Red River Gorge

Sandy Mitchell
river gorge

Southeastern Kentucky's Red River Gorge is designated as a National Scenic Byway, and the exquisite beauty of its dramatic landscape, including its awesome arches and breathtaking sandstone cliffs, is the result of millions of years of sculpting by wind and water. The gorge is located within a 28,000-acre section of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

You'll enter the spectacular gorge area via the 900-foot Nada Tunnel (on Highway 77), which is open to one-lane traffic only (it was originally built to be used by a logging railroad during the early 1900's).

Once you're in the beautiful gorge, you'll find the largest concentration of magnificent rock shelters and natural stone arches east of the Rockies, and these may be viewed by driving along Highways 77 and 715 and via the more than 6o miles of scenic hiking trails that are available. And the Red River Gorge's fantastic network of trails includes a section of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. You'll also find a great variety of plant and wildlife here - and evidence of its ancient inhabitants (in the old stone staircases and pictographs that you'll see).

Hiking Around the Red River Gorge

For some of the best views in the Red River Gorge, try walking to Raven's Rock; however, this is a very challenging hike, and you'll find that the cliffs are lined with railings because of the danger. Natural Bridge, the renowned 900 ton natural arch, also features spectacular lookouts; they're reached via several trails and a sky lift (and the summit is accessed through "Fat Man's Misery"). Sky Bridge, an impressive rock span of 75 feet, offers great views of the Clifty Wilderness, which is a rugged and undeveloped area that features many natural arches and towering cliffs. And Lover's Leap offers you one of the highest overlooks in the entire Red River Gorge.

Castle Arch, a massive arch with very rough edges, may be seen as you drive along Highway 715 (near the turnoff for Sky Bridge). Rock Bridge, a natural wonder that spans Swift Creek, has a self-guiding loop trail that leads to the arch. Haystack Rock is a dome-shaped rock. Double Arch has a thinner arch above the first one, and it's reached by ascending a series of steps at the end of the designated trail. Stairs also lead you to the bottom of yet another interesting formation, Courthouse Rock.

Other Sites Within Red River Gorge

Other interesting sites in the Red River Gorge Geological Area include Chimney Top Rock (which rises about 900 feet above the canyon floor), Angel Windows (an area of large recess caves), Whistling Arch (where the winds make a whistling sound through the formation), and Creation Falls (a beautiful waterfalls located in the gorge).

Other Area Attractions

While you're in the Red River Gorge area, be sure to visit Gladie Historic Site (a restored early settler's log cabin), the Kentucky Reptile Zoo (where venom is extracted for research purposes), Torrent Falls Family Climbing Adventure (an excellent place to try rock climbing on an engineered vertical path around an immense rock face), and the Red River Historical Museum (where you'll learn even more about the area's history).

Cycling Around the Gorge

For a rather unique way of exploring the Red River Gorge, perhaps you'll consider a bicycling trip. The gorge's spectacular network of hiking trails is off-limits to mountain bikers, but Lexington's Bluegrass Cycling Club organizes a number of area bike rides, including the annual autumn "Red River Rally"; this magnificent 27-mile loop tour takes the cyclist right through one of the most scenic and significant geological areas in the nation. Of course, you can do this ride on your own at any time, but be prepared for narrow, shoulder-less, twisting mountain roads (where you'll face several tough climbs and steep descents).

Paddling along the Gorge

Another enticing way to explore the area is by canoe, for the Red River is a designated Wild and Scenic River. This adventure trek will take you through a narrow, twisting gorge that's lined by thick forest, huge boulders, and towering sandstone cliffs. You'll also find several rock climbing and rappelling opportunities available along this route (for example, Tower Rock does not have a designated trail leading to the top, but experienced rock climbers will enjoy this challenge).

Whether you choose to explore this fascinating area by bike, foot, canoe, or motor vehicle, the Red River Gorge is certainly worth a visit - and you'll see for yourself that nature has, indeed, created a masterpiece here.

For More Information:

Southern & Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association (SEKTDA), 2292 South Highway 27, Somerset, Kentucky 42501; phone: 606-677-6059; web site:

Red River Gorge