Places We Protect

Mantle Rock Nature Preserve


A person stands under a 30-foot high natural sandstone bridge.
Mantle Rock This 30-foot high natural sandstone bridge, spanning 188 feet, serves as the centerpiece of The Nature Conservancy's Mantle Rock Nature Preserve. © Mike Wilkinson

In addition to a rich natural heritage, the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve is replete with historical and archaeological treasures.



Just as its name implies, the centerpiece of The Nature Conservancy's Mantle Rock Nature Preserve is a 30-foot high natural sandstone bridge spanning 188 feet embellished by bluffs, shelters, honeycomb formations, fluorite deposits and a rock-lined stream. The nature preserve also contains extraordinary biological diversity, with spectacular springtime wildflowers and an upland forest interspersed with the best example of rare and fragile sandstone glades in all of Kentucky

History also makes its mark at Mantle Rock. The nature preserve is a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which the Cherokee Nation followed after being forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. During the harsh winter of 1838-39, approximately 1,766 Cherokee from the Peter Hildebrand Detachment spent about two weeks in the Mantle Rock area while waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable. Many Cherokees return each year to pay homage to their ancestors.

What’s At Stake

Kentucky's only known occurrence of June grass thrives here along with other glade species such as prickly pear cactus, rush foil, hairy lipfern, little bluestem, pinweed and poverty grass. Scattered deep soil pockets are dominated by gnarled and stunted post oak, blackjack oak, farkleberry and red cedar. Mantle Rock also hosts plentiful forest and grassland wildlife species that include songbirds, deer, turkey and squirrels.


The Reynolds Metals Company donated 190 acres in 1988 to establish the nature preserve. Acquisition of the adjacent 175-acre Calendar Tract in 1995, together with the donation of two acres by the Felburn Foundation, grew the nature preserve to its current size.

While not within the nature preserve’s boundaries, TNC acquired the adjacent 900-acre Reynolds Tract in 2001 to serve as an additional wildlife buffer to aid long-term protection efforts. Across the road, an additional 1,000 acres that was originally purchased and permanently protected with a conservation easement held by TNC is now managed as part of the Livingston County Wildlife Management Area and State Natural Area. All of these lands are open to the public.

In 2004, the National Park Service recognized the nature preserve as a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and worthy of representation in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2010 TNC, in partnership with the National Park Service, unveiled new exhibits and a retracement hiking trail to highlight the nature preserve’s cultural history and the rarity and wonderment of its sandstone glades and native prairie. Visitation to the nature preserve has been on the upswing ever since.


Protect the sandstone glade community, especially rare populations of June grass and Buckley's goldenrod. Other priorities include restoring and managing native prairies and glades through fire management, and maintaining the site for public access.


National Park Service, Cherokee Nation, Trail of Tears Association, University of Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, Livingston County Government, Boy Scouts of America, private landowners




Visit our preserve to hike, bird watch, and enjoy Kentucky's natural beauty. 


367 acres

Explore our work in this region

Trails are open to people of all ages from sunrise to sunset. Approximately 2.75 miles of an easy rated loop trail extends around the interior of the nature preserve. To protect fragile habitats, please stay on maintained trails. Activities such as rock climbing, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and all-terrain vehicles are strictly prohibited.

Note: The hunting rights on a portion of the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve are owned by a third party. Therefore, hunting is not managed by The Nature Conservancy.

All visitors should be familiar with hunting season dates in this areas by consulting the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources and in the annual Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide available at most sporting goods stores.


The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) permits other power-driven mobility devices (OPDMDs) on public areas such as nature preserves. For safety, The Nature Conservancy recommends that OPDMDs not be used at Mantle Rock Nature Preserve, as the trail system and terrain are not designed to accommodate them.  

Two children wear homemade solar eclipse glasses made from paper plates.
Solar Eclipse Two children wearing homemade glasses experience the August 2017 solar eclipse at The Nature Conservancy's Mantle Rock Nature Preserve in Kentucky. © Shelly Morris/TNC