The Red River Gorge is known as one of Kentucky’s greatest treasures, and in recent years it has also gained popularity for being the perfect outdoor destination. Featuring unforgettable scenic drives, hiking trails, premier rock climbing and areas to fish, kayak, swim and mountain bike. The Gorge is just a nature lover’s dream!
As a resident of the Red River Gorge for over 35 years Dario shares some of his favourite trails and insider tips on how to get the most out of your day at Red River Gorge, whether you’re visiting for the whole day or just a few hours.
TAKE A LUNCH AND PLENTY OF WATER
Bring something for lunch as there are plenty of places to eat, but if you’re going out into The Gorge to hike, it’s pretty removed from the restaurants and that’s the beauty of it. Be sure to take plenty of water too. Make sure you also have a bag for your own rubbish. The Gorge is absolutely beautiful, so it’s important to take care of it when you make a trip out.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE
If you like waterfalls and lush greenery, choose a hike on the bottomland. You can drop down into the valleys to find rainforest-like conditions at trails including Gray’s Arch Trail or enjoy the pines and drier arid climate by hiking the ridgelines. You can also visit caves or rock shelters with some great lookout points too.
STOP BY THE LOCAL BUSINESSES
If you’re a visitor and unfamiliar with the area, any local business will point you in the right direction. The Gladie Visitor Center is an excellent place to get information about The Gorge. They provide an easy-to-understand map of what The Gorge offers and all the history behind it:
Gladie Visitor Center, 3451 Sky Bridge Road, Stanton, KY 40380
Now that we’ve gone through the essential tips for any day at The Gorge, it’s time for the fun stuff:
Rock Garden Trail, Auxier Bridge, Turtle Back Arch, Hood’s Branch, Sand Gap
A popular trail running trail is Rock Garden Trail at Natural Bridge State Park (which is also part of The Gorge). It’s a beautiful trail and not too steep, plus you get to do some Indian staircases and those are always fun! Another popular area is Auxier Bridge and Turtle Back Arch for trail running. Both follow the river out to The Gorge and you don’t run into a lot of people – literally! The running in this area is great, especially on the lesser known trails.
There are also some great loops, like Hood’s Branch or Sand Gap. Hood’s Branch is about a 4-mile loop and Sand Gap is a 7.5-mile loop, but both are nice, wide trails so you can really kick it into gear and gain some speed.
BEST HIKES FOR KIDS
Rock Garden Loop, Rock Bridge Trail, Whittleton Trail, Natural Bridge
Rock Garden Loop is a favourite hike for kids. Unlike most of the trails, there are no portions next to a cliff edge and it has sturdy railings with a wide path that starts out completely paved.
Rock Bridge Trail is another great hike for kids. It drops down into a valley immediately and then you hit Creation Falls. The kids can play in the water and you get to see Rock Bridge as well, so you get a waterfall and an arch in the same trail. It’s just under a mile, so you can easily talk your kids into hiking it - plus it’s a good spot to have a picnic so you can bribe them with food too!
Whittleton Trail is also a great spot for kids, but it is a little bit longer – it’s two miles uphill and two miles back gently downhill. Natural Bridge Trail is perfect for a family hike because you can just hike half of it if your kids are tired. You can choose to take the sky lift down or do it in reverse. So if they give up halfway you have an exit plan.
Chimney Top Rock, Rock Bridge Trail, Natural Bridge, Pilot’s Knob
When you google must-see places at Red River Gorge, Chimney Top Rock always comes up. It’s probably the one of the best lookout point and one of the most famous because it gives you a 360-degree view of The Gorge. Natural Bridge is another trail we recommend because it’s just so cool! If you can visit on a weekday because it can get really busy on weekends.
If you’re heading towards The Gorge, another great hike is located in Clay City, Kentucky. Right between Lexington and The Gorge & called Pilot’s Knob and it’s a total hidden gem. It’s a 4-mile loop that sits on a nature preserve and it’s the only place where you can hike up and see where the Bluegrass meets The Gorge. From Pilot’s Knob you can even see Richmond, which is about 40 miles away. It’s really beautiful!
BEST PLACES TO SWIM
Swift Camp Creek, Mill Creek Lake, Jump Rock
The whole Swift Camp Creek area is just awesome, especially on a hot summer day because you’re hiking along a creek. Plus, you can all play in the water.
Mill Creek Lake is another awesome place to swim and it’s beautiful. It’s at the State Park and it’s the perfect spot for a day trip. You can park there right there, enjoy a picnic and get yourself a seat in the breeze. Then hop in the water and soak up the sun.
Jump Rock is a great swimming hole with a giant boulder that’s safe to jump off of. We don’t encourage diving but the river is definitely deep enough for jumping. It’s a beautiful place to have some fun in the water.
Then at the centre of any trip to The Gorge should be a stop at the iconic Miguel’s Pizza. Miguel’s son, Dario Ventura, who now runs the shop, is featured in this video. He’s given the inside scoop on everything we need to know about the place that Southern Living called one of the Seven Wonders of the South.
There’s really never a bad time to visit The Gorge because it’s a four season destination and each season brings a unique beauty with it. For more information on any of the above email firstname.lastname@example.org.