Traveling Ted is a blog that takes readers along on my adventures hiking, canoeing, skiing, and international backpacking. Many blogs focus on one aspect of backpacking, but I tackle both the outdoor adventure side and international exploration as well.

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Hiking Red River Gorge in Kentucky brought me down from Chicago to experience the backcountry trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Normally, when I come down from the north, I usually hit the Great Smoky Mountains, but it is more than a ten hour drive to this section of the Appalachian Mountains, so I was looking at closer alternatives.

Hiking Red River Gorge

Hiking Red River Gorge at the trailhead

Alternative to Big South Fork and Great Smoky Mountains

Big South Fork along the Kentucky and Tennessee border is one option, but I wanted to try something new on this trip, so I decided to try the Red River Gorge Area. I was definitely glad I finally made the trip. There are tons of scenic trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest and also in the Natural Bridge Resort State Park.

Hiking Red River Gorge

Hiking Trail in the Red River Gorge

Stayed at Red River Gorge Cabin

I stayed the first two nights in a Red River Gorge Cabin and was given a map by the owner for the hiking trails. I also did some ziplining with the Red River Gorge Zipline Adventure Tour. The third night would be spent in the wilderness, and I was ready to get out on the trail. I started my hike at the Rockbridge Trailhead in the southeast corner of the gorge.

Temporary waterfalls

The first part of the hike followed a tributary of the Red River. This part of the trail was relatively flat with nice views of the creek. The best view was of a temporary water fall coming down over a cliff above the creek from a run off in the stream. It had just rained a ton the week before, so there were many places where water cascaded over cliffs where in dry periods there would be no flow at all. The rain also made the forest bright green.

Red River Gorge waterfall

Beautiful cascade in Red River Gorge thanks to recent heavy rains

After seven miles following the creek, I hit the Rough Trail junction at Highway 715. The first trail I was on was 219 and the Rough Trail is 221. All the trails inside the park are numbered, and some are both numbered and named like the Rough and Pinch ’em Up Trail.

Clif bar break

Clif bar break next to a little stream after a crossing

Hiking the Rough Trail

The Rough Trail lived up to its name. The trail went up a bluff and then down a bluff. Once the trail reached a low point it usually meant one or two river crossing. Then the trail went up then down and crossed a few more rivers and then repeated. The elevations climbs were nothing too extreme, but they wore on you after awhile.

Hiking Red River Gorge

Another cascade thanks to the recent rains

I was trying to get as close to Gray Arch as I could before camping to make it easily to my drop off point the next day, but I fell short of Gray Arch and camped along a small stream in a lowland area. It was getting dark, and I was pretty exhausted after going up and down on the Rough Trail.

Red River Gorge

Vibrant green colors in the Red River Gorge forest

Scenic overlooks

There were not many scenic overlook views along this hike, but the fauna in the woods was beautiful, and there were many interesting cliffs and rock faces along the trail. The most impressive rock structures were the arches. There was Angel Windows, Whittleton Arch, and Gray’s Arch to name a few on the trail I took.

Hiking Red River Gorge

Many trail sections like this in the Gorge with overhanging cliffs

Following the Sheltowee Trace Trail

I did about 13 miles the first day, and I then had approximately a 5 mile hike the next day into the Natural Bridge Area following the famous Sheltowee Trace Trail. The Sheltowee Trace Trail is a 282 mile national recreation trail that has 16 miles through Red River Gorge.

Hiking Red River Gorge

Fording a creek means it is Lost in Translation Red River Gorge style

Red River Gorge Trail system

Red River Gorge has a nice trail system perfect for an overnight hike like I did, but there is enough trails in the park to keep one busy for three to four days. For those who are looking for a longer hike, you can hike the Sheltowee Trace Trail in either direction from the park or there are many other loops off the main trail I hiked.

Red River Gorge Kentucky

Hiking Red River Gorge Rough Trail

Hiking Red River Gorge tips:

  • Be sure to camp in the lowlands as above on the tops of the bluffs there is no water, so you would either need to walk down to get water or make sure you stop and supply before hiking up
  • A backcountry pass is required for parking and hiking in the Daniel Boone National Forest – A one day pass is $3.00 and a 3 day pass is $5.00
Hiking Red River Gorge

Hiking Red River Gorge – Another pretty cascade in the Daniel Boone National Forest

  • Considers staying at a Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals before or after your hike in the backcountry
  • There are bears in the Red River Gorge, so be sure to hang your food and take precautions
  • Watch your footing on the trails as they can be rocky at places and be especially careful atop cliffs and drop offs – A broken ankle or worse in the backwoods is never fun

Adventure on!

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