The western side of Red River Gorge has a very popular day hiking area that includes the highlights of Double Arch, Courthouse Rock and Auxier Ridge. I decided to knock this off with a daypack prior to backpacking a couple miles to a campsite in a different part of the park later in the day. I arrived at the parking area around 10:30am and was on the trail shortly after.
Note: The Tunnel Ridge Road is a decent gravel road, but there are some big potholes that you need to pay attention. Also, the only way to access the road is via KY-15 and is NOT accessible from KY-77.
Most people were headed up the Auxier Ridge Trail (204) to start, I ended up taking the old gravel road up to the Double Arch Trail (201) and make a clockwise loop with the Auxier Ridge Trail as a return. I used the tips from toRedRiverGorge.com to visit the Arch of Triumph and Star Gap Arch on the way to Double Arch.
The Arch of Triumph was visited very shortly on an obvious trail going off to the right. A short walk through a couple campsites and you were on top of the small arch. A short scramble to the left just before this point took you down to view the arch. It is interesting to me now that the picture of the Arch of Triumph seems more impressive than what I recall in person!
I returned to the gravel road for about a half of mile to take the obvious trail to the left out a long ridge for Star Gap Arch. The trail is fairly wide, with several campsites and side trails. I actually overshot the turn for Star Gap Arch (if you reach the part with the rusted out old cars, you went too far!) and had to turn back. It is pretty obvious when you are on top of the arch, but it is not obvious how to get down! Backtrack and there are several entry trails down to the arch off to the right (left as you approach from the main trail). It is a scramble down, but the closer to the main trail you are, the more gradual the hike down will be. Once I reached Star Gap Arch, there were a group of campers that had been there since Thursday night. While they had a great set up with a beautiful view, shelter from the arch, a few tents, hammock, bluetooth speaker jamming some Bluegrass and a nice fire, I don’t necessarily think it was a “legal” habitation. They were good guys and mentioned they take all kinds of day hikes with the extensive network of trails around there. Beautiful arch and definitely worth visiting.
I returned to the gravel road and continued my hike to the Double Arch trail (201). I ran into a few other hikers along the way. At the end of the gravel road portion, there are beautiful views out over the valley. When you continue, you enter a wooded ravine on a traditional “trail”, with a number of steps included to descend quickly. I started to run into more people at this point, in addition to seeing the first of many dogs on the day. This loop is definitely popular with the dogs!
The hike to Double Arch was through heavy woods. You can actually first see the arch right before you climb up the last set of steps to it (I didn’t notice this at first). You arrive after a short climb with a beautiful view through the arch to the Auxier Ridge. The arch is smaller than Star Gap Arch, and you only really can see the two “arches” after you follow the path to the right and climb a bit. The top arch is just a sliver above the larger lower arch.
Definitely don’t stop when you reach the arch, make sure you go on top! Following the trail on the right, you will come soon to a series of steps “carved” into the rock. This is probably the easiest path up to the top, and not as daunting as they look if you take it slow.
Once on top, head to the left to the top of Double Arch on the exposed ridge for a beautiful view across the valley to Courthouse Rock and Auxier Ridge. Definitely the best view of the day, so far.
After having lunch on top of Double Arch, I returned on the trail until it intersected with the Auxier Branch Trail (203). Nice little trail that takes you down to a creek and then back up below Courthouse Rock, hooking up with the Auxier Ridge Trail (204) that takes you back to the parking lot. I started seeing a lot more people (and dogs!) coming in the counter-clockwise direction on this trail.
Soon I was at Courthouse Rock, an imposing rock face jutting out above the forest. I am not sure I have the skills to climb it, and didn’t want to waste my energy exploring around it to find out. I quickly headed back to get on top of Auxier Ridge and enjoy the excellent sites in all directions. There are some neat rock formations in this area.
Once on the ridge, there are fantastic views of Ravens Rock, Courthouse Rock, Haystack Rock and Double Arch. This is a really pleasant walk for about a mile while you have all these fantastic views on an exposed ridge.
Eventually, you start to lose the prominent ridge top clearing and return to the parking lot at the Auxier Ridge Trailhead. A beautiful and popular hike in Red River Gorge that is a must to do if you are visiting.
9.3 miles (with a lot of exploring and scrambling around!), 947’ ascent.
GPS Track from this day hike: