Forest Hill Drive and Guerilla Hollow are closed on Sunday, May 25 due to high winds.

Take a Hike, But Be Prepared

By Amy Joseph Landon

Summer is here! It’s a great time to get outside and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of summer. The lush green tones of the trees illuminate the forest, the bullfrogs croak, the Bobwhite quail whistle, and the odor of the many flower species growing at Bernheim waft through the air.

With over 40 miles of hiking trails, we encourage you to get out and soak up the sun (and deep forest shade). Before you head out, it’s important to prepare so your hike is fun and safe.

Make sure to wear the proper footwear. Because Bernheim is nestled among a knobby landscape, some terrain may be rough, so we recommend sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes. Clothing should be light and breathable.

Particularly during the hottest months, be sure to bring a bottle of water (reusable ones encouraged!) to stay hydrated along the way. We are currently turning water fountains back on following the pandemic, but some remain out of commission for maintenance. Water is available for purchase at Isaac’s Café Thursday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

We strongly encourage you to wear plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. Harmful rays can still get through the forest shade. The forest is also home to many six-legged creatures, including ticks. Please protect yourself with insect repellent, and make sure to check your head and body for ticks when you leave Bernheim.

At over 16,000 acres, Bernheim is a large, intact forest that provides high-quality, resilient habitat to countless plants and animals. While hiking on the trails, you may encounter one of the many creatures that call the forest home. If you pay close attention, it’s possible you’ll spot a white-tailed deer leaping through the shrub layer. You might see an eastern box turtle munching a mayapple. A hawk surveying from the top of a tall oak tree might catch your eye. And if you keep your eyes focused on the trail, you could even spot a snake slithering across the path.

Like any wildlife you come across at Bernheim, remember to give snakes plenty of space when you spot them. Snakes in this region of Kentucky are generally docile animals and prefer to keep to themselves. They won’t strike unless provoked. People are most often bitten by snakes when they get too close, pick them up, trap them, or try to kill them. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you!

Timber Rattlesnake. Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

While most snake species you’ll find at Bernheim are not venomous, there are two venomous species to watch for – copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. For the untrained snake enthusiast, the best way to identify a venomous snake is by the shape of the head. Venomous snakes in this region have large, triangular-shaped heads due to pronounced venom glands located behind their jaws. There are exceptions to this rule (the nonvenomous eastern hog-nosed snake has a triangular head), but this is a good indication for beginner snake identification. Another good indicator is pupil shape. In this region, venomous snakes have vertical pupils, and nonvenomous snakes have round pupils. Once again, there are exceptions to this (venomous snakes will exhibit round pupils in low light), and you might have to get uncomfortably close to see the snake’s pupils. Lastly, but less reliably, a snake’s size can sometimes indicate if it’s venomous or not. Venomous snakes are often larger, particularly in girth. They look much heavier than their nonvenomous counterparts.

Copperhead Snake

Regardless of species, these animals still deserve respect and space. Like any plant or animal at Bernheim, snakes play an important ecological role in the forest. They control rodent populations, reduce the spread of insect borne illnesses, and even become prey for birds, mammals, and other snakes.

Safety is Bernheim’s first priority. There will be days that the 13-mile Millennium Trail will be closed due to a heat advisory or heat index of 100+. If you’re embarking on this trail, make sure to sign in at the trailhead. Please begin your trek before 11:30 a.m. in order to have plenty of time to return before the Natural Areas close. 

Always check Bernheim’s website before heading out to make sure the trail you want to hike is open. Trails may be closed if there is a severe storm or high wind advisory. 

Now that you’re prepared, lace those shoes up and get outside!


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