In northwestern Livingston County lies Mantle Rock; a natural curiosity reminiscent of rock features one might find in the Daniel Boone National Forest of eastern Kentucky. Mantle Rock is the largest freestanding arch east of the Mississippi River, at 180 feet long and 30 feet high. It is located near the community of Joy, Kentucky on the 367 acre Mantle Rock Preserve, which is a joint project of the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. Numerous bluffs, shelters, and honeycomb formations embellish this area, which is also known for its extensive faulting and abundant fluorite deposits.
The Nature Conservancy website states, “Mantle Rock has historic significance, serving as a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The location is a reminder of the harsh winter of 1838-1839 when the Cherokee Nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. During this time, approximately 1,766 persons from the Peter Hildebrand Detachment were forced to spend about two weeks in the Mantle Rock area while waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.”
Some stories tell that the Cherokee camped under Mantle Rock. Other stories suggest that there were burials underneath the Rock; however, there is no proof to support these claims. Nevertheless, many Cherokees return each year to pay homage to their ancestors on the Trail of Tears. There is also a Mantle Rock Native Education and Cultural Center located in the nearby town of Marion, Kentucky.
There is an approximately 2.75 mile easy rated loop trail on the preserve. The trail takes the casual hiker on a small portion of the Trail of Tears before veering southward toward the Mantle Rock natural arch. From there, the trail follows a towering bluff line, leading past waterfalls and numerous rock shelters. The trail eventually descends to a rolling stream cascading over huge boulders, reminding one of a sight found in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. From the stream, the trail circles back around, picking up the Trail of Tears and eventually leading back to the starting area.
The parking area for the Mantle Rock Preserve is located 2.1 miles west of the community of Joy, Kentucky on Highway 133. Unique rock formations and Native American history await visitors of Mantle Rock. While in the area, be sure to visit Joy Falls, located on the left side of the highway a half mile west of the Mantle Rock Preserve. This secluded site with its serene beauty, sandstone outcroppings, and waterfall makes a great photo opportunity; not to mention a good swimming hole. When visiting these sites, please remember to “take only pictures” and “leave only footprints.”