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  1. #1
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    Default KY: Red River Gorge

    Thinking about a weekend trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky sometime next year. Would probably arrive late on a Friday and make camp as close to the parking as we could manage, then do half or more of the loop on Saturday, camp, finish on Sunday, and drive home. Would appreciate some knowledgeable WB recommendations:


    1. Appears there is a private RRG that offers accommodations, rock climbing, hiking, etc. In addition, it appears there are other areas in RRG that are public. If that's true, how commercialized is the private portion? Don't really want that experience.
    2. We were thinking of the RRG Loop, 12-14 miles with "poor trail markings" and lots of creek crossings, but great views especially Hanson's Point. Is this a great choice, or should we consider something else? Trail reviews describe numerous water crossings, natural stone arches and other features. I imagine it's very similar to Big South Fork in its geological characteristics. If we spend only one weekend, what are the must-see points?

  2. #2

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    RRG Is in my sites due to the Sheltowee Trace going through the middle of it but I do not have any detailed information about it.
    Trail Miles: 4,007.6 - AT Trips: 70
    AT Map 1: 2004.8
    AT Map 2: 265.0
    Sheltowee Trace Map: 84.0
    BMT Map: 57.7
    Pinhoti Trail Map: 0.0

  3. #3
    Siestita's Avatar
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    Default Red River Gorge Possibilities

    I've lived an hour and half east of RRG for the past 44 years. The term "Red River Gorge" (RRG) is sometimes applied to a region considerably larger than just the course of that particular stream. Most of that area consists of the "Red River Gorge Geological Area" which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The entire loop itinerary that interests you lies within that "special area". Natural Bridge State Park lies immediately south of the "Geological Area" and has identical topography, a lodge, two campgrounds, and a network of very scenic day hiking trails. Separately, the private rock climbing, etc. enterprises (which which I have no acquaintance) are are located several miles south of the State Park, along the same road.

    RRG is extremely popular, especially on weekends. Tourists, day hikers, and backpackers arrive there driving east from Louisville and also south from Ohio, Indiania, and Illinois. So, those trails get a lot of use. Its the only section of the Daniel Boone National Forest where overnight back country campers/backpackers need to get permits. I purchase mine at the gas station/convenience store near the Mountain Parkway's Slade/Natural Bridge S.P. exit.

    Yes, the terrain there is much like that of the Big South Fork, with lower ridge tops at RRG, but just as much hiking up and down, and many rock faces, arches, and shallow caves. Hiking at RRG after dark is inherently hazardous, in my opinion. Every summer several people (usually young men, out at night) die falling from area cliffs. So, unless you arrive in the area well before sunset, consider camping at one of the Natural Bridge State Park campgrounds. I prefer the Whittleton Branch one, which the Sheltowee Trace happens to traverse. Trails also lead into the "Geological Area" from the National Forest's campground at Koomer Ridge, accessed from Kentucky route 15. Koomer Ridge can be used as a car camping location and/or as trailhead parking for hiking in (along trail 220) to the "RRG Loop Trail" that interests you.

    You appear to have selected your 12.2 mile prospective route, "the Red River Gorge Loop" from the "All Trails" web site. Hopefully, you'll take with you a better map than the one presented there. I've hiked most of that mileage at one time or another. So, yes, it is do-able. Don't worry about places where trails cross streams at RRG. Other than the Red River (which the Sheltowee Trace crosses on a special pedestrian bridge), the creeks are all small.

    My personal favorite spots in the RRG/Natural Bridge region, from a scenic standpoint,are not located along the 12.2 mile "Red River Gorge Loop Trail", but are instead accessed via brief day hikes from parking lots. Those access trails range in length from several hundred yards out-and-back to loops of several miles. Especially attractive possibilities include:

    Natural Bridge State Park trails (no backcountry camping). My favorite loop: Balanced Rock Trail (#2, .75 miles) + Rock Garden Trail (#4, 1.75 miles)

    Auxier Ridge Trail (#204,1.1 mile), combined with Auxier Branch Trail (#203, .8 miles), (Double Arch Trail (#201,1.0 miles) and then with a short stretch of gravel road can form a loop of 4 or 5 miles. This route crosses tiny Auxier Branch, which may not provide water all year, about 1/2 way thru. These spectacular trails are very popular with day hikers.

    Rock Bridge/Upper Swift Camp Creek Area: Drive the 3 mile gravel Rock Bridge Road back to the Trailhead. The 1.3 mile long Rock Bridge Trail descends towards Swift Camp Creek before looping back to the parking lot. Near the creek the loop intersects the beginning of the Swift Creek Trail (#219). When hiking all of the Swift Camp Creek Trail several decades ago I encountered lots of blow downs and one very hazardous spot located along a rather steep, eroding slope about 100 feet above the stream. That spot was north of the junction of the Swift Camp Creek Trail and the Wildcat Creek Trail. I greatly preferred the initial section of the Swift Camp Creek Trail, located between the Rock Bridge Trail and Wildcat Creek. In contrast to the Rock Bridge Trail, which attracts a few day hikers, the Swift Camp Trail can potentially provide solitude.

    Very short trails from pull offs along KY route 175 (or adjoining Chimney Top Road) , leading to views of Sky Bridge, Chimney Top, and Princess Arch.
    Last edited by Siestita; 01-02-2021 at 16:01.

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    Siestita, that's some VERY helpful information! Yes, I was using the All Trails app. Haven't been real impressed with it so far though it is helpful. That loop is what popped up in a search, but I'm certainly not stuck on it. Thank you for your detailed description and suggestions of alternate destinations.

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    I wish I could remember some better details, but I basically grew up hiking, camping and climbing in the Red River gorge area, it was 2 hours away from where I grew up (SW Ohio, Cincinnati).

    Until last year when I took my wife there for her first time, it had been almost 40 years since I visited, but wow, I still very much enjoyed the place, even though it had become way more crowded.

    We stayed in the Natural Bridge SP lodge, and it was fantastic.

    We spent 2.5 days hiking to as many of the arches we could, those were my favorite trails growing up.

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    RRG is extremely popular, especially on weekends. Tourists, day hikers, and backpackers arrive there driving east from Louisville and also south from Ohio, Indiania, and Illinois. So, those trails get a lot of use.


    this is true....

    i started hiking in that area in 96 and thought it was trashed up pretty good....

    moved to knoxville and started hiking in the GSMNP and thought, while there's certainly more people, there was less trash....

    moved back to lexington in late 2000, went back to hiking in the gorge....

    it was worse than when i left....

    lots of people in that small area along with larger amount of trash.........all over the place......trails, roads, campsites, etc....

    i stopped hiking there as a result and was lucky enough to be able to move back to knoxville to resume
    working and finishing the 900...

    not sure how the gorge is nowadaze but it was pathetic during 2000-2003.....

    your mileage may vary though....

  7. #7
    Siestita's Avatar
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    :banana

    illabelle--RRG is the closest backpacking area that I can access, but for two night weekend trips I usually prefer to instead drive a bit further south to other parts of the Daniel Boone National Forest, including less visited places that are comparably scenic.

    For someone coming up to Kentucky from Tennessee for a weekend, RRG might not be the best option. By chance are you familiar yet with Cumberland Falls State Park? It has great trails, including part of the Sheltowee Trace. Overnight backcountry camping is not permitted within the State Park, but one can legally hike its trails during the day and then make camp at good spots nearby, on adjoining National Forest land. If you decide to go there, rather than drive further north to RRG, I could provide some details here about a great two night weekend loop hike itinerary that starts right at Cumberland Falls. The first night's campsite (Bunches Creek) is legal, only very infrequently used, and located only an hour's walk (or less if you walk briskly) from the parking lot.
    Last edited by Siestita; 01-01-2021 at 01:21.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Siestita View Post
    illabelle--RRG is the closest backpacking area that I can access, but for two night weekend trips I usually prefer to instead drive a bit further south to other parts of the Daniel Boone National Forest, including less visited places that are comparably scenic.

    For someone coming up to Kentucky from Tennessee for a weekend, RRG might not be the best option. By chance are you familiar yet with Cumberland Falls State Park? It has great trails, including part of the Sheltowee Trace. Overnight backcountry camping is not permitted within the State Park, but one can legally hike its trails during the day and then make camp at good spots nearby, on adjoining National Forest land. If you decide to go there, rather than drive further north to RRG, I could provide some details here about a great two night weekend loop hike itinerary that starts right at Cumberland Falls. The first night's campsite (Bunches Creek) is legal, only very infrequently used, and located only an hour's walk (or less if you walk briskly) from the parking lot.
    tnhiker's report of crowding and trash is discouraging.

    I've been to Cumberland Falls, but only once, and it was with a group. We went to a small waterfall on the other side of the big falls (forget the name, but I'm sure you know what it is). I'd be interested in your loop suggestion. Please tell me more.

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    All of what Siestita wrote. He was one of my main inspirations in thru hiking the ST twice.

  10. #10

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    My understanding is that all of the parking lots are sized to fit the maximum number of hikers each area in the RRG can handle, and that lately folks have been parking illegally up and down the roads. So many cars are parked this way that ambulance service is effectively cancelled, as they can't get there without towing cars. And as for the impact on the trails, consider what happens when the bathrooms at visitors center are closed due to covid and you have a slew of new hikers arriving at trailheads from distant cities...

    I would highly agree with staying in the areas south of the gorge, such as those along the far-less traveled Sheltowee Trace and surrounding areas if you're looking for a loop. Cumberland Falls and Big South Fork should provide some excellent options.

  11. #11
    Siestita's Avatar
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    Default Legal Backcountry Camping Areas Adjoining (But Not Within) Cumberland Falls S. P.

    Illabelle--The small waterfall that your group visited is called "Eagle Falls". That 2 mile "Eagle Falls Trail" loop is is my favorite trail in the Park. I'll present a weekend length Cumberland Falls area itinerary that I like in my next post here. Anticipating that, this post discusses three places right outside of the State Park where it is legal to do backcountry camping on Forest Service Land. Over time, various people may find that interesting.

    Back country camping is not permitted within Cumberland Falls S.P., but there are three good, perfectly legal, locations that I've used on National Forest land right outside the State Park's boundaries:

    1. At the mouth of Bunches Creek. To reach this location leave your vehicle at the upstream end of the long parking lot that people use when viewing Cumberland Falls. Walk across highway 90 and continue along the road that leads along the River through the Cliff Side Picnic area. That road ends at the trailhead to the Park's Trail #2. That path's name, "Cumberland River Trail", is potentially misleading because after initially following the river a short distance upstream, it then goes up and over a ridge.

    Take Trail #2 along the river for 2 miles, to the spot (clearly signed the last time I was there) where that path turns left and starts uphill. Instead of going up the hill, continue walking parallel to the river along an unofficial "use trail". After about 100 yards this ends at Bunches Creek, which there at its mouth is a substantial stream. Space for tents abounds there. No one else has been at the mouth of Bunches Creek on any of the five nights that I've spent there, nor have I found much trash there.

    I've always competed this walk during day light, reaching Bunches Creek very easily. But, if arriving there after dark I would be especially careful while moving along the 'use trail' leading to the Creek. There is one spot where a few feet of the use trail have eroded away, exposing a ten foot drop into muddy water. Watch out for that hazard and detour around it to the left.

    2. Near the mouth of Dog Slaughter Creek. This spot, with a clear area suitable for several tents, is located beside the Sheltowee Trace/Moonbow Trail/State Park Trail #1, downstream from Cumberland Falls. Rather than being within sight of the trail bridge that crosses Dog Slaughter Creek, the site that I like is located beside the trail about 200 feet southbound from the bridge.


    From the southern end of that trail bridge the "Dog Slaughter Falls Trail" joins the Sheltowee Trace. One can reach the mouth of Dog Slaughter Creek as part of a Sheltowee Trace thru hike (or long section), or after leaving one's vehicle at the Cumberland Falls parking lot, or from the parking area at the trailhead for the "Dog Slaughter Falls Trail". or from the somewhat remote trailhead for the (exceptionally beautiful) "Bark Camp Trail", or from Mouth of the Laurel.

    3. Along the Sheltowee Trace, on the west side of the Cumberland River, about 3 miles upstream from Cumberland Falls. A bridge takes state highway 90, and also the Sheltowee Trace, across the Cumberland River several hundred yards upstream from Cumberland Falls. The Trace then continues southbound for 2 1/2 miles within a Kentucky Nature Conservancy area in which camping is prohibited. About 2 miles further upstream along the Cumberland, the Trace leaves the River and goes upward, doing so at a road access point near which local good old boys sometimes party, fish, and camp on pleasant summer weekend evenings. So, its best to camp after passing through the Conservancy area and before reaching the road access point. Such sites can be found along the Sheltowee Trace slightly south of its signed junction with Park Trail #10, the 4.5 mile long "Blue Bend Loop Trail". Park your vehicle at the upstream end of the Cumberland Falls Parking lot.
    Last edited by Siestita; 01-02-2021 at 13:27.

  12. #12
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    Default A Good Weekend Cumberland Falls Itinerary

    For additional details about the camp sites and trails mentioned below , please read my previous post about legal camping spots located right outside the Park boundaries.


    Total Mileage:
    10 miles, if you simply camp at Bunches Creek and then near the mouth of Dog Slaughter Creek.
    11 miles , if you additionally take a side hike upward to Dog Slaughter Falls
    15 miles, if you camp first at Bunches Creek and then near the Star Camp Shelter

    FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Arrive at Cumberland Falls S.P.; Leave vehicle(s) at the upstream end of the large Cumberland Falls parking lot. Taking first a picnic area road, then Trail #2 (Cumberland River Trail), and then briefly a "use trail", hike 2.5 miles to the mouth of Bunches Creek. Camp there.

    Options if by chance you arrive at the Park early in the afternoon: Snack at the Park's Lodge's dining room, with a great view of the river below; or take a short day hike, for example to Eagle Falls.

    SATURDAY: Backtrack from Bunches Creek to Park Trail #2. Take Trail #2 uphill, to highway 90. Here is how the secretfalls.com website describes that part of the hike:

    "...The trail [Park Trail #2 from its inception] begins at the far end of the picnic area and follows the river upstream for about 2-miles [almost to Bunches Creek]. Trail 2 then follows an old logging road to the left until it intersects KY 90. After reaching the highway, hikers must follow the highway to the left for about 25 yards where the trail continues on a logging road. About 3/4-mile past its junction with KY 90, the trail turns right, leaving the logging road and winding its way down to the river. Upon reaching the river, Trail 2 intersects with the Moonbow Trail [also known as Park Trail #1, and as the Sheltowee Trace]. "

    Comment: You return to the River at a point that is downstream from Cumberland Falls, having walked through the woods in a large circle away from the lodge and other developed parts of the State Park. Shortly after crossing highway 90 there is a fire tower that you can visit. After the fire tower part of the descent to the river is a bit steep, passing through a boulder field. I find that I need to tread slowly there, sometimes stopping to figure out precisely where the trail continues. (That section reminds me of a similarly challenging portion of the Big South Fork's Honey Creek Loop. If I remember correctly, you, Illabelle, have enjoyed hiking that extraordinary Big South Fork trail.)

    After reaching the River, turn right on the Moonbow Trail/Sheltowee Trace/State Park Trail #1, and take it east and north (going downstream) for about 1 1/2 miles to the mouth of Dog Slaughter Creek. Camp near there, at the site discussed in my prior post.

    Or, if it is still early in the day when you reach Dog Slaughter Creek, and you want to walk additional miles, simply cross the bridge over Dog Slaughter Creek and continue hiking northbound on the Sheltowee Trace. Make camp when you get tired. That section of the stream corridor is less 'closed in' than is the case upstream, during the first two miles that the Cumberland rushes after tumbling over the Falls. Along the Sheltowee Trace, about 2 1/2 miles northbound from Dog Slaughter there is an AT style trail shelter called "Star Camp". That shelter was constructed by the Forest Service during the 1980s. More recently members of the Sheltowee Trace Association did some maintenance there (Thanks!).

    Or, instead of walking north towards Star Camp, after making camp at the mouth of Dog Slaughter Creek take an uphill side hike to Dog Slaughter Falls (about 1/2 mile each way).

    SUNDAY: Hike southbound (upstream) on the Sheltowee Trace/Moonbow Trail/State Park Trail #1 to Cumberland Falls, and your vehicle. Time permitting, then enjoy having a buffet lunch at the Park's lodge, overlooking the River. The wait staff there are accustomed to serving sweaty hikers. Also, its possible to wash up and change clothes right at the end of hike using the restrooms located by the Falls and gift shop.

    Comment--Even though they parallel a river, the two 'map miles' of the Sheltowee Trace immediately downstream from Cumberland Falls (on State Park Trail #1)are are not particularly easy walking. The natural features that make that gorge corridor very attractive have consequences. That section of trail twists and turns often and goes up and down quite a bit. Also, when the River is up at flood stage that section of trail becomes impassable in places, blocked by dangerous, rapidly flowing water. Hike elsewhere (or backtrack up the hill on Trail #2 to exit the river area) when a flood is occurring!

    *** I obtained my best map of Cumberland Falls S.P. area trails several years ago inexpensively at the Park's Gift Shop located at the Falls viewing area. I've not found maps of those particular trails of similar quality available anywhere else.

    These web links could potentially be helpful, however:

    https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7063471/trail-2
    http://www.secretfalls.com/hiking/cu...te-resort-park
    Last edited by Siestita; 01-02-2021 at 14:32.

  13. #13
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    Siestita, you are a jewel!
    And you have such a wealth of detailed helpful information. Thank you!!

    Yes, indeed we have hiked Honey Creek (the western half) at least a dozen times. Haven't been there in a while, but have always enjoyed it. Look forward to similar terrain in the areas you've described. Cumberland Falls is a bit of a drive, but still near enough that we wouldn't mind making the trip a few times. For now I've tentatively set aside a weekend in March/April for the first visit.

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    Siestita's Avatar
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    Illabelle--I'm glad you find my posts helpful and plan to spend a weekend at Cumberland Falls during the coming spring. Let us here on White Blaze know how that goes. Siestita (Chris Daniel)
    Last edited by Siestita; 01-02-2021 at 14:29.

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