The Red River Gorge is one of the hidden gems of America. This place is the epitome of the Appalachian Mountains, located wedged within the Daniel Boone National Forest, Clifty Wilderness, and Natural Bridge State Resort Park. You wont find tourists here, just rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts who make the pilgrimage to view some of the most magnificent mountain vistas in the Eastern United States. This place is located a not so short, two hour drive, from my home in Central Kentucky. I get so lost scanning the horizon, gazing out at the mountain ranges that magically appear out of the blue once you veer onto the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway.
Non of it feels like you're in Kentucky, or at least what most people think of. The somewhat flat western corner of the state slowly starts developing small dimples as it heads into the central region where the dimples transition into rolling hills. Those rolling hills tame themselves ever so often into lush savanna prairies dominate what is considered to be one of the prominent areas in the world for rearing horses. Then suddenly, without warning the edges of the prairies drop off into vast gorges and valleys, separating mountain peaks from one another. It is truly breath taking.
I highly recommend that anyone visiting Red River Gorge stop at the Gladie Visitors Center to pick up a map. Its easy to get turned around here. Not all of the trails are clearly marked so you have to use visual aids and even your cars trip odometer to get a clear idea of where some of the trailheads are located. The winding road and lush forest has a tendency to confuse your sense of direction. As another precaution, black bears are known to wander through the area. Take precautions when storing food and make sure to make your presence known so as to not startle any wildlife. I personally carry a small bell torn off a christmas ornament and tied to my pack for this very reason.
The Rock Bridge Arch Trailhead #207 is located within its own recreation area on Natural Forest Road 24 off of State Highway 715. This road is located just outside of the Daniel Boone Forest in a rural residential area and can easily be confused for a private road. Look for the large trailhead sign just off the road leading you back into the National Forest through a service gate. The road here is nothing but dirt and gravel. On either side, thickly forested hillsides, steep cliffs, and deep potholes alternate between giving you a sense of adventure and terrifying suspense. After a scenic 3 mile drive you'll arrive at the Rock Bridge Recreation Area. Here you'll find restrooms, picnic, and camping areas. Look for the small trailhead sign directing you towards the start of your hike.
Trail #207 was once a paved trail that easily guided visitors towards the Rock Bridge Arch. Today nature has reclaimed most of it. What was once concrete has crumbled into dirt. You'll come across small staircases that lead to nowhere as the trail eroded into nearby streams and were rerouted. Towering hemlock trees and dense rhododendron trap fog within the understory giving the area an eeriness akin to what Hansel and Gretel might have experienced. I was on the lookout for witches or a cottage made of candy.
At 1.25 miles, its considered moderate due to its steep drop in elevation. What goes down, must come up. After crossing over several small streams and under towering stone cliffs 3/4 of a mile in, you'll reach a small pool which drops off into a waterfall, named Creation Falls. This is where Rock Bridge Fork and Swift Camp Creek meet and fork off.
At this point you're only several hundred yards from the arch. After hiking along the edge of the waterfall and down a few stone steps, the rock formation will slowly start to materialize from within the forest. If you follow the small river you'll notice that the sandstone cliff drops off into what looks like a cave with the stream running underneath. THIS is Rock Bridge Arch!
It is the only naturally occurring bridge in the entire park that spans over water. The trail leads hikers on through a gap climbing over the arch itself and over to the other side of it. From here visitors can continue the rest of the trail looping through the forest where they can view more towering creviced cliffs. The trail drops you off on the opposite side of the parking lot near the restrooms.
• Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on the Hike to Angel Windows here at Red River Gorge!