The Red River Gorge Geological Area is an incredible part of Kentucky that includes sandstone arches and towering cliffs sculpted over millennia by the scenic Red River. With more than 100 arches, waterfalls, and old-growth forests, it is easy to see why it has been designated a National Geological Area, National Natural Landmark, and National Archeological District. While the park is famous for its rock climbing, the earthbound can enjoy well over 500 miles hiking trails. With so many options, choosing a direction can be a happy challenge. Try this weekend itinerary:
Start with a sunrise at Chimney Top Rock. Leave plenty of time as the gravel road is slow going. From the trailhead, a level quarter-mile trail leads to Chimney Top Rock and its 270-degree views of the Red River Gorge below. After sunrise, cross the parking lot and hike the relatively level quarter-mile Princess Arch Trail. Pit toilet restrooms are available at these trailheads. Drive north to hike the 1-mile Sky Bridge Loop Trail. Hiking clockwise, the hike to the bridge is relatively flat, but to complete the loop requires climbing 75 well maintained stairs. The view from the bottom of the arch is well worth the extra effort.
Following this hike, drive south to the well marked Angel's Windows Trailhead. This moderately flat 0.6-mile out-and-back hike ends with an unusual rock formation and magnificent overhanging cliff. Continue south and drive to the end of the gravel Rock Bridge Road. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the trailhead before taking on this 1.25-mile loop trail. From the trailhead, the trail descends sharply in either direction into an old-growth forest with exquisite wildflowers and ferns. At the halfway point are the two highlights of the trail. Hikers encounter a gorgeous waterfall pouring into a secluded pond where kids can play in the shallow waters. Just beyond the bend from the waterfall is the majestic Rock Bridge Arch spanning the aptly named Rock Bridge Creek.
Get up before the sun and drive to Natural Bridge State Park. Park in the lot near Middle Fork Campground Road East. Climb the 0.75-mile one-way Original Trail to the top of Natural Bridge. This difficult trail climbs over 400 feet through an impressive forest of hemlock, tulip, white pine trees, and thickets of rhododendron. There are numerous benches to rest, but make sure you get to the top in time for a spectacular sunrise vista.
Warmed up and inspired, drive down Tunnel Ridge Road to the Auxier Ridge Trailhead. This moderate 5-mile loop follows a narrow ridgeline with perpetually photogenic views of the gorge below. For the best views per mile, take Auxier Ridge Trail to the Courthouse Rock Trail, which returns hikers back to the Auxier Ridge Trail and the trailhead.
A popular lunch spot is Miguel's Pizza and Climbers Campground. Have a locally made ginger ale and debate your favorite trail before driving home.
There are numerous options for lodging overnight, including backcountry camping, drive-up camping, cabins, and hotels in the area to meet the needs for every style of adventurer.