Stearns District

Area Status: Open

The Stearns District encompasses more than 171,000 acres of national forest land in four counties of southeastern Kentucky. Much of the district lies within the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland River, located in the remote foothills of the Jellico Mountains. Steeply-sloped ridges and narrow ravines characterize the land. The terrain is rugged but scenic.

Visitors will enjoy camping, hiking, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Dense hardwood forest, cascading waterfalls and towering sandstone cliffs are some of the area’s best natural attractions.   

Two Kentucky Wild Rivers (Rock Creek and Cumberland River) and two candidates for National Wild and Scenic River designation (Marsh Creek and Rock Creek) occur in the area. The district surrounds the northern portion of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Three campgrounds, three picnic areas and more than 120 miles of trails provide for multiple outdoor activities. 

Stearns District Vicinity Map

Special features on the district are:

At a Glance

Fees: Fees are required at some recreation sites. See the Recreation Passes and Permits page for more details.‚Äč
Information Center: Stearns District Office Information

General Information


Directions to the Stearns Ranger District Office:
From I-75 South
Take exit 11 and turn left off the ramp onto KY 92 (19.9 miles). The office is 7.8 miles after turning right onto US 27. 
Take exit 141 and turn left on TN 63 (20.3 miles). Turn right on US 27 (6.7 miles). Turn left at US 27/Alberta Street (21.2 miles).

From I-75 North
Take exit 62 and merge right onto KY 461 (17.9 miles). Turn right on KY 80 (6.0 miles). Turn left on KY 914 (7.2 miles). Turn right on US 27/Burnside Road (18.2 miles)
Turn right onto KY 80 (8.8 miles). Turn left onto US 27 (27 miles).


The Barren Fork Heritage Interpretive Trail is accessible.
The Natural Arch Scenic Area picnic shelter, amphitheater, toilets and pathway to the overlook are accessible. 

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Mountain Biking

Areas for Mountain Biking at Stearns District

Campground Camping

Our developed campgrounds are designed to give you a pleasant camping experience. Some campgrounds have tent pads, picnic tables, fire rings, toilets and running water. The more remote sites have minimal facilities.

Campers may enjoy the additional recreation opportunities that many campgrounds provide, such as hiking and horseback riding.

Great Meadows, Barren Fork and Bell Farm are considered developed drive-in campgrounds. No reservations are required.

Areas for Campground Camping at Stearns District

RV Camping

Areas for RV Camping at Stearns District

Dispersed Camping

Primitive camping, or camping in remote areas of the forest, is considered dispersed camping. Campers will enjoy rippling streams, glimpses of wildlife and scenic forest beauty.

Dispersed campsites should be set up at least 300 feet from roads, streams and trails. 

General Info:


Barren Fork Heritage Accessible Trail 


Lake and Pond Fishing

Areas for Lake and Pond Fishing at Stearns District

River and Stream Fishing

Areas for River and Stream Fishing at Stearns District

Day Hiking

There is something about a trail that beckons us to step into the forest and reconnect with nature. The Stearns Ranger District has more than 120 miles of hiking trails where you can explore the forest and enjoy its natural scenery. 

Areas for Day Hiking at Stearns District

Big Game Hunting

Areas for Big Game Hunting at Stearns District

Small Game Hunting

Areas for Small Game Hunting at Stearns District

Game Bird/Waterfowl

Areas for Game Bird/Waterfowl at Stearns District

Viewing Wildlife

Areas for Viewing Wildlife at Stearns District

Viewing Plants

Areas for Viewing Plants at Stearns District

Target Shooting

Areas for Target Shooting at Stearns District

Interpretive Areas

Areas for Interpretive Areas at Stearns District


Areas for Picnicking at Stearns District

Group Picnicking

Areas for Group Picnicking at Stearns District

Boating - Motorized

Areas for Boating - Motorized at Stearns District

Boating - Non-Motorized

Areas for Boating - Non-Motorized at Stearns District

Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Latitude : 

  Longitude :