Sunday, June 30, 2024

Day Hiking Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge Wilderness, KY
May 2 – 5, 2024

I took a trip with my friend Greg up to the Red River Gorge Wilderness located in Daniel Boone National Forest Kentucky and it did not disappoint. I always find it fascinating comparing and contrasting environments in natural areas in different regions. For instance, in the Smoky Mountains you have more of a rain forest atmosphere but in Red River Gorge it feels more like a forest with just a hint of rain forest. 

- Click Here for PDF Map -

Greg and I thought about doing an overnight backpacking trip but settled on day hiking and getting a feel for the area. We made our base camp at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky that is a pleasant little campsite located in the heart of Daniel Boone National Forest on the southern edge of Red River Gorge Geological Area. 

The closest town is Slade, KY and it does not have much there other than a few local shops and tourist type things. It has not yet succumbed to the huge tourist traps that you see in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas just outside of the Smoky Mountains. That is fine with me as it gives off more of an old-time expedition feel that I enjoy. There is something nice about cooking over a campfire as opposed to going out to restaurants. 

We ended up doing four different hikes; Indian Staircase, Suspension Bridge, Henson’s Arch, and Double Arch, Courthouse Rock, Auxier Ridge Loop. I will eventually give a brief description of each trail independently but for now I will give a general overview of hiking in the area.  

First off, I could not find a decent map of the area. While I use AllTrails to navigate I always like researching a paper map along with having one on me while in the field. After we wrapped up our hiking, I did find a trail map though it appears not to have all the trails listed on it but at least it gives you a general layout of the area. When I go back, I will be ordering a map(s) from USGS to study and take with me.

Another issue that makes the area hard to navigate is all the side trails branching from the main trail. There are many who backpack in the area, so you have all these little trails leading to campsites and then stop. With all the bluffs and their magnificent vistas, you have a lot of side trails that lead you here as well. It makes it hard to know if you are on the main trail or not. 

Finally, I noticed that sometimes the “hike” names are different from the actual “trail” names. This was how I missed the split trail leading to the Double Arch that was a total disappointment once we realized that we had missed it. 

Hike #1 – The Indian Staircase:

Click Here for my AllTrails Recording of this Hike

This was the hike I was most looking forward to but due to the navigational problems listed above we ended up going the wrong way. The hike is a very pleasant one and starts out being a down up back to down before it starts up again at a remarkably high grade. When you begin the loop portion of the hike you need to go right or north up the Indian Staircase, we went left or west and went up how we should have come down. 

The Indian Staircase is a solid rock scramble with an insane grade that is on the verge of rock climbing. There are some small hand/foot holds that have been worn into the sandstone to help you up. Going up is hard but trying to get down is another story, so it is important that you hit it going the correct direction. 

The trail we took up had some elevation to it but was not awful and part of the way up you will run into an arch. One you get up to the bluff the views open and it truly is awe-inspiring. At one section of bluff there is a frog carved into the sandstone. We eventually reach the Indian Staircase though as previously mentioned from the top. Greg was able to get down the first steep slope I tried but how my pack rubbed against the rock face it made me unstable and I kept felt like I was going to slide. Deciding to error on the side of caution Greg came back up and we scouted another way down. 

The way we took to get down was still fun and there were some rock scrambles along with trying to find which direction the trail went. Once we got back down it was just a matter of retracing our steps. I really cannot wait to go and hike this one the correct way! 

Hike #2 – The Suspension Bridge Along Sheltowee Connector Trail

This was just a short little hike on our way back to the campsite to check out a suspension bridge. Right the bridge is out and being repaired but cool, nonetheless. People were kayaking and canoeing down the Red River through here, so that would be another activity to try the next time. There is a high rock, through this stretch of river, people were jumping off that looked fun. 

Hike #3 – Henson’s Arch

Click Here for my AllTraisl Recording of this Hike

This trail is in the campground we were staying at and is only a 0.6-mile round trip. We thought it would be a nice hike to stretch our legs before the longer one we had planned. It is a nice little hike that takes you to an underground arch that has a small waterfall running down it. It had been very wet this week and we just got a rain shower why on the trail, so the waterfall might not be a feature that is always there. The hike is short, but it does have a good incline while going up. 

Hike # 4 – Double Arch, Courthouse Rock, & Auxier Ridge Loop

Click here for my AllTrails Recording of this Hike

This is an amazing hike, and if you like views this is the hike for you. I am not sure which direction they recommend in hiking this one, but I saw most hikers going counterclockwise. Greg and I hiked it clockwise and think it is my preferred way, as the least interesting part of the hike was the first mile or so.  

The first mile and a half is an easy hike up more or less a gravel road until you get to a staircase that takes you down into a basin. It was here I got confused and took the wrong route. Instead of the side trail to Double Arch we stayed on the Loop trail to Courthouse Rock. You will reach the low point of the hike on the Auxier Branch of the Red River. It is incredibly beautiful down here but humid. 

You will start climbing again on your way to Courthouse Rock that is an alluring geographical site that has a way up to get a beautiful overlook of the countryside. We took a little snack break here and just took it all in. We did not know of the even more spectacular views to come. 

After a short climb you hit the Auxier Ridge, and Oh My Word! The views are just from what seems to be another world. Just about every step you take you will feel the need to stop and just look. I would say you get just about over a mile of this before you head back into the woods and descend. There will be one final push up at the end of the hike to get back to the parking lot.

I absolutely cannot wait to get back here to spend some more time exploring. I would like to do both these hikes again “the right way” and take a little more time exploring some of the side trails. It would also be fun to take the kayaks and paddle the Red River too. The campsite was close quarters but very pleasant, and I would definitely stay there again. 

As always my friends… Hike on, and stay safe!

Story Pictures:



Day Hiking Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge Wilderness, KY May 2 – 5, 2024 I took a trip with my friend Greg up to the Red River Gorge Wilderness located in Daniel Boon...