The Red River Gorge Geological Area is a unique, scenic natural area with spectacular rock features, over 100 sandstone arches, towering cliffs, caves, big views and in some areas, oddly tropical feeling flora. There’s lots to do there including hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, rock climbing and more.
Nestled in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge is a federally designated National Geological Area, a National Natural Landmark, a National Archaeological District and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is no fee for trail use.
- Natural Bridge State Resort Park, KY – We stayed at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, KY, which is inside the Red River Gorge Geological Area. It’s the first time we’ve stayed in a Park Lodge and we really enjoyed being able to walk out of our room and onto a trail. We had a balcony and there was also a restaurant and gift shop in the Lodge.
Vanessa sprained her ankle on the way to our visit in the Red River Gorge. We chose these hikes because I needed them to be short and relatively easy but I think it turned out to be a stroke of luck – all these hikes were beautiful with huge payoffs with not too much effort.
All the trails can be found on our trail maps page.
- The Original – (0.75 miles, 420 elevation). This is the most popular trail to take you to the Natural Bridge the Park was named for. Built in the 1890’s by the Lexington and Eastern Railroad, it starts behind the Lodge and ends beneath the 75’ high, 65’ wide Natural Bridge. Access to the top of the bridge is through a natural fracture on the other side of the arch. This was the first trail we did and is the first natural bridge we’d ever seen. It was absolutely spectacular. We hiked it on a beautiful, sunny summer day and got to see a rainbow from the top of the bridge.
- Laurel Ridge – (0.75 miles). This easy trail starts at the top of the Natural Bridge and follows along the ridge past the Sky Lift to Lookout Point for big views of the Canyon. One of best spots to take photos of the Natural Bridge.
- Balanced Rock Trail – (0.75 miles, 400’ elevation). This trail starts at the Natural Bridge and takes you back to the Hemlock Lodge. This trail passes by some incredible sandstone cliffs, boulders and a small cave near the end. With over 600 stairs I’d say we chose the right direction (down). I absolutely loved this trail, seeing how the elements have carved such intricate and varied designs into the sandstone and all the lush vegetation that surrounded us.
- Princess Arch Trail – (0.6 miles out and back, 104’ elevation). An easy walk to a cool arch and huge cliffs.
- Chimney Top Rock Trail – (0.7 mile out and back, 88’ elevation). An easy paved walk to a 360 degree view out over the canyon and across to cliffs.
- Angel Windows Trail – (0.6 mile out and back, 88’ elevation). A pretty trail to 2 small arches and some rock formations.
- Whistling Arch Trail – (0.5 mile out and back, 42’ elevation). This trail has sections that are right on the edge of a vertical drop off so choose your steps carefully. It ends at a unique arch with a beautiful view.
- Rock Bridge Trail to Creation Falls – (1.5 mile loop, 311’ elevation. A beautiful trail with lush, almost tropical feeling flora. There’s a cave a little off trail up a hill, a pretty waterfall and a big rock bridge that spans the creek.
We visited off-season and had most of these trails completely to ourselves.
- Miguel’s Pizza – “A Gorge visitor hot spot for rock climbers and other outdoor sports”. It was so good we ate there 2x! Made to order food, great vibes, indoor/outdoor seating, a rock climbing shop and they even offer lodging.
- La Cabana Mexican Restaurant – Located in Slade, KY, in the heart of Red River Gorge. We’ve heard great things about this place and can’t wait to eat there ourselves.
- The Brick at The Red River Gorge – A delicious looking coffee and ice cream shop. This one is at the top of our list for our next visit.
- Nada Tunnel – Once used by a logging company’s railway, you can now drive through this historic 900-foot (270 m) long tunnel on Kentucky Route 77.
- Southeast Mountain Guides Via Ferrata – We discovered this place when we passed it on our drive home and just had to stop and check it out. They’ve built a course of cables, foot holds and challenging bridges in their very own private Holler. You make a reservation, get a hands on orientation and then get to climb self-guided but supervised by very knowledgeable, encouraging, friendly guides. You can also book a guided climb or guided rappelling tour with an AMGA certified instructor. It’s now on our bucket list and I can’t wait to come back and see how far I can get on the course!
- The Skylift – ($11 one way, $17 round trip) takes you on a mile journey through spectacular mountain scenery. Once at the top you’ll be within to easy walking distance of top of the Natural Bridge and Lookout Point. I’m sure it’s fun to ride the chairlift up but we decided it was a bit pricey for us, especially since we’d already walked to the top ourselves.
- Gladie Visitor Center – Find area information, safety notifications, trails maps and souvenirs. Gladie also has two short nature trails that will begin to introduce you to the Red River Gorge and an old Farmstead to explore.
- Red River Gorge General Store – If you only plan to stop at one of these general stores, this one was the most complete. Pick up souvenirs, sunscreen, milkshakes, etc. The fudge looked especially delicious.
- Drive the Loop – Rt 15 North -> Rt 77 (Nada Tunnel Rd) -> RT 715 -> Take a detour onto Chimney Top Rock Rd (our and back off RT 715) -> Continue on RT 715 to RT 15. (get to drive through the Nada Tunnel). Several of the hikes we chose were along this loop.
The Red River Gorge is known for its spectacular sandstone features and epic views. We had an amazing time and can’t wait to come back.