There are a lot of great outdoor adventure activities to do in the Red River Gorge, but if you are not into rock climbing, zip lining, and hardcore hiking, there is also a fantastic scenic drive. The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway is approximately 46 miles in length and can be done in an hour or you can take your time and get out and walk at many points of interest along the way.
The best place to start is off the Stanton, Kentucky exit off the 402 Mountain Parkway. Exit on to highway 11 and proceed south towards Slade and Zachariah. The first stop along the route is the Natural Bridge in the Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
It is a one mile hike up to the top of the Natural Bridge on the Original Trail or you can take a lift up the sky lift for a fee. There is an amazing view from atop the Natural Bridge of the surrounding hills and forest. Many more miles of trails and a couple of campgrounds also exist in the park.
Another good side trip is to hike up the famous Sheltowhee Trace Trail from the Whittleton Campground. About a mile north on this trail is the Whittleton Arch.
Continue along Highway 11 until you hit Highway 715. Proceed north on 715 into the Daniel Boone National Forest. A couple of miles up 715 you will want to divert left on to the Chimney Top Road. Take this gravel road about five miles to the Chimney Top parking lot. A quarter mile paved trail goes to the best lookout in the area. You get a great panorama of the hills, cliffs, and lush forest of the Red River Gorge area.
Back along Highway 715, there are a number of stops where hikers can get out and stretch their legs and walk to scenic points. A couple of these feature beautiful arch formations. The first is Angel’s Window followed by Whistling and Castle Arches.
The road then dips into the actual gorge and follows the scenic Red River for a stretch. More arches and trailheads can be found along the river including the Sky Bridge and Tower Rock. You can also get out and hike along the river.
For those wanting a little more adventure, there is a trailhead at Bison Way where you can hike up through the Indian Staircase and Cloud Splitter to the north. This is again on the Sheltowhee Trace Trail.
Hang a left on Highway 77 from Highway 715. The next interesting stop is the Nada Tunnel. Make sure you have your lights on as the road disappears into the mountain only to reappear on the other side. Once you emerge on the other side, the Scenic Byway is just about complete.
The Red River Gorge map is full of trailheads, arches, lookouts, historic spots, campgrounds, and many other places worthy of a stop along the byway. You can drive at 55 mph and not stop at all and take in the beauty with your neck craned out the window in one hour, or you can stop and hike at every stop. If you do the latter you might need two days to complete the Byway depending on how much exploring you aim to do.
A great spot for home base while you explore the Red River Gorge by foot or by car is the Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals just north of Highway 11 on Highway 715. Not only do they have fantastic cabins for rent, but they also have a premier zipline course.
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