As one of the easiest and most family friendly hikes in Natural Bridge State Park, Henson Cave Arch should be on everyones itinerary when paying a visit to the Red River Gorge area. At 0.4 miles, the short trail leads to a 10 foot deep sinkhole, with a staircase leading down into a cave opposite a waterfall. Once inside, you can peer out through a skylight in the cave ceiling where the arch is located. If you’re feeling adventurous, travel a little further up the hill to explore the large rock shelter beyond the arch, containing several caves and a hidden wet weather spring. Located within the Whittleton Campground just off Ky 11, I tackled this hike as an add on to visiting Whittleton Arch in Red River Gorge.
Henson's Arch Trail Map | Natural Bridge State Park
Getting here is quite simple as the campground is directly across the street from the main entrance into Natural Bridge State Park. You will have to park on the side of the road in the entrance area surrounding the campground managers kiosk. Despite its small size, this campground is constantly packed, so get here early to find a place to park. From the parking area, head north and cross the wooden bridge spanning Whittleton Branch towards the restrooms. Just past this building, you’ll see the Henson Arch Trailhead sign with another bridge crossing marking the start of the trail.
People can often mistake this as an uneventful hike because of its short distance, leaving Henson Arch Trail as one of the least traveled in the park. Little do they know of the fun thats in store just up ahead. The trail curves uphill through a narrow passage cut into the limestone cliffs overlooking the campground. Follow the sounds of falling water just a little further to the railings above the sinkhole.
Here you’ll encounter a beautiful little waterfall streaming down into the cave. To the left of the sinkhole is another opening in the ground with a fallen tree right through the middle of it. This is the skylight peering down into the cave. The arch itself is actually part of the trail that passes in between the two openings.
Watch your step while you descend the stairs as the pitch is quite steep. This sinkhole and arch are made of limestone, unlike most of the formations in the area which consist of sandstone. You can examine all the neat little layers of compressed stone along the cave walls. With a waterfall pouring into this hole, one would think that it should be filled with water. The water escapes this sinkhole through the porous bedrock into an underground stream that travels under the hillside, eventually meeting with Whittleton Branch.
In the room beside the waterfall is the window peering out opposite the arch. The keyhole shaped chamber houses a fallen log that remains well preserved despite the wet conditions. With numerous different ferns and shade loving plants crowding every rock crevice, this feels more like an exploration of a South American jungle than anything found in Kentucky. As you make your way back up to the surface, be mindful of your steps while crossing in between the two sinkholes. There are no railings here and the slopes are slippery. A fall into the pit may not kill you, but can still cause serious injury.
Crossing the stream, the trail heads uphill into a slot canyon containing an array of beautiful rock formations. Just beyond a short switchback is the first cliff overhang. I originally stopped here thinking this was all there was to see. Suddenly without warning, a couple of hikers rounded the corner behind me, spooking both of our groups in the process.
After laughing and chatting for several minutes, they mentioned the largest rock shelter was just behind me in a heavily wooded cove. Following the dirt path along the cliff walls just a mere 20 yards from where we were previously standing, we broke through the brush and entered the cove. This place is huge.
The towering cliffs are close to 30 feet high and house several caves in the upper reaches. Walking down into the rock shelter, we can see and hear a stream rushing beneath our feet, but the source is not immediately apparent. The hidden stream is actually traveling through pockets of empty space within the large gaps of stone above the cavern.
Following the path of least resistance, the stream exits the ceiling overhead, rushing down the back wall of a dark chamber in the rock shelter. Just imagine one of those waterfall wall features you see in a dentists office or yoga studio and you’ll get what I’m talking about. This space was large enough for me to fit into and shine a flashlight to see the water make its way down.
The two caves in the cliffs above the rock shelter are large enough for people to walk through, but there doesn’t appear to be an immediate way to reach them without rappelling down from the cliffs above. Another short spur trail leads downhill from here to several more ledges and cliffs. A black tether rope tied to a tree aids in the steep climb up to one of these areas that appears to be a commonly used campsite. Take a look at all of the interesting rock formations here. This trail packs so much to do and see in such a short distance, one could very well spend several hours here without even noticing it.
I highly recommend hiking to see Whittleton Arch first and adding Hensons Arch Trail at the very end. The short distance makes its more of a leisurely hike that you can take your time with and really savor the scenery. If youve visited this arch, leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of it! Until next time, see y'all on the trails.