About Jefferson Memorial Forest
Jefferson Memorial Forest is the headquarters of Louisville Parks and Recreation’s Natural Areas Division, which is responsible for managing more than 7,500 acres and nearly 60 miles of hiking and equestrian trails spread over multiple properties. This urban forest—located just 15 miles from downtown Louisville—offers city dwellers a wilderness immersion experience. The Forest is Louisville’s largest nature preserve. It protects 275 species of trees, shrubs, and ferns, and preserves critical habitat for many migratory bird species. It also provides significant environmental benefits, including air and water quality and carbon storage. Dozens of hiking and equestrian trails ranging from easy to strenuous meander through the Forest, and all can be enjoyed year-round with preparation and appropriate gear.
Created by the city of Louisville in 1945 to honor military veterans, Jefferson County Memorial Forest—as it was then called—began as a 1,500-acre park. It has grown into the largest municipally-owned urban forest in the United States. We are lucky to have this wilderness right in our own backyard.
The best place to start your outdoor adventure in Jefferson Memorial Forest is at the Welcome Center. Inside, you can collect trail maps, visit the gift shop, take a restroom break, and speak with friendly staff about recommendations, upcoming events, and amenities available at all of our Natural Areas. Depending on the season, you can also cool down in the air conditioning or warm up by the fire. Refreshments are available for purchase before or after your hike.
You can also support Jefferson Memorial Forest and other Natural Areas by visiting the Welcome Center’s Wilderness Louisville corner, where proceeds from the purchase of Wilderness Louisville t-shirts, hats, and insulated beverage bottles support this non-profit advocate for all things Forest and Natural Areas.
Louisville’s only public primitive facilities for group and family camping are located in the Horine Reservation, named after Dr. Emmett Horine who ensured the property was conserved as part of Jefferson Memorial Forest after serving as a Boy Scout’s of America camp.
The Horine Reservation is ideal for car camping, and offers what feels like complete immersion in the forest, aside from an occasional passing airplane.
This area offers moderate to strenuous trails that are accessible from the Horine Reservation trailhead or by the hiking the Yost Ridge connector trail from the Welcome Center.
Jefferson Memorial Forest’s spring and fall events such as Forest Fest and Wilderness Louisville Forest Adventure are held in the Horine Reservation.
The Horine Conference Center is available for meetings, family gatherings, staff retreats, or small wedding receptions.
Tom Wallace Recreation Area
Visitors to Tom Wallace Recreation Area can cast a line, set up a picnic, or hike one of the area’s numerous trails, including the wheelchair-accessible Tulip Tree Trail. Tom Wallace Lake is the signature amenity of this recreation area. It is named after a local preservationist and former editor of the now-defunct Louisville Times newspaper, who was a major voice for establishment of the Forest as a tribute to Kentucky military veterans.
The Tom Wallace Recreation Area is conveniently located across from the Jefferson Memorial Forest Welcome Center, which offers access to restrooms, a water fountain, and a gift shop. This area can be traversed on foot from Mitchell Hill Road to Scott’s Gap Road via the popular Siltstone Trail. A new electric vehicle charging station has been installed at the parking lot in Tom Wallace nearest the Welcome Center for those who wish to plug in while they hike.
Paul Yost Recreation Area
The Paul Yost Recreation Area is a great place for horse lovers to enjoy a trail ride. This recreation area—named after the first person hired to manage the forest—offers one of the Forest’s newest trail systems, which was designed to sustainably accommodate both horses and hikers.
Multiple trail routes wind along relatively gentle slopes through the knobs, offering scenic views around nearly every bend. Trailhead parking is available, as well as a trailer turn-around and lay-by horse trailer parking. This recreation area can also be reached on foot via hiking trail connections from the Welcome Center or the Horine Reservation. Although you’re never far from civilization, we highly recommend that trail users download a map or pick up a free copy from the Welcome Center.
Unfortunately, neither restroom facilities nor drinking water is currently available in the Paul Yost Recreation Area, so please plan accordingly.
The Scott’s Gap Section, accessible from Dixie Highway and I-265, is a lesser-known section in the westernmost part of the Forest. Its seclusion makes it ideal for hiking and birding, and the 3.3-mile Scott’s Gap loop trail offers some spectacular vistas. This moderate-to-strenuous trail rises from forest stream valleys to the very heights of the knobs. There is a shortcut trail if you need to modify the length.
Jefferson Memorial Forest’s newest trail, a 0.6-mile accessible loop, is also in this section. It winds through a wildflower pollinator meadow, traverses an open woodland, and passes an ephemeral pond.