Hiking in Red River Gorge, Kentucky

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 12-18, 1996

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Hiking in Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Q: Can you supply me with information on the Red River Gorge in Kentucky? I'm planning a trip there in June or July.
Jim Barley
Traverse City, MI
[email protected]

A: Your best bet for spectacular day hikes and overnight trips is to base yourself in the west-central part of the 26,000-acre Red River Gorge. An elaborate network of trails spreads out from both Gray's Arch Picnic Area, off Tunnel Ridge Road near Slade, Kentucky, and Koomer Ridge Campground, about three miles away on Route 15. From Gray's Arch, one of the largest sandstone arches in the area, pick up any number of short day hikes ranging from two to six miles. One particularly rewarding five-mile loop will take you along a section of the 8.4-mile Rough Trail to its intersection with the Sheltowee Trace Trail, and back to the parking area at Gray's Arch. Or, head over to the Auxier Ridge trailhead, just off Tunnel Ridge Road, for a challenging, four-mile loop hike to Courthouse Rock.

Bear in mind that although you won't be gaining much altitude, the trails in this area cut through sheer rock cliffs and steep, rugged terrain, which makes for pretty rough going. You'll be rewarded for your efforts, though, with panoramic views of the gorge's high cliff country all along Auxier Ridge to the large outcropping at Courthouse Rock. From there, you'll drop down to the Courthouse Rock trail and follow it back to the parking area. At night, opt for a $6 drive-up site at Koomer's Ridge or find your own site--and solitude--in the backcountry along any of the area's trails. You won't need a permit, but be sure to stay out of sight of all trails and at least 100 feet back from any water. For more information and trail maps, contact the National Forest Service at 606-663-2852.

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