Tell someone you’re new to Kentucky and they will inevitably ask, “Have you been the gorge yet?” The place is on “must-see” lists around Kentucky. It has all sorts of taglines: “Daniel Boone wuz here,” “highest concentration of arches this size of the country,” “world-renowned rock climbing…” Get the point?
Thing is, visiting the Red River Gorge website is daunting for novices. There’s upwards of three dozen trail guides and maps on the official parks website before you start visiting blogs or rock climbing associations for their trails. Forget flipping a coin. You need a dodecahedron to figure out what to go do and see.
I turned to Twitter for recommendations and landed on a promising first exploration. Day of, the closed approach trail altered our original plans, leading our hike to one of Red River Gorge’s famous arches, Gray’s Arch.
Facts about Gray’s Arch: Dogs are allowed. The arch is a natural feature sculpted by nature into sandstone. The arch is 50 feet high and 80 feet across. The arch is tan and not gray.
Our first view was from the trail overlook and did not disappoint. The snow melt created a waterfall over the side. We stood underneath gaping at the sandstone ceiling, early spring sun warming up the rocks, breathing in the fresh, loamy scent of smoke.
Wait? Smoke? Yes, we’re not stupid you loafers who took the side trail around the buttress to hide in the laurels and make your little fire. We can smell and see the smoke wafting in the breeze. Apparently the “no fires near Gray’s Arch” memo was missed on this day. They must have also missed the “home of the Endangered Short’s Goldenrod” signs. Part of the rock shelter is fenced off to protect this rare native plant.
Seriously. Respect nature. The rules are for a reason.
The rest of our hike consisted of a loop to Rush Ridge, Rough, Pinch ‘Em Tight, and Sheltowee Trails. The rock formations did not disappoint, especially on a massive boulder just north of Gray’s Arch on Rush Ridge Trail. Winter views on the ridges revealed the jagged cliffs the park is known for, and the hidden campsites are just begging for an overnight trip. When searching for some privacy I hoofed through three sites situated on a ridge line with stellar gorge views. Camping is allowed anywhere, with a few easy to follow guidelines (like not by Gray’s Arch) so forget the RV and enjoy a little mother nature. Red River Gorge won’t disappoint.