Having hiked a large portion of the marked trails in Red River Gorge to view some of the most spectacular natural landmarks in the park, I often curiously wonder about some of the secret trails within the gorge. Those familiar with the area know that the park is riddled with hidden trails leading to secret arches, waterfalls, and stone landmarks. With a little research and basic orienteering skills, even the most novice hiker can experience the thrill of finding one of the many hidden sights within Red River Gorge.
Double Arch Trail Map | Daniel Boone National Forest
Star Gap Arch | 3 Miles Roundtrip
With that in mind comes a note of CAUTION: This is an unmarked trail, not registered on any official map of Red River Gorge Geological Area. This hike includes scrambling over exposed cliffs and rock ledges that have resulted in deaths and injuries. Do not venture out alone. Use common sense and do not attempt anything that would put yourself or others at risk. This is NOT meant to be an instructional article, but a recollection of my own journey. Some of these hikes are NOT suitable for small children Do your own research before going out and attempting this hike!
Star Gap Arch is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful arches in Red River Gorge. Its graceful shape and gentle curves give this arch the appearance that it is floating right before your very eyes. Just below the opening is an expansive rock shelter with breathtaking views of the gorge,that stretch out for miles. This hike is not recommended for anyone afraid of heights as it requires two back to back scrambles to descend from the top ridge down to the arch area.
Located along a spur trail just off Double Arch, this hike makes a great day trip when done alongside visiting Arch of Triumph and Double Arch. If you’re starting from the Double Arch Trailhead parking area, follow the main gravel trail for 0.66 miles. As you weave through this heavily forested ridge top, take notice of all the adjacent ridges with interesting rock formations that are easily seen during winter and fall. Some of these may hide arches and windows that have yet to be discovered. At the 0.15 mile mark, you’ll pass the small spur trail heading right, towards Arch of Triumph. Keep heading straight for another 10-15 minutes.
A little further ahead, begin to keep an eye out for a well traveled trail spurring off to the left of this main path. Its easy to find as it has a wide opening and two separate entry points. Merge left onto this trail and continue along the path for 0.45 miles. This ridge top is crowded with blueberry bushes and azaleas, which put on a beautiful show of colors during spring and fall. These wild berries are the preferred food of choice for the small growing population of black bears that reside in Red River Gorge.
You’ll know you’re on the right path after passing the remains of an old steel gate along this trail. Up ahead lies a campsite near a prominent fork on the trail. Make a right turn on the fork, heading north. Continue for 0.36 miles past another campsite until the trail turns from dirt to solid sandstone. This is the top of Star Gap Arch. The bridge created by the arch is marked by charcoal stains from previous campfires. If you chose to continue along this trail, you’ll encounter several rocky overlooks, but nothing worth writing home about.
The trick is figuring out how to get from the top of Star Gap to the bottom area. With a lot of smaller user made trails here it can get confusing figuring out which one to chose. The most widely used path to get down is actually just before you reach the arch on the initial approach. So from the top of the arch, I walked back the way I came roughly 15-20 feet, to find a wide trail spurring off to my right (due west).
Covered in a thick layer of pine needles, this path leads down a steep sandstone cliff requiring a series of scrambles to reach the main trail to Star Gap Arch. I took special care to plan my route alongside a down tree laying on the cliffs to guide my descent. Once upon a time, a large rope hung from this ridge, aiding hikers on their climb down.
Right about now I was wishing the rope was still here. Sitting on my butt and leaning back slightly, I slowly slid down to the first ledge near a small grouping of trees. Its crucial to note that on the other side of this initial ledge is a sheer drop down countless feet. Stumbling over this could lead to serious injury if not potential death, so take your time and go slow.
Once I cleared the first scramble, I walked over between the small grouping of trees, directly ahead of where I came down, to find a small path heading down between a gap in the ridge. I had to slowly and deliberately wedge myself through this tiny gap in order to work my way down to the main trail. Making my way onto solid ground, I followed the trail as it picks up heading north another dozen feet through a thick stand of rhododendrons, before finally exiting in front of Star Gap Arch.
Pictures just do not do this arch any justice. I was a bit star struck by this gorgeous natural landmark, almost as if I was encountering a celebrity for the first time. The arch itself has clean, beautiful lines that make it appear to be purposefully created by someone as opposed to just a happenstance of nature. It even reminded me of the Egyptian symbol known as the Eye of Horus, with its near perfect oval center. From afar the rock shelter doesn’t look to be anything spectacular until you step inside. The cavernous space beneath Star Gap is enormous and could easily accommodate 100 people or more.
The views from here are hard to beat as you get a front row seat to one of the many beautiful valleys surrounding Red River Gorge. Once I was done taking in the sights, I headed back the way I came, scrambling up the cliff to rejoin the trail. From start to finish, this hike took roughly an hour roundtrip, not including the time I spent exploring the arch and rock shelter.
As always remember to follow the Leave No Trace guidelines to help preserve these special places and keep them from being closed off permanently to visitors. You can do your part by packing it in, packing it out, and refraining from damaging or vandalizing this federally protected natural landmark to preserve its beauty for future generations. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!