Furnace Arch, Sheltowee Trace

aalCave Run Lake Trail Guide
Distance: 6 Miles round-trip from trailhead
Difficulty: ++
Scenic Views: +++
Elevation Relief: 500ft ^
Ownership: Daniel Boone NF, USFS

Sheltowee Trace North Trail Map

Hiker Hiker Hiker

Imagine the scene around Clear Creek Iron Furnace in the 1830’s, the trailhead for this hike. Scores of men were clearing old growth trees by acres a week, cutting limestone from the creeks, and hauling iron ore rock from neighboring hillsides to fuel one of largest iron furnaces in Kentucky. Iron was produced roughly nine months out of the year. The process was a laborious affair, but the profit was great until much larger deposits of iron ore were found in the southern Appalachians and around the Great Lakes.


The cut wood was slowly burned in dirt covered pit to make charcoal. The furnace was ‘charged’ from the top in layers of ore, charcoal, and limestone and when full, the furnace was stoked with forced air until the charcoal was white-hot and the whole furnace roared tremendously and blasted heated air, flames, and a shower of sparks from the top. That’s when the furnace was in blast and slowly molten iron would flow from furnace bottom and fill trenches of sand to make pig iron ingots. The iron ore found in rocks is basically rust and is rendered as elemental iron in series of chemical reactions in the furnace.

Today you can still see many aspects of the furnace operation. The hand-cut limestone furnace still stands. Glass and slag are found downstream. The fuel for charcoal of course grows around abundantly. The limestone outcrops as you ascend the trail south from furnace. The Sinks is a sinkhole in the limestone bedrock produced by the slow process of erosion. Atop the southern extent of this trail, you’ll find the same rugged sandstone the produces the great rockshelters in the Red River Gorge. In fact, if you continue hiking the Sheltowee Trace south, you’ll travel through the heart of the Gorge.

Furnace Arch is a low broad arch that resembles the iron furnace in shape. The sandstone outcrops in the area offer a few campsites, though no water along the ridge top. The scenic quality of this area, with blooming rhododendron against craggy boulders, is worth a day of exploration.

Tater Knob Trail – Pioneer Weapons

Tater Knob Fire Tower stairs

Sheltowee Trace North Trail Map: $26

This is an essential Cave Run Lake experience: hiking to the top of Tater Knob. You can’t say you’ve ‘done’ Cave Run, unless you’ve watched the sunset from this last-standing fire tower in the Daniel Boone national forest. Built in 1934, the tower was decommissioned in the 1970’s when aircraft replaced fixed observation points.

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