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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Moon

How To Explore The Red River Gorge: A Local's Ultimate Guide

Updated: Feb 14

Here are some insights from local experts, such as park rangers and seasoned hikers in order for you to maximize your experience in the Red River Gorge!


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Woman in the Red River Gorge overlooking the forest in Spring

For over a decade, my family and I have been drawn to the enchanting allure of the Red River Gorge. As we ventured through the iconic rock Nada Tunnel, a profound sense of wonder and magic washed over us. Here, in this captivating realm, we disconnect from the digital realm and reconnect with one another, forging treasured memories that endure.


In the words of Bil Keane, "Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present." As a local business owner and avid hiker, I have curated a collection of cherished destinations that have brought our family immense joy. It is with great pleasure that we extend an invitation for you and your loved ones to partake in the splendor of this enchanting place. If you want more information, including our guidebook, click here.


Hikes in the Red River Gorge:


Original Natural Bridge Trail via Lake Side Trail: Don't miss out on the chance to explore the Red River Gorge's most iconic arch! This is an absolute must-see if you're visiting the area for the first time. My family and I love this trail and have been hiking it for years. The other benefit of this hike is it is accessible from our private rental Treehouses. I will say that although the hike is only 2.5 miles round trip, it can be quite challenging with a 606ft elevation gain. The incline begins right at the trailhead and continues for half a mile until you reach the top.


Once you're at the top, you'll be rewarded with some stunning views of Battleship Rock from both above and below the arch! Quick tip: There are two parking options for this trail. You can either park at the Hemlock Lodge or at the Natural Bridge Trail Parking lot. Opting for the official trail parking will add some excitement to your hike as you'll get to cross a unique suspension bridge on your way to the trailhead.


Natural Bridge in the Red River Gorge


Rock Bridge: Embark on a delightful family adventure with a kid-friendly hike that offers gentle inclines, making it perfect for an outing with your loved ones! The trailhead awaits at the end of a scenic 3-mile gravel road. Known as Rock Bridge Trail, this path boasts breathtaking vistas of the Red River Gorge, showcasing a magnificent arch that lends its name to the trail. Along the way, you'll also encounter a great waterfall.


This 1.4-mile loop trail, nestled near Pine Ridge, Kentucky, is generally considered moderately challenging, providing an enjoyable experience for all. The best time to explore this trail is from March to November, offering an abundance of natural beauty. While dogs are welcome, they must be leashed. Noteworthy features of this trail include the opportunity to wander alongside a serene creek for the majority of the hike, a natural arch gracefully spanning over the creek at the trail's highest point, a picturesque waterfall, and access to other remarkable trails within the Red River Gorge. While the trail boasts beauty in any weather, it truly shines during clear skies and pleasant conditions. However, hikers should exercise caution as the trail may become slippery and muddy during rain or snowfall.

Sky Bridge: This scenic 0.6-mile loop trail leads you to a remarkable natural bridge nestled amidst a tranquil forest. Along the way, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of cliff bases and several overlook points where you can take a rest. While the trail does include a fair amount of stairs, which may pose a challenge for some, it offers the unique opportunity to explore both beneath and atop the arch. However, please note that the narrow top of the arch features steep drop-offs, making it unsuitable for pets or young children.

"Great trail with views of cliff bases along with overlook views and equal quantities. Would highly recommend! Keep in mind there are some stairs. I really enjoy all the rock work on this trail as it always gives me a 'national park' vibe." - Ray T.

Sky Bridge In The Red River Gorge

Rough Trail to Hanson's Point: This trail is renowned for its awe-inspiring vistas, making it an absolute must-visit for photography enthusiasts. If you're up for it, there's a captivating 5.7-mile out-and-back trail near Pine Ridge, Kentucky. Widely regarded as a challenging route, it typically takes around 2 hours and 57 minutes to complete, so proper planning is crucial. This trail attracts a large number of hikers, and the prime times to experience its beauty are from April through October. It's important to note that this trail includes several water crossings, with water levels varying depending on the season. As the trail may not always be clearly marked, it's advisable to carry a map. And unless you're keen on taking the scenic route, having a map handy to navigate the trail is highly recommended.

Auxier Ridge Trail to Courthouse Rock: The trailhead for this scenic trail is located at Tunnel Ridge Road, offering ample parking spaces for visitors. As you embark on your hike, you will find yourself immersed in a lush forest surrounded by majestic cliffs and breathtaking vistas. As you ascend a total elevation gain of 731 ft, the trail gradually unveils stunning views of the valley and ridges. The highlight of this trail is Courthouse Rock, an impressive sandstone formation that resembles a courthouse in its grandeur. Spanning 4.2 miles as an out-and-back route, this trail is considered moderately challenging, rewarding hikers with its natural beauty year-round. Dog owners are welcome to bring their furry friends as long as they are kept on a leash. Please note that during the winter season, the roads leading to this trailhead may be closed to vehicles, but hiking is still permitted. For more information on closures, please visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dbnf/recarea/?recid=39526.

Chimney Top Trail: Situated in close proximity, these trails offer effortless hikes accompanied by magnificent vistas. Chimney Top boasts a well-maintained concrete path, making it an ideal choice. This easy 0.7-mile out-and-back trail typically takes around 18 minutes to complete. Despite its brevity, this trail will reward you with breathtaking views of the surrounding gorge from the pinnacle of Chimney Top Rock. It is particularly suitable for beginners, as it entails minimal elevation gain and a short distance. Notably, the most accessible section of the trail is the Chimney Top Trail First Overlook, which is paved up to the first overlook.


Dining Delights:


  1. Miguel's Pizza: A contentious favorite, Miguel's offers a unique local flavor that will surely give you a lasting impression. They offer DIY pizzas and are gluten-friendly. There is inside and outside seating with a small basketball court for kids to play on.

  2. Daniel Boone Coffee Shop and Restaurant: Ideal for a caffeine fix or a hearty meal, complete with a hiking store for last-minute gear! Has a unique vibe and is easily accessible with plenty of parking.

  3. Red River Rockhouse: Satisfy your burger cravings here.

  4. Local Mexican Restaurants: Don't miss out on the rave-reviewed Mexican cuisine in the area. This is an excellent option if you're looking for some tasty local treats.

  5. Thatcher's BBQ: A great spot to grab some smoked BBQ.

  6. Bruen's in Stanton: For a taste of local home-cooked dining.


Additional Activities:


  1. Kayaking: Paddle your worries away at Mill Creek Lake with available rentals. Mill Creek Lake in the Red River Gorge is an easy, family friendly place for Paddle Board and kayak rentals, and it's on one of the prettiest lakes in Kentucky.  It's the perfect place for beginners, and the fishing is great.

  2. Local Shops Exploration: The road to Natural Bridge is lined with intriguing shops, including one with fudge and snakes! Great place to find local restaruants, gifts and really get a taste of the local Red River Gorge culture.

  3. Gorge Underground Adventure: Though a bit pricey, it's an unforgettable experience. I would recommend wearing something warm as the cave is a bit chilly. This place is kid friendly, and offers a number of different tour options such as a Kayak Tour, Boat Tour, Crystal Kayak Tour, and SUP tour.


Safety and Tips for Visitors:


Stay Safe: Be aware of your surroundings, especially near cliffs. Avoid night hiking and alcohol consumption during hikes. Also, please check the weather as you head out on the trails to avoid being caught unprepared. This is especially true in the winter.


Accommodation Notes: Due to an increase in popularity, there have been more places to stay popping up. Typically on the outskirts of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Some cabins and places to stay may lack modern amenities like electricity or running water. The Red River Gorge Treehouses is a fantastic and memorable place to stay the night, also located directly near the trailheads and inside the Red River Gorge Forest boundary. What's even better is that these Red River Gorge Treehouses have electricity, warm running water, and modern amenities! You need to plan in advance though as the summer months book out fairly quickly. Read reviews, check availabitliy and photos by clicking here!


Trail Preparedness: Use the AllTrails app to choose trails suited to your fitness level and interests as well as to get more information regarding certain hikes. There is a free version, but if you are really into hiking, I recommend the subscription as this will give you information while being off the grid.


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