For Kentuckians, the Red River Gorge is known and loved both for its climbing and trails. I am not a climber, so I stuck to the trails on my recent visit.
The Gorge, as it is lovingly referred to by locals, offers tons of different trails for almost all skill levels, all with different activities and sights to see. Some of the best seasons to visit the Gorge are in Spring and Fall, with the flowers blooming and leaves changing respectively. From arches to vistas, this Red River Gorge Trail Guide covers 6 hikes in the Gorge worth a visit, and provides some Natural Bridge State Park and Red River Gorge hiking tips!
(Copperas Falls, a beautiful spot)
Whistling Arch Trail: At around a half mile round trip and minimal elevation gain, this trail offers a sizable arch and an overlook over the valley below. The Red River Gorge has about 150 arches, its arch concentration second only to Utah’s Arches National Park, and the Whistling Arch is an excellent example!
Angel’s Windows Trail: Another short and sweet hike, this trail offers a double arch. The trail is about a half mile total and has little elevation change. These are some of the more intricate arches, making this arguably one of the Red River Gorge’s best hikes. The arch on the far side looks like a horse to some people; check out the photo below and tell me what you think.
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Perspective— it’s an odd thing. It’s strange that a certain angle can make you see something entirely different than the previous. From any other angle than the one I stood at when taking this photo, this was just a nice arch. From this specific angle, in this specific light, it looks a little like a horse.
Jump Rock: This is more of a swimming hole than a hike, but still well worth the trip. From the Sheltowee Connector Trail #211 lot off Sky Bridge Rd, it is a quick walk out to Jump Rock along the Red River. The rock is safe to jump off and the river is safe to swim across, although I would still recommend being a strong swimmer, and don’t recommend diving off the rock. The current is not strong, and the river is deep enough that you don’t have to worry about hurting yourself jumping. When we went, there were about 40 yellow monarch butterflies around the river and the surrounding trials.
Disclaimer: I did not jump or swim here, because it was 64 degrees when we visited. My sister swam, and has done the jump with a group in the past.
The Natural Bridge and Hanson’s Point Trails: Located in Natural Bridge State Park rather than the Red River Gorge, the Natural Bridge is a short but steeper hike from the parking lot in the Natural Bridge State Park. The Natural Bridge is what it sounds like—a bridge of sandstone connecting two ridges and carved out by the wind that you can hike across. From the top of the Natural Bridge, you can see Hanson’s Point—a local told me that the overlook was called this but I haven’t been able to confirm online. After crossing the Natural Bridge, you can head out to Hanson’s Point to get a view of the bridge from a distance. From here, we continued out to Lookout Point to watch the sunset. Lookout Point offers really nice views of the valley below, and is arguably the best spot in the Natural Bridge State Park to watch the sunset.
Tip for Red River Gorge photos: I have heard that fog collects in the valley below the Natural Bridge and Hanson’s Point in the morning, both of which face the east, and it is a really cool place to shoot the sunrise above the clouds.
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One of those photos I deleted a while back cause it was just taking up space on my laptop 🍃 I just now moved my old Lightroom catalogue over to Lightroom CC, and it restored a bunch of photos that I thought I'd deleted from my hard drive– this is one of them. I think it's pretty wild how looking at something old with fresh eyes can completely change your perspective. A few months ago I didn't think this pic was worth keeping at all. Now I kind of like it- the greens are intense, the tree tops are lit up, and it reminds me of the beginning of a really nice sunset, and the feeling of standing near the edge of a cliff.
Devil’s Staircase Trail: Located in the Natural Bridge State Park between Hanson’s Point and Lookout Point, this “staircase” will lead you deep into walls of rock. It’s a cool and short hike, but not if you have bad knees, don’t like heights, or are not steady footed. Honestly it’s amazing what this park will call a staircase. I can’t believe I did that stupid hike.
Copperas Falls Trail (Copperas Creek Falls Trail): This is an unofficial trail near Osborne Bend Trial, and is a little tricky to follow and isn’t technically a hike in the Red River Gorge Geologic Area. If you can see Copperas Creek or the creek bed, you are headed in the right direction. This hike is just shy of four miles round trip and doesn’t have a whole lot of elevation gain, but you will have to climb over some trees, and even large rocks depending on which route you take. When you first start off on the trail, it will split off into two. Following the trail on the right will give you a faster and easier route to the falls. We followed to the left. It was probably more scenic, but we had to climb over boulders the size of cars, and I had cuts and bruises. From here, the trial has multiple creek crossings, so be aware that your feet might get wet. If you are going to go, I would recommend going earlier than May or after a big rain—the falls were more of a trickle than falls by the time we got there. Technically in the Gorge or not, Copperas Falls is one of the prettiest spots to hike in the Red River Gorge.
Another tip on Copperas Falls: there was a lot of trash lining the hike. I was able to get some of it, but I’m sure there will be more if you get the chance to visit, so bring a trash bag to collect as you go! It can seem like a pain to pick up after someone else, but if not you, who else will do it? Besides, there is no better way to appreciate nature than to leave a place better than you found it.
With arches, rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls, you really can’t go wrong when planning a hiking trip in the Red River Gorge. Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment, or dm me on Instagram!