I originally made this video as a response to someone on TikTok who asked for hike recommendations as a first time visitor to the RRG, but I wanted to share on the Tread the Red website as well! I know how daunting planning a trip in a new area can be, and with SO MANY trails to pick from, I wanted to highlight a handful to check out.
1) Take a drive through the Nada Tunnel (pronounced “Nay-duh”) – I know, this isn’t a trail, but it is known as “The Gateway to the Gorge”, so it’s a must for a first timer to experience! This 900 ft long tunnel was made by blasting through solid sandstone, and used to function as a railroad tunnel.
2) Auxier Ridge Trail – This is an out-and-back trail (about 4.2 miles round trip) and features some of the best views of the RRG! The second half of this hike is exposed ridge-walks with iconic landmarks surrounding you (such as Haystack Rock, Ravens Rock, Double Arch across the way, and Courthouse Rock at the end). You can also combine other trails with Auxier Ridge Trail to make a longer loop or balloon loop!
3) Rock Bridge Trail – This is a 1.5 mile loop trail and features the iconic “Creation Falls” and “Rock Bridge”. Rock Bridge is the only sandstone arch that spans water along an official trail in the RRG! Despite some elevation change (hiking down on the way in and then back up on the way out), this trail is very popular among all age groups and kids and dogs will LOVE the sandy “beach” area next to the waterfall!
4) Grays Arch – The names of the trails in the official trail system are a little confusing, but just know you have to take Grays Arch Trail for 0.25 miles until its intersection with Rough Trail, and then you branch right/straight ahead and stay on Rough Trail until you take the prominent “side” trail to the underside of Grays Arch. If you hike in to see the arch and then turn around and hike back out, it is about 2.25 miles round trip. You can use Rough Trail and some others in the vicinity to make a decent length loop trail though! While this one can be a little difficult for some because of the elevation gain on the way back out, it is still a super popular spot that most people check out. Just make sure to pack enough water and snacks and hike at your own pace! The arch itself is HUGE, measuring 50 ft tall and 80 ft wide.
5) Skybridge Trail – This is a 0.68 mile loop trail and features Skybridge arch! This is an awesome arch that features cool views from the top and an impressive underside! My favorite is to save this hike for around sunset because the underside of the arch lights up with the setting sun rays! It is really magical. I would not rate this one as difficult by a long stretch, but it does have some metal stairs you have to tackle on the way in or way out. Just a heads up if you have a bigger dog (that you can’t just scoop up and carry) that dislikes them because they are the metal slat stairs and some dogs have problems climbing them with their paws!
6) Chimney Top Overlook Trail – This is a super short and more easily accessible overlook trail in the Gorge! It is only about 0.5 miles round trip (out-and-back) and at least half of that is paved. This overlook is PREMIUM. You can see Half Moon, Hanson’s Point, Pinch-em-Tight Gap + Revenuer’s Rock, Ravens Rock (it is way in the distance and I didn’t notice you could see it until I got new contacts – haha), and Cloud Splitter! Also, the Red River is winding down below you as well. This one is also easy to check out close to sunset. Just make sure you bring headlamps or flashlights if you think you’ll be there after dark!
I’m including a few “unmarked”/unofficial RRG trails to this list as well:
1) Copperas Falls Trail – This is about 3.52 miles round trip out-and-back trail and features the beautiful Copperas Falls. The trail pretty much winds back and forth following along Copperas Creek for the most part and ends at this waterfall. Even though this trail has gotten very popular, it still feels more secluded and “off the beaten path”.
2.) Hanson’s Point Trail – To reach Hanson’s Point, you have to hike Pinch-em-Tight until you turn left onto Rough Trail and then reach the side trail turn-off for Hanson’s Point before you make a hard left and begin descending downhill. Overall, out-and-back, it is about 5.5 miles. This trail is not super difficult and the views you get from Hanson’s Point are unmatched! You can get a new perspective of Chimney Top Overlook (straight across the way), and several of the other landmarks that you could also see from Chimney Top. If the trees aren’t too thick, you can usually see the gravel parking lot for the Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge below as well! This is also a very popular spot for backpackers because there are several large campsite areas along the way.
If you want more specific information on any of the trails listed, just check out my Trails of the Red section on my website! I also have them linked above as well. I also want to mention that you can always stop at the Gladie Visitor Center to pick up maps and chat with the folks there about the RRG official trail system!
The Original Trail is part of Natural Bridge State Resort Park and is the shortest/most direct route up to Natural Bridge. If you start behind the Natural Bridge Lodge (like we do in the #TrailTalk video below), it is 0.5 miles to reach the arch, but you can also start lower near the Natural Bridge Gift Shop and then the route will be 0.75 miles to the arch! Either way, you can see how this is a super short path!
While it is short, the elevation gain is significant (over 400 ft), BUT there are multiple benches and shelters along the side of the trail to take a break along the way if you need it! Don’t let the elevation gain scare you because this trail is great for people of all ages and abilities!
One major thing to keep in mind when hiking within Natural Bridge State Resort Park is that dogs aren’t allowed (because it is a dedicated Kentucky State Nature Preserve). I know – it sucks not being able to hike with them, but you can always head on over to the Red River Gorge proper if you’ve got a doggo (or more) with you! They are also allowed on Henson’s Arch Trail and Whittleton Branch/Arch trails that are technically part of the State Park (trailheads in Whittleton Campground).
Anyway, if you choose to complete the hike up to Natural Bridge, you will definitely be rewarded! This sandstone arch is SUPER iconic and if you haven’t been before, I recommend checking it out! I grew up taking mini vacations here with my family and have many childhood memories from this arch and surrounding area.
Because this trail is so short and direct with a very well-traversed and wide path, I’ve hiked it for sunset multiple times! Just remember to plan ahead and prepare and pack those headlamps if you do this because once the sun sets behind the ridge line, the forest gets DARK. You’ll need it on the way back, and you’ll be happy when you have a hands-free light to light your way back down. 😉
On that note, people who listen to Tread the Red Podcast are sitting there like —-WHAT—- after listening to the *spooky* episodes we recorded for Halloween this past year.
Eagle Point Buttress, or as some call it – Eagles Nest Trail – is an iconic unofficial/unmarked trail in the Red River Gorge Clifty Wilderness. The Clifty Wilderness is a 12,646 acre area with many stream valleys, a dense hemlock forest, and ridges with amazing views. Odds are if you’ve done much hiking at the RRG, you’ve *probably* hiked, or at least driven through the Clifty Wilderness areas.
Anyway, before we get into this, I do want to add a disclaimer about this trail: The area of woods you traverse that leads from Osborne Bend Trail (an official/marked trail) out to the Eagle Point Buttress overlook is a place many hikers have become lost or even needed Search & Rescue. If you are very accustomed to hiking “off trail” in the Gorge, you may not have issues following the “unmarked” trail, but I would definitely not recommend attempting this trail if you are newer to hiking or not familiar with the Gorge. I would also 100% recommend securing a hard copy of a map (and know how to read it!) and consider downloading a GPS app such as “Gaia GPS” – (I actually recently learned that the local SAR team has utilized this app for rescues!). So yeah, that’s my spiel – take it or leave it!
Now lets get into the good stuff. This overlook is one of the best in the Red and if you hike this as a loop trail – combining Osborne Bend, EPB, and Douglas Trail, it is one of the best hikes out there, in my opinion! If you hike the loop, you’ll see arches, overlooks, caves, and a waterfall (although most of the time it is mostly just mist). The videos below only outline the route to this overlook from the Osborne Bend parking lot and then connecting back down to the Douglas Trail. Stay tuned for a #TrailTalk Douglas Trail video!
Anyway, you begin this trail by hiking the Osborne Bend Trail about 1.66 miles to the righthand side turnoff (and beginning) of the unofficial Eagle Point Buttress trail. This is where things get a little hairy. There have been *an amount* of deadfall along this trail every time I’ve hiked it. Be prepared to climb over and through some of these. There is also a point where the trail kind of forks – proceed “right” here, and you should be on the correct path. I’m a little hesitant to try and provide written directions here, because as I said before, this section of this trail can be hard to follow and easy to get off track. The trail continues to weave through the forest (it is faint, but if you look, there are signs of other hikers having passed through). Eventually, the trail will gradually bend upwards (nothing drastic, just a little bit of an upwards trend) and if you see a huge rhododendron bush ahead, you are in the right spot! The trail I’ve taken most recently pops out with the rhodo bush straight ahead and slightly to the left. If you move to the LEFT around the rhodo bush, you’ll pop out at a campsite heading to the overlook! If you stay on course instead of going left around the rhodo bush, there is another campsite.
Anyway, this overlook is PREMIUM. The Red River is directly below you and bending in a horseshoe shape. I have not camped out in this area yet, but it is on my bucket list. I would LOVE to see the stars reflected in the water below. This is a great place for lunch or snacks (and rehydrating – DRINK WATER!!) – and then you can continue on your way to connect to Douglas Trail.
You head left from the overlook along the ridge line until you reach the point where you turn right and head downhill with the cliff line to the right side. This part is a pretty crazy scramble the rest of the way down, but it isn’t exposed. The biggest challenge is just watching out for loose rocks when you are choosing your path. I feel like if you take things slow and aren’t afraid to do some crab walking or butt sliding, you’ll do perfectly fine! I feel like for the most part, people kinda just make their own paths here, but I usually tend to follow the cliff line with it to the right for most of the way down, but at some point I’ll start cutting to the left across tree roots and end up going between a group of big boulders with a rock shelter below. Then, I’ll curve back to the right and pick my way across the clearing and end up at the base of the Eagle Point Buttress “waterfall”. This space in the RRG is BREATHTAKING. It is like a scene out of a fantasy novel – huge boulders covered in moss, ferns everywhere, and then the waterfall. Even when it is just a mist, it is so majestic.
Anyway, you go past the waterfall, continue to follow the cliff line, and then you’ll see the trail going left and down. Follow that and then it will take you right and down to connect to Douglas Trail along the remnants of an old logging road. Once you connect to Douglas Trail (right next to the Red River), you can head to the right to follow the Douglas Trail along the river and back to the Osborne Bend Trail parking lot to round out the loop trail. Overall, it is about 4.5-5 miles round trip. It isn’t the longest loop, but definitely account for the type of trail when you are planning out your day, because the 4.5 mile hike takes longer than expected to complete because of how technical the trail is.
I want to mention that if you are using the Hinterlands book by Jerrell Goodpaster as part of your trail guide pack, he outlines this trail beginning at the Douglas Trail and connecting back to Osborne Bend Trail (so opposite of what I do here). Just something to keep in mind! I’ve never hiked this trail the opposite direction, so I can’t give much insight on that.
Castle Arch Overlook Trail is one of the Unofficial/Unmarked Trails of the RRG. This is a short & sweet trail that leads out to a pretty cool overlook! From the overlook, you will see Swift Camp Creek winding below and Castle Arch nestled into the neighboring ridge line.
***I accidentally titled this one “Camera Point Overlook” in my trail video…oops. If you wanna check out the ACTUAL Camera Point trail (also in this area!), look here!
The trail starts next to a large pull-off on the side of Sky Bridge Rd. It is only about 0.14 miles out to the overlook (so just a little over a quarter mile total!) Because of its location, this is a great one to add onto your hiking plans if you are already in the Sky Bridge area. This would be a pretty awesome spot for sunrise (and an easy and short hike to make sure you don’t miss it). If you’re more of a sunset person, check out my other trail video on Buzzards Roost South Trail!
Other things to note: It is a day-use only area. That means it is only open 6AM-10PM and there is no camping allowed.