Red River Gorge, nestled in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, is a haven for nature lovers. The area boasts enchanting waterfalls, awe-inspiring sandstone arches, magnificent rock formations, and breathtaking panoramic views from the towering cliff ledges. Red River Gorge offers endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, cave and canyon exploration, ziplining, rock climbing, swimming, and much more. If you’re planning a visit to the Midwest, make sure to add a stop at Red River Gorge with this 3-day itinerary!
I highly recommend the Middle Fork and Whittleton campgrounds inside Natural Bridge State Resort Park, if you plan to camp. Reservations for either campground can be found here- Natural Bridge Campgrounds. The sites are beautiful, and many trails are right next to the campsites. If you are looking for full hookup sites, check out Callie’s Lake and Campground and 4 Guys RV Park.
There is also primitive camping available throughout Red River Gorge. For obvious safety reasons, you must not be within 100 ft of any cliff base or rock shelf for primitive camping.
If you prefer not to camp, check out one of the many cabin rentals in the area. Most are listed on any travel site, VRBO or AirBnb.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park does have a lodge. Reservations for the lodge can be made here- Hemlock Lodge.
Dining options near the park are limited. Plan to bring most of your food into the park and campgrounds. Natural Bridge State Resort Park does have a restaurant. Hours can be found here- Sandstone Arches Restaurant.
Must Know Before You Go:
- Most trails near the cliff ledge at least once. Use caution, especially with little ones running ahead.
- For the most impressive waterfalls, spring is the perfect time to visit, but the area is gorgeous year-round 😊
- There are black bears in Red River Gorge. Please review bear safety here before heading out. Remember to travel in groups, make noise, and carry bear spray on all hikes.
- Ensure you have a map or GPS unit before setting out. Most trails are sparsely labeled with multiple trail splits.
- Please remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles.
Minimal. If you’re traveling with multiple vehicles, I highly recommend walkie-talkies to communicate.
3 Day Itinerary
Rockbridge/Creation Falls (#207)- This 1.5-mile loop trail starts at the Rockbridge Picnic Area. The path is a loop, so you can start at either trailhead off the lot. This trail is moderate in difficulty, with a few steep parts, about 300 ft of elevation gain, and lots of uneven terrain. Creation Falls is about halfway through the loop, and depending on which way you complete the circle, Rockbridge is either just before or just after it.
While this trail does have a large lot, it fills up quickly. Plan on hiking early to secure a spot.
Angel Windows (#218)- After the Rockbridge Trail, head back out of the narrow gravel road and back to Highway 715. Your first stop on the way to Sky Bridge will be the Angel Windows lot. It will be on your left about 3.5 miles north on 715.
This trail is 0.7 miles roundtrip with about 100 ft of elevation gain. The trail is a relatively easy path, but there are drop-offs immediately around the arches if you have little ones running ahead.
Whistling Arch (#234)- About 1 mile up 715 is another lot for the Whistling Arch Trail. The Whistling Arch Trail is an easy 0.5-mile roundtrip trail with less than 50 ft of elevation gain. You will definitely want to check out both sides of the arch, and if you walk a little further down the path, there are more stunning scenic views. Again, this trail does have drop-offs near the arch, so please use caution when exploring.
Sky Bridge (#214)- The last stop of day 1 is one of our favorites- Sky Bridge. The Sky Bridge loop has many scenic rewards for minimal hiking effort.
This loop is 1 mile long with approximately 200 ft of elevation gain. I recommend taking the path to “below the arch” first. Taking the loop to “below the arch” is a steeper descent down 75 stairs but has a more gradual incline on the way back up, which I think is a little easier.
After checking out the impressive arch from below, the path winds around the arch before leading you to the top. The 360 views at the top are STUNNING. To make it back to your car, you’ll need to walk across the 75 ft double arch. If you are fearful of heights, this portion of the trail can be skipped by just returning the way you came.
And that’s the end of day one!
Grays Arch (#205/#221)– The first stop of day two is Grays Arch. This impressive 50 ft tall and 80 ft wide arch is a sight you won’t want to miss.
There are several ways to see Grays Arch, but the easiest and most direct route starts at the Grays Arch Lot via Tunnel Ridge Road. This trail is a moderate, out-and-back trail that is 2.5 miles roundtrip with 300+ ft of elevation gain.
Start on the Grays Arch Trail (#205). At the first trail split, head right on the Rough Trail (#221) to continue to the arch. Most of the path is wide and flat until you are about 0.3 miles from the arch. At that point, it is several steep ups and downs until the final climb is reached under the incredible arch. The climb up to the arch is rocky, muddy, and slippery. I highly recommend proper footwear if you plan on climbing all the way up. 😊 After checking out the arch, head back the way you came for the most direct route back to your car.
If you want a longer, more challenging hike, you can take an alternate route back to the lot. After Grays Arch, continue the Rough Trail (#221) to the Rush Ridge Trail (#227). This route will turn the out-and-back trail into a 4-mile loop.
Hidden Arch (#208)/ Silvermine Arch (#225)- The trails for the next two arches start at the Koomer Ridge Campground off of KY-15, about 3 miles from the Grays Arch Lot. Both paths split in opposite directions from the same trailhead.
The Hidden Arch Trail heads north. It is a 2-mile loop with 300 ft of elevation gain. If you want to shorten this trail slightly, you can quickly go to the arch and back instead of completing the loop.
The Silvermine Arch Trail heads east. It is a 2.8-mile, out-and-back trail with 400 ft of elevation gain.
Both trails are pretty easy to follow. However, because there are several splits and alternate routes in the area, downloading the trails on AllTrails was very helpful the first time we hiked them.
Again, as with most trails in Red River Gorge, there are drop-offs as you approach the arches. Please use caution, especially if you are hiking with little ones.
If you only have time for one of these, we prefer the Silvermine Arch Trail😊
Princess Arch (#233)/ Chimney Top (#235)- I highly recommend hiking both trails in the evening. The Chimney Top Trail at sunset is GORGEOUS.
The Princess Arch and Chimney Top trails start from opposite ends of the same parking lot. Both out-and-back trails start from the lot at the very end of Chimney Top Road. Chimney Top Road is a 4-mile, narrow, winding gravel road off KY-715. If you go at sunset, please use caution when driving back out in the dark.
If you are hiking in the evening, start with the Princess Arch Trail first. The trailhead begins from the northeast side of the parking lot. It is 0.6 miles roundtrip with approximately 100 ft of elevation gain. For the best views of the arch, head left to walk under the arch when the trail splits.
After exploring Princess Arch, head back to the main lot and towards the Chimney Top trailhead, located on the southwest side of the lot. The Chimney Top Trail is 0.7 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation gain. This hike is easy, but you have massive cliff ledges on either side almost the entire way out, so you will want to stay on the path and keep little ones close. Once you reach the observation area, there is a barrier from the ledge where you can sit and enjoy the stunning 360 views of the scenic landscape.
And that is a wrap on day two 😊
Original/Laurel Ridge/Battleship Loop to Natural Bridge- There are several ways to enjoy stunning views of Natural Bridge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. We love hiking, so that is the route we chose, but if you are looking for views without the extra trek, check out the skylift here- The Skylift at Natural Bridge.
There are also several ways to hike this area of the park. For this route, I recommend parking in the Hemlock Lodge Lot. Walk to the end of the lot, take the paved path down to the Original Trailhead, and head right. There is a large sign, you can’t miss it.
The Original Trail is 0.75 miles to the arch. After heading underneath the arch, take the stone steps and narrow walkway to the top of Natural Bridge. You will walk over Natural Bridge and, from there, pick up the Laurel Ridge Trail. The Laurel Ridge Trail follows the cliff’s edge for another 0.75 miles for more stunning 360 views. After walking to Lover’s Leap, head back to the Needle’s Eye. It will connect you to the Battleship Rock Trail to complete the loop.
This trail sounds confusing, but it is easy to follow and well-labeled. I recommend having a park map or downloading the AllTrails map before heading out, just in case. This route is 2 miles roundtrip with 500+ ft of elevation gain.
*If you don’t love heights, skip the Laurel Ridge Trail and take the Battleship Rock Trail back to the Hemlock Lodge lot instead. The Battleship Rock trail is also a nice option if your kiddos want a little more independence.
The following two trails are off the Whittleton Campground main road. Unless you are staying in the campground, park in the spots immediately past the campground staff building. Both trailheads are just a short walk from there.
Whittleton Arch (#217)- This out-and-back trail is 2.5 miles roundtrip with approximately 300 ft of elevation gain.
To get to the Whittleton Arch Trailhead, follow the main campground road until it dead ends. At the trailhead, follow the path for 1 mile until you reach a split. Head right at the fork to follow the Whittleton Arch Trail for another 0.25 miles before coming to the massive Whittleton Arch and Falls.
This trail does include five bridge crossings, lots of mud, and a few sections of slippery rock as you follow the creek. Proper footwear and walking sticks are recommended 😊
Henson’s Arch Trail– After checking out the impressive Whittleton Arch, head to the Henson’s Arch Trailhead. It is located immediately behind the campground restrooms. This trail is 0.7 miles roundtrip with over 200 ft of elevation gain, most of which is in the first 0.1 mile. After that, it flattens out to a beautiful walk through the forest. The first sign that you are close to the arch will be the sound of the arch’s waterfall rushing over the rock’s edge. To get a good look at the arch, take the metal stairs down into the cave and look up😊 This unusual little arch is a great way to end your trip to Red River Gorge!
Hope you have an incredible adventure!
Looking for more Kentucky trails? Check out our Daniel Boone National Forest Itinerary!
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