Natural Bridge: Gem of Red River Gorge

For several years now, we had wanted to do some camping and hiking in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge area.  It’s an area that I grew up just passing through on the way to visit family in southeast KY.  I had no idea what I was missing.  So this year, 2015, we finally made it happen, with our first backpacking trip of the year (back in April) into the Red.  We were instantly hooked, and this October, we went on our FOURTH trip of the year into the gorge.  Yes, it’s that good.  It’s kind of been a slow year for us camping wise, as the spring and first half of summer being extremely wet and rainy in Indiana.  In fact, all of our camping adventures this year had been backpacking or tent camping, which rain can really limit (it even cut our Fourth of July trip short).  For the first time this year, we pulled the Pop Up out of mothballs and took it down to Natural Bridge Resort State Park, camping in Whittleton Campground.

Whittleton CG
Whittleton CG

For the most part, I loved this campground.  For being a front country campground, it still felt isolated.  Sandwiched into a ravine between two ridges, with fall foliage setting in, and the Whittleton Branch stream at the back of our site, it was so relaxing.  In fact, Kentucky’s longest trail, the 319 mile long Sheltowee Trace, cuts straight through this campground, it is literally part of the trail.  You can hike out of the campground in either direction.  The only downside to this CG was the fact that there is only one single restroom, so it can be a bit of a long walk, but at least it was heated.  Oh, and the narrow campground road can be problematic if two vehicles have to pass.

Our first day, we stayed in the state park, hiked up Rock Garden Trail which has house-size boulders and spectacular rock walls that tower over you.  There is also a couple sets of steps that have literally been carved out of the living rock, further giving the trail an ancient feel.  For the most part, the trail was deserted, until we reached the top.  There are several trails that converge at the top just below Natural Bridge, as well as a skylift that people ride to the top.  But once to the bridge, what a sight it is.  The forces of nature it took to carve the gorge and these arches must have been something.

Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge

We spent some time on top of the bridge taking in the views, then moved on to Lookout Point for more views, and finally to Lover’s Leap where we took a break for a snack and enjoyed the atmosphere some 1000 feet above the park.  Eventually we made our way back down, but it gave me a new respect for the state park.  It’s truly a gem within the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The following day, we headed out into Red River Gorge, where we hiked out Double Arch Trail.  We took a side trail for some amazing views and dizzying cliff heights, before we moved onto the Double Arch itself.  We’ve seen the arch from a distance on Auxier Ridge, but being inside the arch and ultimately on top of it, sheer exhilaration.   Kaden proclaimed this was his favorite part of our trip.

Double Arch
Double Arch

The Arch is cool, but it’s the views from the arch that made it so memorable.  We hiked back down and then across the ravine to Auxier Ridge.  The sun was quickly setting and we had a long way to go.  The hike up to Courthouse Rock was exhausting, but we made it.  We then quickly hiked back Auxier Ridge, stopping only sporadically to admire the views and sunset.  We were in darkness by the time we made it back to the Jeep, but we made it AND we set a new record for steps taken on a hike!  The only day hike we’ve done that was probably longer would be our 2013 hike of Boogerman Trail in the Smoky Mountains, which took us nearly 10 hours to complete.  However, I think this hike had more terrain changes.

We packed up camp the next day, did a quick hike out to Hanson’s Cave Arch, and then headed home.  This was likely our last trip into the Gorge until next spring, but we can’t wait to go back.  Until then, we have lots of pics, video, and great memories.  In my honest opinion, Natural Bridge and Red River Gorge are worthy of National Park status.

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