Red River Gorge, one of the most scenic getaways in Kentucky, features a diverse ecology and topography that makes it unique in itself. Designated a National Natural Landmark by the USDA Forest Service, its 26,000 acres are encompassed entirely within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Red River Gorge is well known for its remarkable beauty, whether it is the more than 100 natural s tone arches, the cliffs overlooking vast valleys, or the unusually high number of rare and endangered plant species. A little over nineteen miles of Red River that snake through the Gorge have been designated a national wild and scenic river. The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway, a designated America’s Byway route, crosses through the Gorge.
Within the Red River Gorge is the Clifty Wilderness, a vast tract of undeveloped and rugged forest land with hiking trails. Its 12,646 acres feature numerous natural stone arches, rock shelters, and looming cliffs within its steep valley walls and sparkling clear headwater streams. Its solitude and unspoiled bounty attracts many. As that is, there is no functional cellular or radio communications due to its remote nature and no modern facilities. The vast majority of the trails are unmarked due to its wilderness designation, so be prepared to bring a GPS, compass and map for reference. Some of the trails that cross through this desolate region include the Osbourne Bend Trail (T 240), Lost Branch Trail (T 239), Sheltowee Trace (T 100), Swift Camp Creek Trail (T 219), Wildcat Trail (T 228), and the Rock Bridge Trail (T 207). There are nearly 20 miles of trail to choose from.
Besides expanse wilderness areas, there are over 100 natural stone arches within the gorge, sculpted by 70 million years of wind and water. These natural wonders help frame the Gorge’s densely forested areas, from the valleys to the ridges and cliffs. As a result, many arches are popular with rock climbers. Some of the more famous arches in the trail include Double Arch, Grays Arch, Hidden Arch, Whittleton Arch, Silvermine Arch, Princess Arch, and the Whistling Arch. Many are not easily accessible and will require difficult hikes to reach.
The distinct topography of the Red River Gorge also allures to many rock climbers. The numerous Corbin sandstone arches and highwalls make the area ideal for climbing, and has been ranked one of the top 10 climbing destinations in the world.(1) There are over 1,300 developed climbing routes, far surpassing those in many other naturalized areas.
Fortunately, there are numerous outfitters that are located close to Red River. For beginners, the 42-acre Torrent Falls Climbing Resort located just down KY 15 from Natural Bridge State Resort Park, is more than guide service and instruction with 50 unique climbing routes. The family-friendly resort is also a bed and breakfast and comes complete with log cabins, a waterfall, and a 70-foot suspension bridge over 50 feet of Middle Fork. There is also Red River Outdoors that offers guide services and climbing instruction, along with canoe and mountain bike rental, and guiding, hiking, backpacking and camping areas.
Located at the mouth of Gladie Creek is Gladie, a former community located just a stone’s throw from the Bison Way Trail (T 210) and the Sheltowee Trace (T 100). The land surrounding the community was once used for subsistence farming, and later became a logging camp for the timber industry which at the time was reaching its peak. Gladie at one time featured numerous homes, a school, cemetery, general store and community center.
Today, the Gladie Historic Site preserves these memories. The cabin, which dates to between 1876 and 1884, was originally moved there from a location 1/4 mile away. The house is being restored and will open as an interpretive site for exhibits and presentations. Adjacent to the Gladie Historic Site is the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center, which provides information regarding the cultural heritage, unique resources, and geology of the Red River region. It also provides trail, camping, and hiking information. There are maps, passes, books, and souvenirs available, and is open seven days a week from 9 AM to 5:30 PM from spring to fall.
Finally, located along KY 77, the 900-foot one-lane Nada Tunnel was constructed as part of a logging railroad in the early 1900s. You can find more information regarding its history along with numerous photographs at Bridges & Tunnels.
Red River through the Gorge offers spectacular canoing and kayaking opportunities. It was also designated as Kentucky’s first National Wild and Scenic River. It is split into two sections: Upper and Lower. The Upper segment is for more experienced canoers as it has Class II and III rapids, while the Lower offers more tranquility and an easier time. To access the Upper portion, the put in is at KY 746 at the Spraddlin Bridge. The Lower portion starts at the concrete span below the Sky Bridge along KY 77; the take out point is at the blue steel bridge.
There are over sixty miles of hiking opportunities from the unmarked trails in the Clifty Wilderness to paved, handicap-accessible paths. Many provide access to the natural stone arches that dot the region, and to large bluffs that provide unparalleled vistas.
Highlights include the brief Chimney Top (T 235), the Hidden and Silvermine Arch Loop (T 208, T 225), Whittleton Branch and Arch Trail (T 216, T 217) and Wildcat and Swift Camp Trail Loop (T 228, T 219).
Red River Gorge and the Clifty Wilderness offers many spectular places to camp. Anyone, as long as there is a recreation permit (between 10 PM and 6 AM), can camp along the trails within these two areas only. Camping is not permitted within 300 feet of any road, within 300 feet of any developed trail, or in any picnic or parking area. Guests cannot also camp in rockshelters, at the base of any cliff.
Koomer Ridge Campground
A U.S. Fee Area that has trailer and tent spaces, vault toilets, fire grills, lantern posts, drinking water, picnic tables, and an amphitheater, sites are on a “first-come, first-served” basis. The campground is in operation from mid-April to the end of October. Tent sites, however, remain open year-round although no water is available. The Hidden Arch Trail (T 208), Silvermine Arch Trail (T 225), and the Cliff Trail (T 206) can be accessed from the grounds. Koomer Ridge can be accessed via KY 15 between Slade and Pine Ridge.
Middle Fork & Whittleton Campground
Actually located just outside of the Gorge at Natural Bridge, these two campgrounds are located near KY 11. There are 82 sites total with utilities (most hookups have been removed) and 12 primitive sites.
These are located along Forest Road 10 (Chimney Top Rock Road) and offer a limited number of “first-come, first-serve” spots. The first campground is located just off of the road on the Rough Trail (T 221), while the other is located closer to Princess Arch (T 233) and Chimney Top Rock (T 235). Another campground is located on Forest Road 9B (East Fork Indian Creek Road).
- Brown, Katherine Tandy. “Rockin’ in the Gorge.” The Lane Report June 2007: 48.