Kentucky’s Red River Gorge

(Featured Image:  Late fall view looking across the valley from Auxier Ridge to Double Arch)

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. ~Isaiah 55:12

Red River Gorge – A Beautiful Little Corner of God’s Creation

My wife and I have been exploring Kentucky’s Red River Gorge for several years now; and, while we have traveled great distances to some pretty spectacular places, two factors put Red River Gorge at the top of our list of favorite hiking destinations.  First, and foremost, is the sheer beauty of the gorge.  No matter what time of year we have hiked there, even in winter, the scenery is amazing.  And, with the variety of landscapes, from towering cliffs and ridges offering panoramic views, to forested valleys with tumbling streams, water falls, and rock shelters, to the numerous, incredible arches, there are no limits to the natural wonders to be explored in this magnificent place.  The second factor making it top our list, is the proximity to home.  It is an easy two to two-and-a-half hour drive from Cincinnati, making it possible to travel down and back in the same day and still have time for a five to ten mile hike, with a break for lunch at some scenic spot along the trail.

There are actually three officially designated areas in the vicinity of Red River Gorge: the Red River Gorge Geological Area and Clifty Wilderness, both part of the much larger Daniel Boone National Forest; and also the Natural Bridge State Resort Park, which is part of the Kentucky State Parks system.  Rules and regulations do vary from one area to another, so it is worth knowing where you are planning your adventure. For example, dogs are not allowed on the trails in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, because it is also part of a designated Kentucky State Nature Preserve, while they are permitted in Red River Gorge.

This is an overview of what the Red River Gorge area has to offer.  I have included a variety of hikes from the very easy to the more difficult.  If you are an experienced hiker I suspect even the most adventurous hikes listed here would only be a moderate challenge.  On the other hand, if you are new to hiking I suggest starting with the easy or moderate hikes before you try to tackle the Auxier Ridge, Auxier Branch, Double Arch loop, or the Gray’s Arch, Rough Trail, Pinch ‘Em Tight loop.  These more difficult hikes involve greater distances and have steep hills to climb and descend with trails that are rocky, rough, and slippery in places.  Know your abilities and limits, and be prepared!

For seasoned hikers who want to explore more remote corners of the gorge, check out my “Red River Gorge – Off-Trail” and “Hiking Indian Staircase” pages.  Keep in mind, though, that these hikes are generally more difficult than the adventurous hikes discussed on this page and involve risks and navigation challenges that the casual hiker should avoid.  Take my warnings seriously and build your outdoor skills before you attempt any hikes that take you off the marked trails shown on the official US Forest Service map!

In general, the official trails are very well marked, though there are places where heavily traveled, unofficial side trails could lead you off course.  If you plan to do anything beyond the moderate hikes I have listed here, I recommend getting a good set of topographic maps and/or a guide book (see the Resources section).  One other benefit of Red River Gorge, I will mention, is that there are many interconnected trails; and, having a good set of maps will allow you to combine them into shorter or longer hikes tailored to your abilities and motivation.  Of course you always have the option of doing short out-and-back hikes to the scenic attractions if you just want the photo ops.  To me, though, you really need to go deeper to experience the full grandeur and magnificence of Red River Gorge.


DANGER! High Cliffs:  There are many high cliffs with no guard rails throughout the gorge so use caution, especially when hiking with children, as you sometimes cannot see the cliff edges until you are right on top of them.

Potable Water:  There are no sources of potable water at the trailheads or anywhere along the trails. If you do any of the adventurous hikes listed here I recommend bringing at least 2 liters of water per person. Even if you are prepared to treat your own water, be aware that some of the streams are seasonal and may not be flowing in the drier times of the year.

Alerts & Notices:  Before heading out for your adventure in Red River Gorge I recommend checking the Daniel Boone National Forest, Alerts & Notices page to make sure there are no road, trail, or area closures that affect your plans.   

Recreation Fee Passes:  A pass is NOT required if you are only day hiking in Red River Gorge; however, If you plan to do any overnight, backcountry camping be aware that a recreation fee permit is required between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM.  The cost of a pass has been constant for as long as I have been backpacking in the gorge, and as of 2018 the passes cost $3 per day, $5 for 3 days, or $30 for an annual pass.  The passes can be purchased at the Gladie Learning Center and many stores in the area.  Fill out the pass with the starting date of your backcountry trip and hang it on the rear view mirror of your vehicle.  Don’t try to game the system by leaving the date blank, though, as the rangers do check the parking lots at night, and they will issue citations.  I once spoke to a pair backpackers who, in making a hasty departure from the trailhead, forgot to fill in the date and were fined $75 for their oversight.

Food Storage Restrictions:  Food storage restrictions do NOT apply if you are only day hiking in Red River Gorge; however, if you plan to do any camping, whether in a developed campground or in the backcountry, you must ensure that all food, trash, and any scented or odorous items that might attract bears are properly stored.  Approved storage methods include bear-resistant containers and bins, a bear hang, and closed, hard-top vehicles or trailers.

IMG_2036Example of a proper Bear-hang.

Suggested Hikes

The hikes listed here are divided into three categories:  easy, easy to moderate, and hikes for the more adventurous.  Even though the easy hikes can be done by just about anyone, some still have stairs to climb and there are often cliffs and dangerous ledges along the trails, so caution is always in order, especially with young children.  If you plan to embark on any of the more adventurous hikes expect to climb some significant hills and realize that the distances involved require some preparation and at least a moderate level of fitness.

We currently have only 12 more miles of trail to complete to have hiked all the official trails in the Red River Gorge Geological Area and Clifty Wilderness.  Over time I hope to add more of those trails to this page; but in the mean-time, if you have a question about a particular trail or area not mentioned here, please feel free to use the comments section to ask about it and I will endeavor to provide an answer as quickly and completely as possible.

Note:  The numbers shown in parenthesis after each of the trail names [e.g., Sky Bridge (#214)] correspond to the trail numbers shown on the maps and are usually marked on the signs at trail junctions, as well.

Easy Hikes:

Sky Bridge (#214) – The parking area for Sky Bridge is located at the end of an access road off of KY-715 in the northeast corner of the gorge area.  This arch is accessible almost directly from the parking area without any hiking involved.  There is a 0.7 mile loop trail around and under the arch that you can hike if desired, but don’t expect much of a challenge.  Even though this is not a hiking destination, I still recommend a quick stop at Sky Bridge as it is a very scenic arch and a location that offers some great views of the gorge.  It can also be quite crowded at times because it is so accessible.

Sky Bridge Trail #214 (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Sky Bridge (IMG_1052)Sky Bridge


Whistling Arch (#234) – The parking area and trailhead are located on the east side of the gorge area along KY-715.  This is an easy 0.5 mile (round trip), out-and-back hike ending at Whistling Arch.

Angel Windows & Whistling Arch Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Whistling Arch (IMG_1054)Whistling Arch


Angel Windows (#218) – The parking area and trailhead are located on the east side of the gorge area along KY-715.  This is an easy 0.5 mile (round trip), out-and-back hike ending at Angel Windows, which is a series of smaller arches.

Angel Windows & Whistling Arch Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Angel Windows (IMG_1057)Angel Windows


Princess Arch (#233) and Chimney Top Rock (#235) – The trailheads for both trails are in the Chimney Top Recreation Area located at the end of Chimney Top Road, a 5-mile long, gravel road.

The Princess Arch trail is a 0.5 mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike that passes over the top of Princess Arch.  It is a bit of a challenge to get to the area underneath the arch, and caution is in order as you can easily slip on the steep, rocky slopes that must be traversed.  That said, it is well worth the effort as the arch is much larger, and more impressive, than it might appear from above.

The Chimney Top trail is a paved, 0.5 mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike which is handicap accessible.  There is no arch on this trail but it does end at an overlook that rewards you with one of those awesome views so common to the gorge. Also be aware that this is one of very few places in the gorge that actually has a railing around the overlook, and for good reason, as Chimney Top Rock is the site of numerous deaths over the years.  Use caution and do not cross over the barrier; this is a dangerous cliff!

Neither of these hikes is difficult, and while not a challenge for even an inexperienced hiker, they are well worth a quick stop to enjoy the spectacular scenery!

Chimney Top & Princess Arch Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Princess Arch


Easy to Moderate Hikes:

Rock Bridge (#207) – The trailhead for this hike is located at the end of Rock Bridge Road (a 2.5 mile gravel road) off of KY-715 in the southeastern corner of the gorge area.  This is a moderate, 1.5 mile, loop hike with a very nice waterfall, Creation Falls, and a unique arch that forms a bridge over a creek, hence the name Rock Bridge.  If you want to add some distance to make this a more substantial hike, I recommend hiking out-and-back on the Swift Camp Creek trail (#219) north from the Rock Bridge loop.  The Swift Camp Creek trail is fairly rugged and offers some great views of the Swift Camp Creek gorge that are well worth the extra hike.

Rock Bridge Trail #207 (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Swift Camp Creek & Wildcat Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Creation Falls (IMG_7341)Creation Falls 

Rock Bridge (IMG_7348)Rock Bridge


Whittleton Arch (#217) and Whittleton Branch/Sheltowee Trace (#217/#100) – The trailhead for this hike is at the back of the Whittleton campground (KY State Parks), on the east side of KY-11, across from Natural Bridge State Resort Park.  This is also part of the Sheltowee Trace.  This is a moderate, 2.0 mile, out-and-back hike with interesting scenery along Whittleton branch and out to Whittleton Arch, which was formed when the roof of a rock shelter collapsed at some point in history.

Whittleton Arch Trail #217 (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Whittleton Arch (IMG_3648)Whittleton Arch


Natural Bridge – The trailhead for “The Original” trail (#1) is located just behind the gift shop at Natural Bridge State Resort Park.  This is a moderate 1.5 mile out-and-back hike (0.75 miles each way assuming you use “The Original Trail”), with a 500 foot elevation gain on the way to Natural Bridge.  “The Original Trail” is the most direct, and easiest, route up to the arch; however, there are several interconnected trails that allow you to vary your route on the way up or down.  There are also multiple trails that allow you to explore the area on top of and around the arch.  Keep in mind that Natural Bridge is the best known and most visited arch in the area, and probably in all of Kentucky, so it can also be very crowded.  If you are looking to get away from it all and find some solitude, don’t expect to find it on this hike.  Even so, the arch is worth seeing and by wandering around the interconnected trails above and below the arch you can make a real hike out of this.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park Facility & Trail Map (Downloadable PDF)

Natural Bridge State Resort Park Trail Descriptions (Web Page)

Natural Bridge - Side (IMG_1766)Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge - Below (IMG_1728)Natural Bridge (from below)


Hikes for the More Adventurous:

Auxier Ridge Trail (#204) – The Auxier Ridge parking area and trailhead are located at the end of Tunnel Ridge Road (about 3 miles of gravel road).  The turn for Tunnel Ridge Road is located about 2.5 miles east of the town of Slade on KY-15.  This is a more rugged, 4.2 mile, out-and-back hike to Courthouse Rock (2.1 miles each way).  This is a great hike that offers several spectacular cliff edge views on both sides of Auxier Ridge and along the ridge out to Courthouse Rock.  By itself, this trail runs mostly along the top of Auxier Ridge, so it is not a terribly rugged hike.  Strictly as an out-and-back hike, I would put this more into the moderate category.  That said…

Auxier Ridge-Courthouse Rock-Early Fall (IMG_0622)Auxier Ridge looking out to Courthouse Rock

Auxier Ridge (#204), Auxier Branch (#203), Double Arch (#201) Loop – If you are feeling more adventurous you can hike out to the end of the Auxier Ridge trail and then use the Auxier Branch trail to connect to the Double Arch trail to form a loop.  If you turn right at the trail junction onto the Double Arch trail this is a 1.5 mile (round trip) out-and-back that ends at Double Arch, which you won’t see until you are almost right at the arch itself.  You can see the arch from below at one point along the trail, but it is easily missed.  The view from Double Arch is definitely worth the extra hike, though.  Including the out-and-back to Double Arch the total distance is about 6.5 miles.  One nice thing about this hike is that the last mile or so is along an old road (part of Tunnel Ridge Road that is no longer used for vehicular traffic) back to the trailhead; so, when you are at your most tired the hike becomes much less strenuous.

Auxier Area Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Double Arch (IMG_2922)Double Arch

Double Arch-Below (IMG_2941)Double Arch (from below)

Double Arch-Auxier Ridge (IMG_2919)View through Double Arch across the valley to Auxier Ridge


Gray’s Arch (#205), Rough (#221), Pinch ‘Em Tight (#223) Loop – The Gray’s Arch trailhead and parking area are located on Tunnel Ridge Road approximately 0.75 miles after you turn off of KY-15.  This is a fairly rugged hike, about 6.5 miles in length, including an unofficial side trail out to a very scenic spot.  This side trail (~0.25 miles one way) is not an official trail, so it is not marked with any signage.  It is pretty well used, though, so it is fairly easy to find, and branches off to the left just past the junction of Rough Trail (#221) and Rush Ridge Trail (#227), assuming you are traveling the loop in a clockwise direction.  The side trail is well worth the added hike as it ends on a high point with a spectacular, panoramic view overlooking the valley below…a great midway point on the hike to stop for lunch!!

Gray’s Arch Area Trails (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)

Rough Trail #221 (US Forest Service Downloadable PDF Map)


Gray's Arch (IMG_6779)Gray’s Arch

Rough Trail-Side Trail (IMG_8633)Scenic view at the end of an unmarked trail off of Rough Trail




Koomer Ridge (US Forest Service) – Camping
Natural Bridge State Resort Park (Kentucky State Parks) – Camping and Lodge
Red River Outdoors – Cabins (see photo)

IMG_5525The Whip-Poor-Will cabin at Red River Outdoors

Internet Information:

Daniel Boone National Forest (US Forest Service website)
Red River Gorge Geologic Area (US Forest Service website)
Natural Bridge State Resort Park (Kentucky State Parks website)

Information and Exhibits:

Gladie Visitor Center
3451 Sky Bridge Road
Stanton, KY 40380
(606) 663-8100 during operating hours [(606) 784-6428 when closed]

Located on the north side of the gorge area on KY-715, the Gladie Visitor Center has nice interpretive exhibits and is a good place to get information on trail conditions, closures, etc.  They also have more detailed maps and trail guides available (some free, some for purchase) as well as recreation fee passes which are required if you plan to be parked between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM do any overnight, backcountry camping (a pass is not required for front-country camping in the Koomer Ridge Campground).  Fee passes are NOT required for day hiking in Red River Gorge.

Note:  Typical hours/days of operation from early spring through late fall are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Friday through Monday, CLOSED Tuesday through Thursday. The Gladie Visitor Center is closed from late fall through early spring.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park
2135 Natural Bridge Road
Slade, KY 40376
(606) 663-2214

Located on the west side of KY-11 about 2 miles south of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway, Natural Bridge State Resort Park has both a gift shop, where you can get information and maps, and a nature center that has nice exhibits relating to the natural and human history of the area.


Hiking Kentucky’s Red River Gorge by Sean Patrick Hill, published by Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham, AL, 2012.

This is a current, complete, and well researched (the author has personally hiked every trail he writes about) guide to the official trails in the Red River Gorge area.  This book is the best one I have seen on the Gorge in terms of both content and format.  The trails are presented as complete, self-contained hikes, which gives you to ability to choose your destination based on scenic attractions, distance, and difficulty level.  If you plan are planning a trip to Red River Gorge, I highly recommend this book!

Hinterlands by Jerrell Goodpaster, published by Lost Branch Productions, Owingsville, KY, 2008.

This is a gem of a book for experienced hikers wanting to explore the “Hinterlands” of Red River Gorge!  The author has spent many years exploring the area, and has compiled a comprehensive volume of over 100 unofficial trails.  For each trail he includes a summary of distance, highlights, and cautions, followed by detailed directions to the trailhead and descriptions of what you can expect to find along the trail (with painstakingly measured distances), elevation profile charts, and GPS coordinates for major points-of-interest.  He also rates each trail, on a scale of 1-10, for its aesthetic quality and difficulty.  Having hiked in the area, and knowing the terrain, I would strongly recommend that you heed the author’s warning that this book is a “down-n-dirty guide for experienced hikers, rather than another general guidebook for casual hikers or walkers.”

Note:  the author wrote an earlier book on the official trails, Red River Gorge Trail Guide, also published by Lost Branch Productions.  I have not read this book so I cannot comment with authority, but judging from the quality and thoroughness of Hinterlands I would assume it is an excellent guide.

Kentucky’s Land of the Arches by Robert H. Ruchhoft, published by The Pucelle Press, Cincinnati, OH.  1986.

This book is dated but still very complete, including detailed sections on the history and geology of the area, which are quite an interesting read.  I do find the format of the trail guide sections a bit cumbersome and difficult to follow, though the descriptions do contain a lot of detailed information and cover all of the trails in the area.  There are black & white topographic maps included for major areas of the Gorge, but they are difficult to read with no shading or color.

Out of PrintHiking the Red by Bluegrass Group Sierra Club, published by Harmony House, Louisville, KY, 2000.

This book gives a nice overview of the area along with simple maps and concise descriptions of most official trails in the Red River Gorge area.  It is well done and useful to get an overview of what to expect on any given trail.  That said, the book is currently out of print and not worth the asking price on, especially with the more recent publication of Hill’s outstanding book.


Red River Gorge Backpacking Guide (Updated Edition, 2013), outrageGIS Mapping:

Description from the website:
– GPS mapped trails and backcountry campsites
– 1:15,840 scale & significantly more detailed than any other map!
– Gorgeous full-color map that shows forest canopy cover
– 50-foot elevation contours & GPS coordinate grids
– Bird’s Eye View map and trail elevation profiles
– Updated, 2013

If you are planning to do any amount of hiking in the Red River Gorge area I highly recommend this set of maps which includes most of the gorge area trails plus a substantial amount of detail not shown on other maps.  You can purchase this set of maps online from outrageGIS Mapping or from various vendors in the area. We purchased our set (an earlier edition) several years ago at the Gladie Learning Center for about $15 and have found them extremely useful for all of our explorations in Red River Gorge.  According to a reader’s comment (thanks John!) the map set is no longer available at the Gladie center, so you will need to check one of the stores in Slade, or you can always order them online at the link above.

USGS Topo Maps:

Slade Quadrangle, Kentucky, 7.5-Minute Series
Pomeroyton Quadrangle, Kentucky, 7.5-Minute Series

US Forest Service Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest (2010): 

(1.21 MB) – This map gives you a good overview of the area showing locations of all the roads, trails, and scenic attractions (does not include details of Natural Bridge State Resort Park).  This map is not intended for navigation purposes, though it will suffice on some of the shorter (<1mile), well-marked/travelled trails.

US Forest Service Daniel Boone National Forest Trail Guides and Maps: 

This web page has links to a multitude of downloadable PDF trail guides and maps throughout the Daniel Boone National Forest.  Scroll down to the Cumberland Ranger District near the bottom of the page to find all of the maps for the Red River Gorge area trails.

US Forest Service Red River Gorge Geological Area, Daniel Boone National Forest (2012):

(19.99 MB) – Large file, slow download & open! – This is a great map that includes topographic details and all the official trails, but it is very slow zooming and panning in Adobe Reader, even on a desktop or laptop computer, because of the large file size.  If you have a way to print this map in its original size (36” x 36”) it could be useful.  (Does NOT include trail details for Natural Bridge State Resort Park)

Natural Bridge State Resort Park Facility and Trail Map

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013-2018.


107 thoughts on “Kentucky’s Red River Gorge

    • Sophie,

      From what I know Suzanna’s Arch is on private property in the Cliffview resort area, but I don’t know anything about the trails there. Perhaps there will be information provided in the cabin you are renting, or through the person or company from whom you rented the cabin.

      While I cannot help with information on trails in that area, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the trails in the Red River Gorge Geological Area of Daniel Boone National Forest.


  1. Thank you so much for the excellent and detailed information! We just returned from our first trip to Red River Gorge with our 3 children. I used your post and a trail map to find appropriate hikes and we were able to hike 6 different trails in 2 days. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in beautiful RRG.

  2. Hi Todd. My husband, our 11 year old and myself are beginning our backpacking adventures. We live about 2 hours north of Cincinnati. We are planning a 4 day 3 night trip to the Washington Olympic National Forest in late July early August. Before doing so we have a few weekend trips set aside to get ready for this. I was recommended the RRG, and stumbled upon your website. We are hoping to get a 1-2 night trip out of this. I see that the tunnel bridge road is still closed as of today. We are all very active and have hiked numerous times, but have never backpacked/overnight backpacked. I see in the previous comments two different loop hikes that you recommended. With the tunnel bridge road being closed, is that the only entry access to that loop? If you could email me with any help, it would be much appreciated! Thank you!

      • Hello! Thank you for posting all of the helpful information! My husband and I are really looking forward to our trip. We were hoping to do some backcountry camping, preferably off the Auxier Ridge Trail as you recommend. I also have concerns about the road closure and accessing these trails. Would you be able to email me this information as well? Thanks!

    • FYI, we just spent the week Hiking around Turtleback arch….the trails are trashed by fallen trees and impassable in many areas, requiring cutting thru lots of thorny thickets, you cant really complete the trails end to end past Tophu rock, etc. The rangers really need to get out and clear the trails they are in sad shape.

      • Thanks for the info. I know I have encountered some difficult sections on the Swift Camp Creek trail (particularly washouts and downed trees) in the past. Hopefully other areas/trails are not impacted as significantly.

  3. Headed to the Gorge this weekend. We plan on heading out Saturday around 4, when we arrive and staying out until Monday morning. We need to be back at our car by 8am. Are there enough trails to keep us busy if we take the Rough Trail out and maybe do Chimney Top and then loop back on Pitchem Tight? Then if we still have time I was thinking we could head out into Auxier. The other option was to take the Rough Trail out to Sheltowee Suspension Bridge, walk along the road and then head out and do the big loop Sheltowee Trace ending at Copperas Creek Trail Head…thoughts?

    • Mary,

      One of the first things to be aware of is that you will not be able to drive in to access any of the trailheads along Tunnel Ridge Road as it is still closed for construction, this includes the Pinch-em Tight, Gray’s Arch, and Auxier Ridge trailheads.

      I am not sure how many miles you plan to hike each day, but hiking Rough Trail from the Martin’s Fork trailhead (on KY-77) to the Rough Trail trailhead on Chimney Top Road is a little over 6.5 miles and returning via Pinch-em Tight is around 5.25 miles. You could also return via the Koomer Ridge and Pinch-em Tight trails which is around 6 miles. I think there are plenty of trails to keep you busy in this area, especially since Rough Trail has quite a few ups and downs and definitely lives up to its name.

      The other route you mention, hiking Rough Trail to the Sheltowee Trace suspension bridge and around the big loop to the trailhead at Copperas Creek is quite a bit longer, and also will have a couple of creek crossings that could be pretty challenging with all the rain this week.

      All this said, I always like to add cautionary notes, especially when I don’t know how much experience someone might have hiking in the Gorge. It is pretty rugged and there will likely be some muddy areas with all the recent rain, so it could be slow hiking at times. Also, make sure you have good maps, as there are quite a few intersecting trails in the areas you mention, and it is easy to take a wrong turn. On one of our day hiking trips down there last year we had to give someone a ride back to their car because they missed a turn and ended up several miles off course.

      Cautionary notes stated, stay safe and enjoy your time in the Gorge!

      ~Todd the Hiker

  4. Hello Todd,

    Glad I stumbled upon your site. I happen to be from Cincinnati, as well, and I attend New City Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Norwood. I am rather new to hiking and have scheduled a couple of days away during my spring break at a cabin near RRG. It is close to Rock Bridge/Creation Falls, Chimney Top, and Sky Bridge. My only real hiking experience was at Zion National Park several years back, but I enjoyed it and am hoping to get more into hiking/camping, etc. I have about 3 days to explore what I can, but for my first time, I don’t want to do anything too crazy (nothing unmarked or more than a few miles total in one hike.) I’m in good shape physically with strong legs, so for that I am grateful! Thanks again for posting a helpful site. -Sara

    • Sara,

      Thanks for stopping by and you are welcome! New City is a wonderful church and Josh is a wonderful pastor! Being in good shape, you should have no problems with any of the trails. Just make sure you are prepared for mud with all the recent snow and rain they have had down there. One limitation to be aware of is that Tunnel Ridge Road is still closed to vehicle traffic (as of March 27th) due to construction so you won’t be able to access any of the trailheads along that road; but, you really can’t go wrong with any of the trails down there. Enjoy your time away and the amazing little corner of God’s creation that is Red River Gorge! ~Todd the Hiker

  5. I am looking for a overnight hike (1-2 nights) about 8-10 Miles each day that would be good with a 9 and 11 year old. Any suggestions??

    • Jason,

      Based on your question, I assume the 9 and 11-year old have some experience on longer, more difficult hikes; but, even so, I will qualify my recommendations (especially where children are concerned) by re-emphasizing the challenges and dangers of Red River Gorge with its rugged, steep climbs and descents, as well as the sudden drop offs and high cliffs. A lot of people underestimate the ruggedness and difficulty of navigating the trails in RRG, so also make sure you carry a good map; and, as usual, I will recommend the OutrageGIS maps as they show the official and unofficial trails along with the good campsites and best views. These qualification out of the way, I have two recommendations, either of which make a good one to two-night trip.

      The first route is the loop (appx. 6.5 miles) formed by the Auxier Ridge (#204), Auxier Branch (#203), and Double Arch (#201) trails, which I briefly describe on this page, coupled with the two unofficial trails mentioned on my “Red River Gorge – Off-Trail” page. The out-and-back distance for the two unofficial trails is about 4 miles each, which brings the total hiking distance to around 14.5 miles. This route includes some of the most spectacular views in RRG, and is one I highly recommend to everyone. Also, there are several great camping spots on these two unofficial trials. One thing to be aware of with this route is that Auxier Ridge trailhead is only accessible via Tunnel Ridge Road, which has been closed for construction since late last year. It was supposed to re-open in early March, but that has been delayed by the weather, so you should check the “Alerts & Notices” on the Daniel Boone National Forest website before you go.

      The second route is the loop (appx. 10.5 miles) formed by the Gray’s Arch (#205), Rough (#221), Koomer Ridge (#220), Buck (#226), and Pinch-em-Tight (#223) trails. This route has a lot of significant ascents and descents and is more difficult than the other route, even though it is a shorter distance. There are also not as many spectacular views on this route, but the scenery is still great in my estimation. An advantage of this route is that it can be accessed from several different trailheads including Martin’s Fork (on KY-77), Rough Trail (on Chimney Top Road), Koomer Ridge (on KY-15), and Gray’s Arch (on Tunnel Ridge Road), with only the Gray’s Arch trailhead being affected by the previously mentioned road closure.

      I hope these recommendations help and enjoy the Gorge!

      Todd the Hiker

      • Auxier Ridge is excellent! I took my teens on it a few years ago. It has enough danger to excite a new backpacker but nothing really crazy. Basically, the first day is a hike across a “knife blade” of a trail. Hundreds of feet of cliff on both sides of the trail with awesome views. I had the talk with them about the dangers of not paying attention before we set out and I found within the first hour they learned to respect the seriousness of how easy it would be to trip and fall off the edge. After that they were wide-eyed and had a GREAT time! Take binoculars and plan a lot of stopping and looking time!

      • I always double my estimate of hiking time whenever I take someone on this route for the first time! It is certainly one of the hikes that got us hooked on RRG!

  6. Hey Todd,
    I’ve backpacked in the Gorge quite a bit and I was wondering if you knew of a way of getting to the Swift Camp Creek trail from the Osborne bend trail without going town 715. I have found some inklings of a Calaboose Ridge trail that goes near the cemetery in the Clifty Wilderness. Do you know of any way up to there from the Copperas Creek Canoe Launch? We were planning on a 3-4 day hike from Corner Ridge to the the Rock Bridge.

    • Karl,
      Unless Swift Camp Creek is low enough to follow the creek bed, which would also probably involve some bushwhacking, I don’t know of any unofficial trails that connect from the canoe launch area to the official Swift Camp Creek trail. I know there is an unofficial trail that starts about 3/4 mile down 715 from the bridge by the canoe launch and follows Swift Camp Creek for 1/2-3/4 of a mile, but that trail ends at least 3/4 of a mile downstream from the point the official Swift Camp Creek trail cuts west away from the creek going towards the trailhead on 715 at Angel’s Windows. I guess that’s a long way of saying, no, but that’s all I’m aware of.

  7. Hi Todd,

    We’re planning a 2.5 day backpacking trip in RRG next weekend and your website has already been a fantastic resource! We’re thinking of doing the Koomers-Rough-Grays loop on day, then the Auxier-Double Arch loop the following day (likely driving between the two). Could you please send me the JPG you mentioned in your May 5, 2016 post for good campsite recommendations? Any other suggestions are welcome as well! We want to backcountry camp as much as possible. Thank you! -Kate

    (Also, my apologies if this posted more than once – thankfully laptop technical difficulties are limited in the wilderness!)

  8. Outstanding resource here! My boys and I are headed back this October. Planning a Rock Bridge/SCC/Angel Windows/Wildcat/SCC/back to Rock Bridge(to make a “loop”) Any suggestions on a better plan to hike the Clifty with just one car and 4 days? The only part I’m not totally excited about is hiking down Highway 715 to Wildcat trail head from Angel Windows. I’ve heard its done pretty often but just wondered if you had any input or suggestions.

    Psalm 46:10

    • BJ,

      First of all, thank you!

      As far as your plan, I am unaware of any options for a “loop” route in the Clifty Wilderness area that do not involve either hiking along Hwy 715 or completely retracing your steps. Even the Osborne Bend “Loop” at the northern end of Clifty requires some hiking along Hwy 715. I double checked on my OutrageGIS maps to be certain, but there are not any unofficial connector trails that provide an option, either.

      The only true loop with no backtracking or road hiking I know of is in the central part of the Gorge area, which is the ~11 mile combination of the Gray’s Arch, Rough, Koomer Ridge, Buck, and Pinch-em Tight trails, but that is a bit too short for a four day trip and it is not the Clifty Wilderness.

      I certainly understand the concern of hiking along the road. We have done that a few times and it is always a bit nerve racking, but still doable with caution. The only other thought I have to avoid any hiking along the road would be to plan a road free, one-way route and then contact an outfitter to arrange a shuttle from your car to your chosen start point.


      • Thanks again for your time and effort! When I was 14 my youth group went from Rock Bridge all around and 21 miles later ended up at Koomer Ridge Campground. I will never forget that trip! A few years back I took my oldest son down Auxier Ridge and looped back around Double Arch. It was beautiful but just not as rugged as I remember that first trip to be. I think we will stick with the original plan and pack a couple safety vests for the road section. We are heading down the first week of October… I’ll be sure to post some pictures!

        Sent from my iPhone


  9. You are off to a great start on this website. We recently went to Yosemite and used a website that listed all the areas and trails, and found it way more helpful than any of the “official” sites. This seems to be what you are looking to accomplish here as well. I’ve been on only a few trails in the RRG, but look forward to exploring more. I wonder if there is a way to add comments for specific trails? I’d love to hear feedback from people who have done the hikes. Keep up the great work!

    • Paul,

      Thank you for your kind words and feedback! I certainly intend to keep expanding the info on RRG. And, to allow comments for specific trails I just need to create a page/subpage structure where each trail has its own page and comments section. While life in corporate America is truly a blessing when it comes to earning a living, it does limit time spent on all the fun projects I have in mind, like writing and adding to my website.

      Enjoy your explorations of RRG; it definitely is one of our favorite places!


  10. Hi Todd,
    I work for a Christian Ministry in Willisburg, KY. We are a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for men. I am taking 30 clients to Red River Gorge on a weekend camping trip and am looking for a place to camp relatively close to a road. I wondered if you could recommend an enjoyable place to camp. If you are called to make suggestions or help in any way please email me.
    May God Bless You!

  11. Hi!

    Some friends and I are planning a 1-2 night backpacking trip to Red River Gorge in the coming weeks. I’ve read your posts about RRG and have looked around a bit elsewhere. Some of the trails we are considering are Osborne Bend, Rock Bridge Loop – Swift Camp Creek, and the End-to-End trail.

    I’m a moderately experienced hiker and will be traveling with people of varying experience levels. The least fit member of our group can usually handle about 4-5 miles per day in rugged terrain, so that’s the pace that we’re aiming for.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about what trail or trails might suit us. I’m open to suggestions as I’ve only ever been to RRG a handful of times and only for day hikes.

    And thanks! 😀

    • I have not hiked the Osborne Bend trail myself so cannot comment much on that, though I know some who have hiked it and like it.

      The End-to-End (not an official name for the trail), as I understand it is basically the Sheltowee Trace from Whittleton through to KY 715 (and beyond if you are so inclined…though going beyond 715 to the north will require you to backtrack). I’ve hiked most of that route, but will say that there are limited areas to camp along most of the route from my experience. Regardless of how far you go, this route will require multiple vehicles to shuttle or backtracking on your route.

      The Rock Bridge loop is very short but following the Swift Camp Creek (SCC) trail will make for a longer route. Again, this would require a 2nd vehicle to shuttle or backtracking on your route as SCC is an out and back trail, not a loop. This is also one of the most rugged trails in the gorge, especially after you get a couple miles north of the Rock Bridge loop trail, so consider the abilities of your least experienced group member.

      My recommendation would be a loop of the Gray’s Arch, Rough, Koomer Ridge, Buck, Pinch-em Tight trails. This route is actually a series of interconnected trails that allows you to make a loop of as little as ~3 miles to as much as ~11 miles so you can always make adjustments based on how much progress you make or if you decide to do only 1 day instead of 2. Another big advantage of this route is that you don’t need to worry about shuttling or backtracking. And, finally, there are a number of good unofficial side trails on this route that make finding camp sites much easier, as well.

      Ultimately you can’t go wrong with any trails in RRG, but you definitely want to consider the logistics of shuttling, backtracking, etc. regardless of the route you pick. Also, make sure you have a good bail out point (or points) along your route in the event that someone’s skills aren’t up to the full trip.

      • Thanks for the reply! I’ll definitely take your advice onboard and discuss it with my group.

        Just for my own edification, what is it that makes SCC so rugged (elevation, difficult footing, etc.)? I’ve heard many a person sing its praises, but I’ve had a hard time getting a read on it, online. Some sites, such as AllTrails, rate it as an easy hike. Others, such as the USDA official site rate it as being difficult.

      • Rugged terrain in places, more on the northern section of the trail. Footing can be an issue in a number of places depending on how much rain there has been (not sure how much they’ve had this summer).

  12. Todd – The website you suggested I’ve been to several times and never noticed, “Also included are GPS coordinates, topological maps indicating the location, and the author’s suggestions for the best route to the arches.” Thanks for the suggestion. I will follow up and provide you feedback.

    Hope to see you on the trail. You can recognize us by the 65# golden retriever mix that is almost always with us.

    Blessings to you and your family,


  13. Todd,

    My wife and I recently returned to KY after a hiatus and have been firmed hooked by hiking the Gorge this past year, particularly the unofficial trails. We’ve done about 10 unofficial hikes in the last couple of months. We have the outrageGIS maps, Hinterlands, membership with, and appreciate, but can’t seem to find specific trail directions to so many arches and waterfalls, e.g., Cherokee Arch. The internet just doesn’t yield trail directions very willingly.

    Can you direct me to web or other resources I may be missing?

    In Christ’s love,
    Rich & Lyn

    • Rich,

      I would try:

      I have not extended my explorations of Red River Gorge to that level, nor have I purchased any of the DVDs listed on the website, but based on what is shown on the sample page, this looks like a comprehensive source of the information your are looking for on the arches and, there is a link to another site listing Kentucky waterfalls.

      Hopefully this is helpful. I would love to hear your feedback if this source proves to be beneficial.

      Yours in Christ,

  14. Hi Todd. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip this August to visit Daniel Boone along with other southeastern National Forests and Parks. We are planning on spending our first night at Koomer RIdge Campground and hike out first thing in the morning to backpack Koomer Ridge Trail, Buck Trail, Rough trail to Grey’s Arch, camp along that route and return the following morning. Do you have any suggestions on a good place to camp along that route? Thanks Vince.

  15. Hi Todd. Great website. My girlfriend and I are planning an August road trip to visit Daniel Boone among the other southeastern National Forests and Parks. We are planning on spending the first night at the Koomer Ridge Campground with the following day spent backpacking the Koomer Ridge Trail, Buck Trail and Rough Trails to Grey Arch, spend the night somewhere along that route and return the following day. Any good places for backcountry camping along that route? Thanks Vince

  16. HI, we are heading in to do a 5 day backpack trip. We like to avoid crowds and settled campsites. Is the Gorge too busy to accomplish this? If so we were contemplating the Beaver Creek & Clifty wilderness zones…..just how bad are the ticks in those areas?

    • Marc, if you are planning to be there during the week I would expect no crowds, even in popular areas. On the weekends the major areas around Auxier Ridge, Double Arch, Gray’s Arch, Indian Staircase, the rock climbing areas around Military Wall and Left Flank, and any of the easily accessed arches and overlooks can get pretty busy. On the weekends, though, if you get off the official trails and onto the unofficial, unmarked trails, even near the busier areas, you can avoid the crowds. As far as ticks, I cannot recall ever encountering any ticks in our many trips down there. I suspect they around, but we have been down in every month of the year and have never had any problems.

  17. Hi Todd. Awesome website. Thanks so much for putting this together. Planning on taking my teenage kids on their first backpacking trip at the end of this month. Based on your recommendations, am thinking about trying to find a base camp somewhere not too far from the Double Arch/Auxier Ridge trailhead. I’ve order a copy of the Red River Gorge backpacking map, but was hoping you could tell me which trail and how far down the trail to get to the first decent campsite. Also, is there a stream nearby where I could pump and filter water or do we need to hike in our water? If not the Double Arch/Auxier trail, is there another trail that has some decent sites not too far from the parking area? I saw some primitive sites not too far from the Rough Trail/Gray’s Arch traihead parking areas along Tunnel Ridge Rd (39). Lastly, are there any trout streams in the area? If so where? I would like to do a little fishing while there. Any suggestions you can provide would be much appreciated. We plan on driving in from Chicago on March 31st, so hopefully finding a campsite won’t be too difficult. Thanks, Drew

    • Drew, thanks and you’re welcome!

      On the first point, I highly recommend the Double Arch/Auxier Ridge trailhead as a starting point, especially for first time backpackers. There are two well defined, unofficial trails, Star Gap Arch and Jailhouse Rock, that start approximately 1 and 1.25 miles, respectively, down the Double Arch trail from the Auxier Ridge trailhead. The map on my Red River Gorge – Off Trail page ( ) shows both of these trails, as well as a couple of unofficial campsites that we have camped in before. The location marked on the map as “Campsite 1” has more space to set up multiple tents, while the one marked “Campsite 2” is smaller, but still should accommodate a couple of tents. Both of these campsites are within the first 0.25-0.5 miles of the start of the Star Gap Arch Trail. There are other sites further out on this trail, as well. And, although I have not marked any campsites on the Jailhouse Rock Trail, there are definitely several larger sites within the first 0.5 miles from the start of that trail. This area offers you access to so many trails, official and unofficial, with spectacular scenery; it is the area I usually take first timers to RRG to get them hooked for a return trip!

      There are certainly some great spots if you depart from the Rough Trail or Gray’s Arch trailheads, but those sites are a little more difficult to find and access. The scenery is equally as good, but the terrain can be a little more challenging in spots, especially for first time backpackers.

      Regarding access to water, both of the trails off the Double Arch Trail run along ridge tops so there are not any streams along the route to, or near the campsites. Your best bet is to pack in the water you need, and you can always return to the car to resupply if needed. There is a stream, Auxier Branch, in the valley between Double Arch and Auxier Ridge; but, it is a pretty good hike to get to it from the campsites so I would not rely on that for water resupply, unless you are planning to hike the Auxier Branch trail, anyway.

      Regarding trout streams, I am not sure about Auxier Branch, it is a smaller, seasonal stream, but there is definitely the Red River itself, and Swift Camp Creek, which is 5-10 miles east of the Auxier Ridge area.

      One last note, this is the spring fire season so there is a general restriction in effect that you cannot have a fire within 150 feet of a wooded area until after 6 PM in the evening. You should check to make sure there are not further restrictions in effect, as well ( ).

      Arriving on a weeknight you should have no problem finding a campsite. We have rarely had to search for an alternate to our intended site in many trips down there, even on a weekend.

      I hope the weather cooperates and that you and your kids have a great time down in Red River Gorge!

      Todd the Hiker

  18. Hi! My boyfriend and I are new to the Lexington area and are looking to go hiking at Red River Gorge…. I am trying to find an address to get us to a main area that from there we can find different trails to go out and hike on…. is there an address that you can give me that will take me to a main area such as a visitors center that can direct us to the best trails to hike on??

    Thanks so much!

    • Madeline,

      The visitor center in Red River Gorge is the Gladie Visitor Center (3451 Sky Bridge Road, Stanton, KY 40380, Phone: 606-663-8100 ), however the center is closed during the winter season, and doesn’t re-open until early March.

      In the off season they recommend going to the office in the town of Stanton, which is about 15 miles from the Gorge. “Visitor information for the gorge, including maps, passes and firewood permits will be available at the nearby Stanton Office. The Stanton Office is located at 705 West College Ave in Stanton KY, across from the Powell County High School. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.”

      Another option is to stop at the Daniel Boone Trading Post (769 Natural Bridge Rd, Slade, KY 40376), which is a store just off the exit in Slade where you should be able to purchase maps and guide books and likely get directions, as well.

      Hopefully this is enough to get you started on some awesome Red River Gorge adventures!

      Todd the Hiker

      • Hi Todd thanks for replying!

        I am wanting to go on March 13th (Sunday), will it be back open by then?

        If so, we should go to the Gladie visitor center? Is it like what is in gatlinburg, TN?? They have a visitor center where you get maps and it shows you where the surrounding trails are to go hiking.. Some are in walkable distance from the visitor center itself..

        The address helps a lot! I couldn’t find much, from just googling!


      • I am not certain what they mean by early March, but it seems likely it could be open by then. I’d try calling the number for Gladie (which may also ring to the Stanton office, as I don’t see a different number listed for the Stanton office on the Forest Service web page: ) to inquire as to the exact date.

        Assuming the Gladie Center is open, it is definitely the place to stop for info, though it certainly won’t be as large as GSMNP. There really are not any major trails that actually depart directly from Gladie, though there are many trailheads close by. For the most part all of the trailheads in the area within a 30 minutes drive of Gladie.

  19. Todd, Thanks for all the information. My family and i are missionaries in Ethiopia and my three oldest kids 17,14,12 and I are looking at taking our first overnight hike in Mid October depending on overnight lows. Any tips on trails to take? Or any general tips? This will be there first overnight hike. We are even up to doing a hike in and out and tent camping near by. Thanks Dwayne

    • Dwayne,

      Thank you. For a first overnighter in Red River Gorge I suggest the area around the Auxier Ridge trailhead. The two unofficial trails I mention on my “Red River Gorge – Off-Trail” page (Link: have a number of great spots to camp in addition to the two I have specifically marked on the map included on that page. I also suggest this area because the Auxier Ridge, Auxier Branch, Double Arch area provides easy access and is at the top of my “do not miss” list.

      If you plan to go on a weekend it is best to get there as early as possible on Friday as the better camp spots will get filled quickly on a nice fall weekend. Also, I recommend getting the OutrageGIS maps to make it easier to find a campsite, as all the unofficial trails are marked on these maps along with the established, unofficial campsites.

      Let me know if you have more questions. Enjoy the time away with your family in this beautiful little corner of God’s amazing creation!


  20. Hey there! I love all the information you have provided. There is a group of 8 of us going hiking and camping this coming Saturday September 12 and wouldn’t you know the day that we plan for weeks to have our first trip to the RRG there is a 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms… Any suggestions where we can camp primitive that would provide some cover for a fire and means of cooking?? Any suggestions would be so appreciated.


    • Thanks Amanda!

      As far as shelter, you will have to rely on trees or bring a tarp you can set up to cover your cooking area as camping too close to any of the rock shelters or arches is not permitted. You can find all the regulations regarding backcountry camping, fires, etc. here:

      That said, there are several good places to camp along the unofficial Jailhouse Rock and Star Gap Arch trails (see a map of these trails on my Red River Gorge – Off Trail page:

      The location I have marked as “Campsite 1″on that map would be a great site for a group of 8. The location I have marked as “Campsite 2” is too small for a group of that size; however, there are several other good, suitable campsites along either of these trails.

      I recommend this area for several reasons: 1) these two unofficial trails are easily accessible; 2) there are a number of good campsites suitable for a larger group along both of these unofficial trails (if one is occupied you do not need to hike far to find another); and 3) hiking the Auxier Ridge-Auxier Branch-Double Arch loop is a must do, first time experience to get you hooked forever on the gorge!

      By the way, we have been rained on many times we have camped down there, so you will be getting the full RRG effect!

      Hope you have a great experience, despite the chances for rain!


  21. Todd,
    Great blog! Do you have any idea how many hours the Auxier Ridge (#204), Auxier Branch (#203), Double Arch (#201) Loop takes as a maximum and minimum? I am aware it is a day hike, but is it 4, 6, 8 hours?

    • Matt,

      Thanks! If you hike straight through without taking a break to eat or stopping to take photos it could be done in 4 hours, but I would generally allow six hours so you can hike at an easier pace and take some time to stop and enjoy the views.


  22. Hi Todd!

    Great information!! My girlfriend and I are planning a weekend trip to the Gorge over Labor Day weekend. We are planning to hike Saturday, Sunday, and a short hike on Monday morning before heading back home to Chicago. We would like to backpack this and camp out on the trail. I have been to the Gorge quite a bit with my Boy Scout Troop when I was younger, however it has been over 10 years since I’ve been there.

    Do you have any recommendations on backpacking (trails, loops, views, etc) the gorge? We would like to do 15-20 miles over the course of the 2.25 days. Please let me know if you have any insight. Thanks so much!


    • Tyler,

      You pretty much can’t go wrong anywhere in the gorge, but the two I would suggest the loops I mention here, Auxier Ridge-Auxier Branch-Double Arch and Grays Arch-Rough-Pinch ’em Tight. These two loops will give you a great variety of scenery including ridges with great views, forested valleys with streams, rock shelters, and a couple great arches. They are close to one another and could be connected by hiking between them along the road or driving between trailheads.

      In order to find good spots to camp you’ll need to venture off the official trails and onto the unofficial trails. I highly recommend getting the OutrageGIS maps because they show you not only the location of the unofficial campsites, but also the best views. They are a must in my book so you can at least roughly plan where you will camp. The other thing the maps will do is allow you to add a few extra miles with amazing views yo u’ll never see if you stick to the official trails.

      Hope this helps!

  23. Hi Todd
    Just got back from a great weekend at the Gorge. 10 miles on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. Of course we thanked God for the beauty and the gift he gave us. I had trouble on one section of the trail and was wondering if you could shed some light on what we did wrong. We were taking trail
    #221 north towards# 227. About 0.1 miles from the intersection we lost the trail. There is a metal trail marker sign about 4″ wide and 4 feet tall that has two arrows pointing in different directions when you are facing a large cavern. We tried to go right but the trail dead ended. We then climbed up a ravine on the left which was very wet as slippery from the water and mud. It was a fairly difficult climb. We found what we thought was the trail but it loped us right back down to where we started from. We went back up the side trail and then went right onto a large ledge. From there we saw the trail but had to maneuver in the rocks and jump down 5 feet to pick it up again. I’ve got good topographical maps but we couldn’t see where we went wrong. Any way we’re going back and take the trail backwards to figure it out

    • Steve,
      I tend to think of Rough Trail (#221) as an east-west trail (even though it does have sections that you traverse in a northerly direction) so I am having difficulty picturing in my head which way you were headed (though I am guessing it was from east to west). Were you coming from Grays Arch on #221 approaching #227 from the west, or were you approaching #227 from the east?

      I’ll describe the route from both directions, though some of the distances and exact details may be a little off because I’ve not been to this spot in over a year, and am going from memory. Also, even the best topo maps don’t have enough resolution to capture the intricate twists and turns on this particular section of the trail.

      I am pretty certain the rock shelter you are describing is the one referred to as Second Story because of the two distinct levels in the shelter. If you were coming uphill when you got to the rock shelter (the shelter would have been on your left) that would be what I’d consider an approach from the east. If you were generally going downhill coming to the shelter (with the shelter on your right) that would be what I consider an approach from the west.

      If you were coming from the west then you would continue past the rock shelter, bearing to the left as you pass the rock shelter. You then drop down through a slippery ravine that gets narrower and steeper as it goes. After a short bit of the steeper drop you reach a point where you can either go left and down, or right and up a very steep rocky ravine (your description of the difficult climb sounds like this ravine). The true trail drops down and to the left at this point following what is a small stream (that may or may not be running) with a rock wall (almost a shelter) on your left. Fifty to a hundred yards down this creek bed the trail makes another right and pops up out of the creek bed.

      If you were coming from the east I can’t quite determine if you missed a right turn out of the ravine before getting to the Second Story rock shelter or if you missed where the trail bears to the right once you got past the rock shelter (the shelter is on your left). Not too far up the trail to the right (not sure of the distance here) beyond the rock shelter there is a tricky little spot where you need to scramble up and to the left over about a 10 foot, sloping rock ledge that requires you to grab hold of roots and trees to pull yourself up. I am quite certain you would encounter a dead end if you missed this up and to the left rock scramble, so I am thinking this is possibly what you missed (and, it is definitely not as difficult as the climb you described). I don’t recall if there are any blazes to help in this particular spot because the first time I traversed this route I was coming from the west so I have always been able to recognize the scramble going the other direction, without needing to rely on trail markings. Fortunately you did find the trail, but it sounds like you had a bit of an adventure in the process!


      • Hi Todd
        Thanks for the response. We were going east on 221 about 0.1 mile from 227. Going back soon and taking the trail from the West so I can work out the proper path. Love you blogs and the way you acknowledge God for all of this

  24. Hey Todd,
    My fiance and myself are looking at Natural bridges state park as a possible stop on a road trip through the area. We are young and fit and were planning some more strenuous hikes (distance and elevation change are fine) but we aren’t experienced with back-country navigation. On a different site a “Red river gorge end-to-end” trail is ranked highly and is ~17.2 miles round trip. Problem is that I’m having trouble actually finding this as an official trail. Do you know what that would be referring to or do you have another 12-15 mile day hike you might suggest? A single hike is preferred but if you think the best approach is a divided hike on two different loops we are also fine with that. Thanks!
    – Brian

    • Brian,
      The “end-to-end” has to be a combination of trails as there is no official trail of that name. I suspect it is either a route that follows portions of the Swift Camp Creek, Rough, and 1 or 2 other trails or a portion of the much longer (almost 300 miles) Sheltowee Trace that runs through the gorge, but also overlaps several other named trails within the gorge. Neither of these is a loop though and I think the “end-to-end” at 17.2 miles is a one-way distance.

      Your best option in the distance you desire (assuming you only have a single vehicle available) is to hike a combination of trails to make a larger loop. I suggest a loop that combines the Gray’s Arch, Rough, Koomer Ridge, Buck Trail, and Pinch-em-Tight trails. If you stick to the official trails they are easy to follow and have good signage at the trail junctions that will help you navigate and make sure you are following the correct route. This hike would start at the Gray’s Arch trailhead on Tunnel Ridge Road.

      There are certainly other options but they all require a combination of trails to get to the 12-15 mile range. Regardless of what route you take, I will say that we have yet to hike a trail in Red River Gorge we didn’t like, so I hope you’re experience is the same. Enjoy!
      ~Todd the Hiker

      • Wow Todd, Thanks so much for the quick response! I appreciate it, I’m sure we’ll have a great time!

  25. Hi Todd, just want to say thanks for the info you’re providing on this site. It’s been the ideal resource to help me prepare and plan out routes for my first RRG backpacking trip. A couple weeks ago I had a lovely trip – checked out some of the smaller sites like Sky Bridge, Angel Windows, Whistling Arch, & the impressive Natural Bridge on Day 1, followed by doing the Auxier Ridge > Auxier Branch > Double Arch Loop on Day 2, which was the perfect day-hike with opportunities to backcountry camp. You rock!

    Side note, I checked the Gladie center for the outrageGIS maps but it appears that they no longer have them there, so anyone seeking to get them might want to check elsewhere.

    • John, thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I am glad your trip went well, and it is great to hear that my recommendations were helpful for you.

      Thanks for letting me know that the OutrageGIS maps are no longer available at Gladie! I added an update on that info on 5/9/15 so hopefully nobody else will go there just to find those maps.

      I hope you have many more opportunities to go back, there is so much to explore in Red River Gorge!

      Happy trails,
      Todd the Hiker

  26. Todd –
    We just returned from our trip to the Gorge and I wanted to thank you for your wonderful resources before we left! It was my husband and mine’s first trip back since having our 5 kids! and it was amazing introducing to them the Gorge! We have some big hikers (day only at this point!) and thought we could do the entire auxier ridge loop, but they pooped out after we got about 2 miles out 😦 Regardless, thank you for your inspiring and faith-filled posts! We were truly blessed as they were calling for thunderstorms and 80% chance of rain all week – it occurred all at night for us! (and we did a cabin – thank goodness!)

    Loveland, OH

  27. Was thinking of doing the grays arch, rough, koomer, pinch-Em loop. First time at the Gorge and will be my first backpack trip. How is the primitive camping by KY 10 towards the end of the rough trail for our first night to camp?? Or any other areas you would suggest to stop and camp? Thanks

    • Rachel, That is a great loop for a first time backpacking trip. As the name suggests, Rough Trail is definitely “rough,” as there are several significant ups and downs over its length, so be prepared.

      Regarding areas to camp, keep in mind that there are no officially designated backcountry campsites and that you can camp anywhere you want as long as you abide by the regulations (300+ feet off any roads or official trails, 100+ feet from rock shelters, etc.). That said, your best option is using one of the unofficial campsites that has been established through years of usage by other backpackers and backcountry campers. I suggest this because these are usually the most level places and clear of brush.

      I believe by KY-10 you are referring to Forest Service Road 10 (FS-10), also known as Chimney Top Road. Assuming this is the case, then, yes, there are several established campsites near the Rough Trail trailhead located on Chimney Top Road. These, and all of the unofficial campsites along FS-10, tend to be some of the most heavily used campsites in the area, though, as they are generally pretty easy to access due to their proximity to the road. Also, the sites near this particular trailhead are not really in the most scenic spot (at least not relative to many of the other options) but they would certainly work.

      I do have a few alternative suggestions for some very spectacular campsites that I would be happy provide; however, trying to describe exactly how to find them is beyond my ability answer here. If you are on Twitter or Facebook you can follow/friend me (@Todd_the_Hiker or ToddtheHiker Nystrom) so we can establish an easier means for me to send you a rough map I’ll sketch up.

      In the mean time, if you don’t already have the OutrageGIS maps I highly encourage you to get them as they make finding these established, unofficial campsites much easier as they also show shaded topographic features, which my crude, hand sketched map will not have. If you have this set of maps I can also describe more easily the location of the campsites I’d recommend.

      • Thanks Todd!! I friend requested you on FB. I would love a campsite recommendation on there:)

  28. Pingback: Press On Toward the Goal | Todd the Hiker

  29. Pingback: Off-Trail at Red River Gorge | Campstake Journal

  30. Todd, I’m looking for a 2 or 3 day loop in the next few days. Any recommendations? I’m an avid backpacker and want to do a solo trip where I can stay out for the duration and end up back at my truck. Please advise if ther are any good loops.

    • Todd, I’d suggest starting at the Gray’s Arch trailhead and exploring the loop created by following the Gray’s Arch, Rough, Koomer Ridge, Buck, and Pinch ‘Em Tight trails. While this loop in itself isn’t a 2-3 day hike, if you get the OutregeGIS maps that show all the unofficial spur trails off of that loop you can easily spend 2-3 days exploring the area. My endorsement of these maps is based on personal experience, they have led us to some great views and campsites not shown on any official maps/trails. Basically all of these views we’ve explored are well worth the side trip and occasional bushwhacking to see.

      • Todd, I hope you were able to get down to the Gorge last week/weekend and enjoy the perfect fall weather! We managed to get away there Friday afternoon/night and Saturday. It was busy on the major trails and at the trailheads, but we barely saw anyone on the unofficial trail that we hiked out to Jailhouse Rock.

      • Todd,
        I’m bringing down a group of Boy Scouts on Thanksgiving break for an overnight backpacking trip. If we do Auxier Ridge, then hike down Auxier Ridge Branch, are there camping options available that will still fall within guidelines of the authorities? The 2nd day we’d go to Double Arch, then back down the gravel road to the trail head.

      • Chet,

        There are a couple of unmarked trails along the east side of the Auxier Ridge trail where there are decent, established campsites greater than 100 yards off the official trail. I do not know of, nor do my maps show, any side trails or campsites along the Auxier Branch trail.

        The best campsites I know of along that route are off of the gravel road back to the trailhead. There are two major, unmarked (but well established) trails that branch off to the west side of the gravel road. One is about 1/2 mile from the point you pick up the gravel road after ascending from the Double Arch trail, and the other is about 200 yards beyond that. There are several campsites within 1/4 of a mile along these two unmarked trails that are well suited for a group camp.

        It is possible to hike the whole loop (Auxier Ridge, Auxier Branch, Double Arch) in a single day. So, although these two side trails don’t exactly fit in the order you intended to hike the loop, the campsites along these trails are definitely the best ones along your planned route.

        I’d be happy to discuss this more to help with your planning, so please let me know if I you have any more questions.


  31. Todd,
    Bill’s wife here. Great blog! I fell in love with RRG this year during my first visit. I’m sure we’ll look to you for ideas and hints as we continue to explore the area!

  32. Todd,

    Thanks for the great information! My wife and I are thinking about taking our 2.5 year old to Red River Gorge. I have hiked, camped, and climbed in the Gorge, but haven’t been in several years. Could you recommend an easy trail that would have access to water for an overnight camping trip with my family? Thanks so much!


    • Jamie,

      Are you looking to backcountry or car camp? The Koomer Ridge National Forest campground has running water and a bath house if that is what you mean by access to water. There are a couple of trails with trailheads at the campground that aren’t too difficult, though like most of the gorge you’ll have to watch the little one closely as there are always cliffs nearby!

      Otherwise the only water in the backcountry is from the creeks. Probably one of the easier trails with access to a steadily flowing creek is the Rock Bridge loop trail. The creek just below Creation Falls is sandy and usually pretty shallow, a great spot for kids to play.

      Let me know more specifics on what you are looking for and I can make some additional recommendations.


      • Sorry Todd, I should have been more specific. 🙂 Backcountry hiking and camping is what we want to do. I was thinking probably 2 or 3 miles in would be sufficient. A shallow creek where our son can wade and throw rocks would be perfect!

      • Jamie,

        There are some spots to camp off the Rock Bridge trail (near Creation Falls, Rock Bridge, and Swift Camp Creek), but it is only a mile in. It is still a nice area for kids to play in the creek, though. The difficulty here, and most places I’ve hiked in the gorge, is finding a spot near a creek that is accessible but also far enough (300 ft.) from the official trails.

        The loop hike of the Gray’s Arch, Rough, and Pinch ‘Em Tight Trails that I mention crosses a couple of creeks (sometimes barely running if it hasn’t rained in a while), but the best campsites on this route are up on top where the Rush Ridge trail bisects this loop. We’ve camped on the ridge on this route before, but you might be able to get far enough off trail along either of these creeks, although my maps don’t show any established, unofficial campsites.

        I would say the same thing about the Auxier Ridge, Auxier Branch, Double Arch loop. You might find something along Auxier Branch, but the maps show all the sites up on the ridges.

        These are all great hikes though I’m not sure they’ll exactly suit your wishes. The OutrageGIS maps I suggest are the best source I’ve found to locate the good back country campsites as well as some great views that aren’t on any of the official maps.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s