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Mountain Biking in the Upper South - Louisville Kentucky's Cherokee Park

by Clark Orr June 23, 2015

Lots of people talk about mountain biking in California, Colorado or Vermont, all spectacular destinations, without a doubt. I've ridden many places from coast to coast and I'm here to tell you that the south and mid west has some of the best mountain biking you'll experience anywhere. In this post, I'm going to talk about a park in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

I have been mountain biking in Cherokee Park with regularity for 22 years. It was one of the first park trail systems that allowed mountain biking in the Louisville area. When I moved back to Louisville after living in Crested Butte, CO (where I caught the mountain biking bug) in 1999, Cherokee was my go to riding destination. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s I would describe Cherokee trails as rustic – mostly hiking trails that you could bike.  

Cherokee Park

Mountain Biking in the Upper South - Louisville Kentucky's Cherokee Park

A Park with Pedigree

Cherokee Park was designed in 1891 by the undisputed king of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead is famous for many of his projects - most notably, Central Park in New York City. Cherokee Park is located in the east end of Louisville and only several minutes from downtown, St. Matthews and many surrounding neighborhoods. Cherokee Park is ideally located for a metro park. At 409 acres, it is large enough to help you forget that you are surrounded by roughly 600,000 metro Louisville residents. Cherokee Park was severely damaged in a horrific tornado that hit the city in 1974. Louisville was one of many cities extensively damaged in what is called the “Super Outbreak” – the second largest tornado outbreak in a 24 hour period ever recorded. Stretching from Ontario, Canada to northern Alabama, it left a huge path of destruction in its wake. The park lost 1000’s of mature trees but was faithfully restored to the original Olmstead design in the years that followed.

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A Mixed Bag

Today, Cherokee Park offers a range of mountain biking trails from sculpted flow trails (trailhead near the dog park on Lexington Rd), technical trails strewn with rocks and roots and trail sections that combine both flow and technical features. There are some steep climbs and descents, lots of tight switchbacks and most of it is cut through fairly dense woods. It has a smattering of everything including two sections near Beargrass Creek that I have yet to clear in 22 years, one of which requires trials-like skills in my opinion. The Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KyMBA) Louisville Chapter has done a considerable amount of work on the Cherokee trails over the past 4-5 years and I applaud their improvements.  

Cherokee Park

Mountain Biking in the Upper South - Louisville Kentucky's Cherokee ParkFor more details about the Cherokee trail network, please visit KyMBA

What I Ride

As far as equipment is concerned, a 29” wheel is a big plus in Cherokee because of the roots and rocks. I rode Cherokee for 12 years on a Specialized S-Works 26” hard tail and while I think my skills improved, it was a jarring ride. I went from the S-Works to an Ibis Mojo SL and then to an Ibis Mojo HD (set at 140mm suspension travel). I’m currently riding an Ibis Ripley 29”. The Ripley is by far the most capable bike I have ever had the pleasure of riding and it is a big help at places like Cherokee Park. Although I don’t track my rides (I experimented with Strava for about 2 months and lost interest), I am convinced that I’m riding smoother and faster as a 39 year old than I did at 25. I don’t underestimate the contributions of today’s mountain bike technology in making me feel more confident and faster on my bike as I approach 40…for that I’m a bit of a gear junky.

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A Poke in the Eye

Cherokee’s convenient location is a blessing and a curse…Louisville mountain bikers are incredibly lucky to have approximately 10 miles of single track within a stone’s throw of almost anywhere in the city. The downside of the prime location is traffic, especially on the weekends. Hikers, joggers and dogs are all frequent users of the trails in addition to bikes. Occasionally I have seen horseback riding on the trails but they aren’t a common occurrence. For this reason, it is important to ride in control and always expect someone to be on the other side of a blind turn. Also, because a lot of the trails are cut through the woods, there are lots of little branches and offshoots that can hang over the trails, particularly in late summer when everything is full-grown. It was on Cherokee trails that I came to appreciate the importance of eye protection after being whipped one too many times across the face by small branches. It isn’t fun worrying about getting your eye poked out while biking and once I started wearing eye protection, that concern vanished.

Cherokee Park Mountain Biking in the Upper South - Louisville Kentucky's Cherokee Park

Ease of Use

One of my favorite aspects of mountain biking is the accessibility of the sport. Unlike snow skiing, it doesn’t require a day of travel and considerable expense to participate. For Louisville, Cherokee Park is the epitome of accessibility – it is a luxury I try not to take for granted.  


Clark Orr

Written by Clark Orr

Clark is an avid mountain biker and founder of MORR Protective Gear (www.morrgear.com). He also writes for the MORR Life blog.


Clark Orr
Clark Orr

Clark is an avid mountain biker and founder of MORR Protective Gear (www.morrgear.com). He also writes for the MORR Life blog.

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