Are you trying to plan a trip to the Red River Gorge, but don’t know where to start? That’s totally reasonable, because the Gorge has SO much to offer ― from panoramic ridge top views, luscious creek side hikes, beautiful waterfalls and over 150 natural sandstone arches (and some limestone ones as well, for good measure). There is always more to explore at the Gorge, and I’m going to outline three hikes that you should definitely check out ― especially if this is your first time visiting the area.
Tip: Venture to the bottom of the blog for more photos of these trails!
Auxier Ridge Trail
First up, let’s take a look at Auxier Ridge Trail. This one is a DOOZY (in all the good ways)! If you are looking for some of the best ridge top views in the Gorge, look no further. This trail has you covered! First things first, you can find the trailhead for Auxier Ridge at the very end of the motor vehicle section of Tunnel Ridge Road where there is a large parking lot. This trail is an out-and-back, topping out at about 4.2 miles total. One of the many good things about this trail is that if you are feeling more adventurous or looking for a longer hike, you can either make a balloon loop using Courthouse Rock Trail or utilize Auxier Branch Trail to connect from Auxier Ridge Trail to Double Arch Trail. The possibilities are endless! There are no crazy climbs along the out-and-back trail, but it does have elevation fluctuation, so I would rate this trail as moderate.
You will be hiking along a ridge for the entirety of this hike, and the views REALLY bloom as you near the last section. Hike out along “Wizard’s Backbone”, where the ridge thins and the Gorge slopes out on either side of you. There are so many views to soak in, including Haystack Rock, Courthouse Rock, Ravens Rock and even Double Arch nestled into the opposite ridge line! The trail terminates at Courthouse Rock, a prominent landmark seen from multiple different trails within the Gorge region. This trail is beautiful in all seasons (and I recommend returning time and time again to see it in all of its GORGEous splendor). When hiking Auxier Ridge in the summer, keep an eye out for wild blackberries and blueberries lining the trail – some yummy snacks! You may also see the beautiful rhododendron and mountain laurel blooms. All in all, this is THE trail I will continue to recommend that everyone hike at least once.
Rock Bridge Trail
Okay, now what if you are more of a creek side, waterfallin’ kinda person? Then you definitely need to check out Rock Bridge Trail. This trail is an awesome taste of what the Gorge has to offer, featuring Creation Falls and Rock Bridge. Creation Falls is one of the waterfall gems of the Gorge, and the sandy “beach” area that surrounds the falls is a favorite for both kids and dogs! Rock Bridge is located right around the corner from Creation Falls and is the only “bridge” in the Red River Gorge above water! Pretty neat.
This trail is great if you are looking for something shorter that will also deliver on the views. It is a loop hike and tops out at about 1.5 miles total. The trailhead is located next to the parking lot at the end of Rock Bridge Road. There are also several picnic tables in this area as well! You can choose to hike this loop either way, but I usually hike it counterclockwise. The trail dips down from the ridge to the creek and then climbs back up, and it is my personal opinion that the climb up is easier going counterclockwise, but you can hike it and see what you think! Because of this climb back up to the parking lot to complete the loop, I would also rate this trail as moderate, but I’ve seen people of all ages out enjoying this hike! This is definitely a Gorge classic, so make time during your trip to check it out.
Now, if you are really trying to do some “arch hunting” while at the Gorge, I would recommend that you check out Grays Arch! Grays Arch is a behemoth ― weighing in at 50 feet tall and 80 feet wide. It is also a very classic Gorge landmark, and everyone needs to check it out at some point during their Gorge adventures. The trailhead is located in the Grays Arch parking area along Tunnel Ridge Road. You will hike Grays Arch Trail until you reach the intersection with Rough Trail and bear right. Then, you will hike Rough Trail down into the Gorge (expect several staircases), to the side trail on the right/straight ahead to Grays Arch at the bottom. You will be able to see Grays Arch through the trees as you descend, and when you get to the bottom, you have a short scramble up to the underside of this massive sandstone arch. This is the perfect spot for lunch, as there are multiple large boulders resting underneath the arch providing nice seating areas.
This trail is an out-and-back at a little over 2.25 miles total, but like a lot of other trails within the Gorge, there are several ways to make this into a longer loop trail by utilizing the Rough Trail. Just remember that if you are hiking the out-and-back, you do have to hike back the way you came, meaning that you will have to ascend the 270 feet that you walked down at the beginning. Definitely pack enough water and take as many breaks as you need on the climb back up. I would also rate this trail as moderate because of this! But once again, I’ve seen people of all ages out there enjoying this beautiful hike in all seasons, so don’t let the little bit of leg and butt workout scare you. All in all, definitely a must do if you are hiking the Gorge!
For Tread the Red #TrailTalk videos (where you can get some visual references of these trails), head over to https://treadthered.com/trails-of-the-red/
FAQ: Exploring the Gorge as a First-Timer
- Where is the Red River Gorge located?
The Red River Gorge is a canyon system on the Red River, located in eastern Kentucky within the Daniel Boone National Forest. It spans parts of Powell, Menifee and Wolfe counties.
- When is the best time to visit the Red River Gorge?
The Red River Gorge is a year-round destination, but spring and fall offer the most pleasant weather for outdoor activities such as hiking/backpacking, kayaking and rock climbing. Summers can be hot, while winters can be chilly and occasionally snowy.
- Are there any visitor centers in the Red River Gorge?
Yes, the Gladie Visitor Center is a great starting point for information, maps and local guidance on exploring the area.
- Is there camping or accommodations in the Red River Gorge?
Yes, camping is popular in the area. There are developed campgrounds, backcountry camping options and a variety of private campgrounds nearby. There are also cabins and lodges, as well as restaurants and eateries in nearby towns like Slade and Stanton.
- Are there any safety considerations for visiting the Red River Gorge?
Stay on marked trails and respect posted guidelines. For climbers, be cautious while rock climbing and use proper equipment. Check weather conditions before embarking on outdoor adventures and keep a safe distance from cliff edges and natural formations.
- Are pets allowed in the Red River Gorge?
Yes, pets are allowed in many parts of the Red River Gorge. However, be sure to check individual trail and campground regulations for specific pet policies.
- Is there an entrance fee for the Red River Gorge?
No, there is no specific entrance fee to access the Red River Gorge itself. However, there may be fees for camping or other recreational activities within the area, so check in advance.
- Can I go swimming in the Red River Gorge?
Swimming is allowed in some areas, such as at the Mill Creek Lake Recreation Area, but be aware of local regulations and safety conditions.
Remember, the Red River Gorge is a natural treasure, so please follow Leave No Trace principles and help preserve this beautiful environment for future generations to enjoy.