Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is one of the state’s biggest draws. An area of outstanding natural beauty with sandstone cliffs, natural stone arches, waterfalls, and forest trails, it is a unique landscape well worth visiting. As well as an extensive network of trails and picnic areas, let’s have a look at the wide range of Red River Gorge activities available:
Gladie Visitor Center
The Red River Gorge is located within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Get your bearings on arrival at the Gladie Visitor Center, situated 60 km SE of Lexington on the 715. It’s a great locus for your ongoing Red River explorations. You can get all the information you need on local highlights, places to eat or stay, and activities to enjoy, as well as picking up handy guidebooks, leaflets, and maps. COVID-19 UPDATE: Currently closed until further notice.
Multiple trail networks criss-cross the region including the 219-mile long Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. The Sheltowee runs N-S through the region and crosses the Red River at Gladie Creek, near the visitor center. Local legend Daniel Boone was famously given the native name Sheltowee by his Shawnee captors. The picturesque trail is named in his honor. Hike South to Natural Bridge State Park where the eponymous stone arch dominates the landscape, or head North through the Clifty Wilderness, a tranquil region with over 750 flowering plants and a unique ecosystem.
Take a leisurely guided tour on horseback from Cable’s Valley Stables or Whisper Valley Trails. Visit waterfalls, cliffs, and peaceful forest paths in the company of a knowledgeable local guide. Perfect for riders of all abilities and experience levels.
It’s called simply “The Red” and it’s one of the world’s most revered climbing areas. Whether roped or free-climbing, expert or beginner, there’s something to enjoy at this huge site. Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School offer beginners’ and intermediate lessons. A whole climbing community is based in the region and newbies are welcome. On the other end of the spectrum, at Southern Smoke, there’s a 100 foot 5.15 graded climb – not for the faint-hearted!
As well as river canoeing, the Red River Gorge offers cave kayaking too. The justly-named Thrillsville Adventure Park offers boat tours and kayaking in a system of flooded, cathedral-like limestone caves. For the adventurous traveler looking for a unique experience, it’s a must-see. If you’re too claustrophobic to enter these impressive grottoes, there are canoe centers dotted throughout the Red River Valley, for tranquil river explorations.
Spotted bass, rainbow trout, longear sunfish, bluegill, and rock bass can all be caught in the middle section of the Red River Gorge or its tributaries. Find a spot away from the kayakers, use a small subtle lure, and most of all, be patient. The fish in the region can be skittish, due to its overall popularity with hikers, but it is a beautiful spot to spend a meditative morning. Highways 77 and 715 both have off-ramp access points for boats at their respective bridges.
If you’d rather see the gorge from a bird’s eye view, there are five separate zip-lines at Cliffview, including one 1900 feet long with a top speed of 55mph! Soar 300ft over the gorge at one of its most spectacular points and enjoy an adrenaline rush like no other.
Kentucky Reptile Zoo
For a total change of pace, visit this emporium of slithering, creeping, and swimming creatures, situated at Slade. The zoo features 75 varieties of snake, turtle, lizard, and alligator. Learn how snake venom from the zoo is used in life-saving research or listen to a talk about some of the world’s most ancient creatures (alligators have been alive for 85 million years!)
Take In The View
If you just want to meditate in spectacular scenery, the Eagle Point Buttress offers the most spectacular vantage point. Beginning on 715 Sky Bridge Road, a four-mile looped trail takes you up to a rocky outcrop that towers 973 feet over the valley below. Don’t get too close to the edge though – it is a fearsome drop beloved of intrepid rock-climbers.
Once you’ve taken in a selection of the above delights, you’ll want to replenish those calories. Whether it’s hiker’s favorite, Miguel’s Pizza, the Overhang Tavern at Cliffview, or La Cabana’s Mexican delights, there’s plenty in the region to satisfy any palette.
Forget John Wayne
The Howard Hawks’ film Red River was actually shot in Arizona! The true local celebrity of the region was frontiersman and explorer Daniel Boone. Follow in his footsteps and explore this wild and varied area. There’s plenty to see and do, whether you’ve brought your family or like-minded friends. I can assure you, this is a place you’ll want to return to, and one you’ll never forget.
The ones listed above are just a few of the Red River Gorge activities but I’m sure you’ll be able to find more details by studying The Ultimate Red River Gorge Guide. Follow the link and read the guide if you plan to visit or camp in the area.