Saunders Springs

Location: Between 31W and Fort Knox
(entrance off North Wilson Road)
Size: 26 heavily forested acres
Phone: 270-351-4079
Email: radclifftour@bbtel.com
Cost: Free
Hours: Open dawn to dusk all year (weather permitting)


Saunders Springs Nature Preserve is a heavily wooded natural area located on steep terrain with interesting historic features. The preserve provides opportunities for nature study, hiking, picnicking, and historic interpretation. The Nature Preserve consists of a 26 acre Nature Preserve owned and operated by the city of Radcliff and overseen by the Radcliff Forestry and Conservation Board. Adjacent to the nature preserve is a 73 acre tract called the Saunders Springs Annex which the city has leased and from Fort Knox. There is no charge (entrance fee) to use the Preserve and Annex areas and they are open for recreational use from dusk to dawn year around, weather permitting.

There are three 1800's vintage cabins. Two pavilions plus many picnic tables with BBQ grills, and a scout camping area are available.

Saunders Springs Nature Preserve is located on the edge of the Karst Plateau in the Highland Rim physiographic region of Kentucky. The area is characterized by many sinkholes, caves and springs which drain a network of underground caverns.

A handicapped-accessible trail winds through mature hardwood forest past cascading waterfalls as it leads from a parking area at the old water plant to the lake. The lake at the preserve is stocked with fish. Other hiking trails wind through the dense forest around the lake and from a parking area at the top of the hill to an overlook and on to the lake. There are more than two miles of trails (10 different-named trails) that include around 800 steps to make hiking the steeper trails easier and safer.

A handicapped-accessible picnic area is located at the top of the hill and many trees are marked for identification along the trails.

There are two restroom facilities located within Saunders Springs; one near the upper pavilion and one near the lower pavilion. The only source of drinking water (a drinking fountain) is located near the upper restrooms.

Annex Trails for Hiking and Biking

The terrain within the Nature Preserve is quite steep (a 200 foot elevation differential within that 26 acre area). There are 11 named walking/hiking trails within the Nature Preserve with seven trails having over 50 steps/stairs built into them making them unsuitable for use by mountain bikers.

The terrain within the Annex is heavily forested and gently rolling. There are nine named trails and some short connector trails offering about seven miles of multi-use trails (bikers, runners, hikers) with no steps or stairs within the Annex area trail system.

The Annex trails are typically 3-5 feet in width with a dirt or crushed rock base. There are ten wooden bridges along the various Annex trails. Adjacent to some of the trails are optional mountain bike skills features such as "skinnies", rock gardens, log piles, etc. Just as with the Preserve, there is a 200 foot elevation differential within the Annex area.

The trails within the Annex area were designed and built using IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) suggested techniques and methods and their installation was overseen by members of KyMBA (KY Mountain Biking Association). The majority of the trail extensive signage located with the Annex area was funded by a grant received from Nolin RECC as part of their Round-up Community Support Program.

The maintenance of the trails within Saunders Springs is a joint endeavor involving the City of Radcliff and volunteers who collectively spend thousands of hours per year in maintaining and improving the trail system.

The nearest mountain bike sales and repair shop is located less than one-half mile from the Preserve (Outdoor Ventures Schwinn, 1498 N. Dixie Boulevard (31W), 270 351-5767).

History Of The Preserve

The main spring on the property flows from the mouth of a cave located at the base of a cliff and cascades down a rocky streambed as it works its way downhill. Large foundation stones from a mill operated on the site during the 1800's can still be found along the stream.

The spring was a popular destination for students from the nearby Saunders Spring School who went to the cave for recreation and as a reward for good behavior.

The school, originally established as an independent school in 1868, became affiliated with the Hardin County School District No. 72 in 1908 when the county assumed responsibility for one-room schools. It was named after the historic Saunders Spring, which was named after the Saunders family, the original landowners.

The Federal Government purchased Saunders Springs from Clint Tarpley around 1920 to replace Fort Knox's original water supply at Otter Creek because the wooden transmission line from the Otter Creek plant had deteriorated. The new water supply plant was completed in 1924 with the construction of two dams forming an 80 million gallon reservoir and a smaller holding area near the water plant.

There was a dwelling for the operator at the plant and a cable railway that carried the operator and chemicals up and down the steep hill. The garage where the operator parked his car still remains at the top of the hill, and the operations building and storage tank still remain at the bottom of the hill.

Fort Knox discontinued using Saunders Springs as a water supply in the late 1930's when they developed more extensive water resources. The City of Radcliff purchased the land and put a new water supply plant into operation in 1955. The springs supplied drinking water for Radcliff from 1955 to 1968 when a well source was developed along the Ohio River and a new plant was built on top of Muldraugh Hill to meet the growing demands of the community.

Saunders Springs continued to be used as an auxiliary water supply until about 1986 when the Pirtle Springs supply was developed at the Head of Rough River.

Forest Ecology

Saunders Springs is situated in a Mixed Hardwood Forest with a great diversity of species dominated by several different varieties of oaks. There are five different types of plant communities with 80+ native plant species located in the KY native plants garden, along with 30 species of trees and 14 species of shrub understory plants.

More than 200 species of ferns, wildflowers, native grasses, vines and mosses cover the ground and over 34 species of animals, including: terrestrial vertebrates, snails, 13 different species of snakes, and aquatic macroinvertebates inhabit the forest.

The life history of Saunders Springs has greatly influenced the forest ecology. Openings created for roadways, building sites, and the lake have given room for plants such as eastern red cedar and smooth sumac. These openings have added to the overall diversity of species and richness of the site.

The upper elevations at Saunders Springs have very well drained soils. These soils are relatively thin and at some locations are very thin. These dry conditions have favored and produces a mixed oak stand. In the lower and moister elevations oaks continue to dominate but many more species such as sugar maple, American beech, tulip poplar and sycamore enter the mix.

List of Identified Species

Trees Shrubs Ferns, Wildflowers & Vines
  • American Beech
  • Bitternut Hickory
  • Black Gum
  • Black Cherry
  • Black Oak
  • Black Walnut
  • Blackjack Oak
  • Box Elder
  • Chinquapin Oak
  • Eastern Redbud
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Hackberry
  • Hophornbeam
  • Ironwood
  • Mockernut Hickory
  • Northern Red Oak
  • Ohio Buckeye
  • Persimmon
  • Pignut Hickory
  • Pin Oak
  • Post Oak
  • Red Cedar
  • Sandbar Willow
  • Sassafras
  • Scarlet Oak
  • Shagbark Hickory
  • Shingle Oak
  • Shumard Oak
  • Slippery Elm
  • Sugar Maple
  • Sycamore
  • Tulip Poplar
  • Virginia Pine
  • White Ash
  • White Oak
  • Black Locust
  • Blackberry
  • Blackhaw
  • Bladdernut
  • Buttonbush
  • Carolina Buckthorn
  • Coral Berry
  • Devil's Walking Stick
  • Dwarf Hackberry
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Holly
  • Honeylocust
  • Hydrangea
  • KY Coffeetree
  • Pawpaw
  • Silky Dogwood
  • Smooth Sumac
  • Spicebush
  • Strawberrybush
  • Winged Sumac
  • Alum Root
  • Aster
  • Avens
  • Baneberry
  • Bear's Foot
  • Beardtongue
  • Beech-Drops
  • Bellflower
  • Bergamot
  • Bishop's Cap
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Blazing Star
  • Bloodroot
  • Blue-eyed Grass
  • Bluestar
  • Bluets
  • Boneset
  • Bottlebrush Grass
  • Bundleflower
  • Bundleflower
  • Butterweed
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Catchfly
  • Christmas Fern
  • Columbine
  • Comfrey
  • Compass Plant
  • Crested Iris
  • Crown Vetch
  • Crownbeard
  • Culvers Root
  • Cup Plant
  • Cutleaf Toothwort
  • Evening Primrose
  • False Aloe
  • False Foxglove
  • False Goats Beard
  • False Solomons Seal
  • Fleabane
  • Foamflower
  • Garlic
  • Ginseng
  • Goats Rue
  • Golden Alexander
  • Goldenrod
  • Goldenseal
  • Green Dragon
  • Ground Ivy
  • Guara
  • Heal-All
  • Hepatica
  • Hoary Puccoon
  • Honeysuckle Vine
  • Horse Tail
  • Houstonia
  • Hyssop
  • Indian Pipe
  • Indigo
  • Ironweed
  • Jack-In-The-Pulpit
  • Jewelweed
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Ladies Tresses
  • Larkspur
  • Lobelia
  • Maiden Hair Fern
  • Mallow
  • Mayapple
  • Milk Vetch
  • Milkweed
  • Mist Flower
  • Monket-Flower
  • Mountain Mint
  • Narrow-leaved Cattail
  • Pennyroyal
  • Phacelia
  • Phlox
  • Plantain
  • Poison Ivy
  • Prairie Dock
  • Pussytoes
  • Ragwort
  • Rattlesnake Master
  • Rockcress
  • Rosinweed
  • Rue Anemone
  • Ruella
  • Scouring Rush
  • Sicklepod
  • Smartweed
  • Snake Root
  • Sneezeweed
  • Solomons Seal
  • Spangle Grass
  • Spotted Wintergreen
  • Squawroot
  • Squirrel Corn
  • Star Chickweed
  • Steeple-bush
  • Stonecrop
  • Sunflowers
  • Sword Fern
  • Tickseed
  • Trillium
  • Turtlehead
  • Vervain
  • Virginia Bluebells
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Virginia Grape Fern
  • Walking Fern
  • Wild Geranium
  • Wild Ginger
  • Wild Senna
  • Wild Yam
  • Wood Poppy

Copyright © 1996-2019 by the
Radcliff/Ft. Knox Tourism &
Convention Commission