Tips for visiting Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge
Families are visiting Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge now more than ever.
Many families are visiting areas of Kentucky for summer vacation instead of traveling around the country due to the pandemic. Take some time to prepare for your trip and it will be more fun since you won’t be spending time while you are there trying to figure things out!
Before we get to all of the tips for visiting Red River Gorge and Natural bridge, something must be said related to the COVID-19 pandemic period. It is very important:
Whatever you take in, take out. Clean up after yourselves so that everyone can enjoy the natural beauty of Kentucky.
If you are looking for a service project for the family, an easy (and much needed) service project is picking up garbage around Red River Gorge. Since COVID, there has been an increase in hiking traffic. Unfortunately, that has brought an increase in garbage around the Gorge.
Plan to bring gloves and garbage bags and pick up garbage as you hike. Be a part of the solution! The trail of greatest need is the Sheltowee Trail to the Suspension Bridge.
Also, all of the Red River Gorge hikers seemed great at social distancing, wearing masks when close together or inside, and all of the area restaurants had tables available outside for dining.
Red River Gorge (RRG) is a National Natural Landmark located in Daniel Boone National Forest in Eastern Kentucky, about 2 hours from Louisville. It’s a forest area made up of cliffs, waterfalls, and natural bridges (there are more than 100 natural sandstone arches).
Right next to Red River Gorge is Natural Bridge State Resort Park. It contains one of the largest natural bridges in the area: a 78 foot long arch that is 65 feet high. You can walk across it and under it, and it is amazingly beautiful.
Red River Gorge is known for it’s hiking trails (over 60 trails from beginner to advance), rock climbing, and camping. You can go for the day, or stay longer. You can stay overnight anywhere from primitive camp sites, yurts, treehouses, lodge, motel, or fully loaded cabins.
There are so many options. On your list of tips for visiting Red River Gorge and lodging: check for the little things like drinkable water, indoor plumbing, location from major roads, and distance from the trails before you book.
Basically, the Red River Gorge area is a bunch of trails inside a driving/biking loop made of the following roads: KY Route 11, 715, and 77. On this loop of roads you can access all the trails you need, including the entrance to the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This loop of roads also contains the Nada Tunnel.
The Nada Tunnel is on KY Route 77. It’s on the opposite side of the loop from most of the hiking trails, but is super cool to drive through. Nada Tunnel is a single lane tunnel originally built by a logging company in 1910.
Put your lights on going through, because it is dark! All traffic on one side goes through the tunnel, (drivers often signaling to cars on the other side of the tunnel that more cars are coming behind them). Once the last car is through, the traffic on the other side of the tunnel can go through.
I have been told if you go through the tunnel in the middle of the night, you can see glow worms on the ceiling. (Be careful if you turn your lights off! Oncoming cars will NOT see you).
Before you go, I recommend getting the AllTrails app (or something similar). The trick is to do the research beforehand and DOWNLOAD all the trails you want to take.
I made the mistake of getting the app, selecting the trails to take, but when I got to Red River Gorge, I found I had no WIFI (which means no ability to look up the pre-selected trails). The benefit of having the app is to check how much further you need to go to reach the end of the trail or interesting structure.
Before you get settled in or go hiking, I recommend stopping by the Slade Welcome Center on your way in (it’s behind the rest area with the big red caboose. (They are open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm and Sundays 2pm-5pm).
Here’s my recommended trail list for families to add to your list of tips for visiting Red River Gorge:
Our favorite was Rock Bridge Loop Trail, which is less than a 2 mile moderate trail. As you walk the trail, you can stop at several spots to climb, explore, and play in water. Mid-trail you can spend some time at Creation Falls and see one of the larger arches (Rock Bridge).
We wore our swimsuits under our clothes, and brought towels, water shoes, snacks and drinking water in our backpacks. If you bring your dog, this is a dog friendly trail, and our dogs loved swimming (on their leashes) too.
Angel Windows Trail is a short, moderate trail (about half a mile) that goes to some amazing rock features. Watch your step – there are some slippery spots where you can lose your step on pooling water and moss.
Whistling Arch Trail is a short, easy trail (little over a half mile) to a beautiful view.
Sheltowee Trail is a longer trail, but after the first, easy mile, you will reach the Suspension Bridge. We walked across the bridge and then walked back to the parking lot. On the way, there is a little beach area by some boulders where people jump into the water. However, be careful if the water level is low, and watch out for garbage. Remember, clean up!
Natural Bridge State Resort Park was our other favorite spot. If you want to get to the best spots, you can hike up or take the Sky Lift. The Sky Lift brings you in a ski lift that comfortably sits two up to the top of the mountain.
You can take the right path and walk on top and under the arch, or you can take the left path and view the arch from a distance. Both are worth the trip! It travels one-half mile from the park entrance and ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge.
It is open daily first weekend of April through the last weekend in October. For pricing call (606) 663-2922.
Where to eat
If you are wanting a vacation that all about food, it’s good to know that there are not a lot of restaurants in the Red River Gorge area. But, the restaurants they have are terrific! They are all around the same driving loop, away from the trails:
Miguel’s: Local, famous pizza place, and they even serve breakfast! (March 1st-December 1 at 7am-9:45pm)
1890 Natural Bridge Road
Red River Rockhouse: Amazing burgers and salads. (Saturday 12-9:30pm and Sunday 12-9pm)
4000 KY Route 11
La Cabana: Awesome food and stores within walking distance. Sit at the bar at the outside window for a great view! (Wednesday- Sunday 12-9pm)
1289 Natural Bridge Rd
Thatcher Barbecue Company: In a strip mall with some unique shops, good food.
918 Natural Bridge Road
Hill Top Pizza: Quick food. (10am-10pm except Saturday’s open till 11pm)
2034 KY 11
Tips for visiting Red River Gorge, things to bring:
- Bug spray
- Hiking boots
- Water Shoes
- First Aid kit
- Alltrails App
Also, none of the trails are flat or stroller / handicap accessible. Even “easy” trails are still outdoors, full of roots and trip hazards.
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