnant! So no climbing on her, though she is surrounded by a sacred circle of interesting natural treasures to look at.
Continuing down towards the lake and over a bridge, you find Little Elina with her long hair and her field of rocks to hop on.
Other Bernheim Sights
From here, you can backtrack the trail and take another path through the prairie and around the Two Ponds Loop – that’s the official trail.
Instead, I continued past Little Elina and ended up in a walk around Lake Nevin, past a neat pavilion and some smaller gardens.
Then I walked back through the area where Mama Loumari is and on the Arboretum Loop road past the Education Center and buildings. It was the long way, really. I totally did this on purpose. Totally.
Along this way is the Big Prairie Overlook, which also seems to contain the graves of Isaac Bernheim and his wife. A figure titled, “Let There Be Light” is flanked by towers representing the Jewish and Christian faiths. A plaque reads, “May light, the symbol of life and truth, illuminate the paths of good citizenship, and reason, tolerance, and fairness guide our relationships with our fellow men.” Amen.
Back to the Visitor’s Center and across the street is a beautifully serene Edible Garden with a fun bridge and water management features.
Drive and Canopy Tree Walk
Back in my car but unwilling to leave, I drove down Forest Hill Drive, a beautiful winding road through the deeper Bernheim Forest. Along the way are trailheads for many of the more challenging trails of the park.
Want to see something funny? Watch me driving on Forest Hill Drive – and almost go off the road.
The drive itself is about two, two and a half miles into the woods and ends in a one-way loop. There’s a fire tower up here you can climb for a beautiful view. Or you can walk out on the Canopy Tree Walk, a boardwalk suspended 75 feet above the valley floor.
Lately, the Bernheim Forest has been closed a lot due to inclement weather. But I bet it’s a beautiful place in the spring. (For one thing, there are groves of dogwood and magnolia trees near where Mama Loumari is.)
Especially once pandemic restrictions are lifted, the Visitor’s Center is open, and the festivals and other special events are back, the Bernheim Forest is definitely a great place to look into.