Red River Gorge: Two night, clockwise backpack loop.

After my Double Arch-Auxier Ridge day hike, I drove over to Koomer Ridge Campground to do a two-night loop around the central hiking network of Red River Gorge.  The goal was to get a good sampling of the area and hit Grey’s Arch and Hanson’s Point as the main attractions.  For the record, I did the following clockwise loop:

220-208-220-226-223-209-221-Hanson’s Point-221-220

There is a separate backpacker parking lot at Koomer Ridge Campground, and I left their for the Koomer Ridge Trail (220) about 4:30pm.  I met a regular RRG backpacker in the parking lot and hiked the first couple miles with him until he headed off toward Swift Camp Creek.  It was nice hiking with Jonathan and talking about the area and gear.

We took the Hidden Arch Trail (208) since it was sort of on the way and I could see another arch.  The trail is parallel to Koomer Ridge Trail for a while, and descends down steps to the arch.  The Hidden Arch is not that much to see, however the rock walls around it are really neat to see.  I guess it is worth the side trip from Koomer Ridge.

Hidden Arch

Upon returning to the Koomer Ridge Trail, I started looking for a campsite since I already had a decent amount of miles in, however the ridge was densely forested without any obvious trails to campsites.  The regulations are 300’ from an established trail, so it is pretty limited unless you know where sites exist, which is where the outrageGIS maps come in handy, since they have known campsites marked. I split off on the Buck Ridge Trail (226) and Jonathan continued on Koomer Ridge Trail.

The trail rapidly descends to the creek level, where you are greeted with a very serene walk along the creek with a couple nice confluences.  After crossing the creek, the trail ascends up to Buck Ridge, at a fairly steep clip.  Once I reached the top of the ridge, I had to check the map and GPS before backtracking to the faint trail leading to the campsite – a great location on top of the ridge in a little clearing and an established fire pit.  Plenty of wood around, so a relaxing evening was enjoyed.

Red River Gorge May 2017

After packing up the next morning, I headed back down the Buck Ridge Trail (226) toward the Pinch-Em-Tight Trail(223), which is also the Sheltowee Trace (100).  This was a very well-maintained, wide trail leading to the Grey’s Arch Trailhead area, which has a few trails leading out of the area.  This is another good candidate to park your car for an overnight trip.

I took the D. Boon Hut Trail (209), which takes you to a large cave where a wooden hut was found with the inscription of “D. Boon” (as well as a former Niter mine).  Attempts to determine if this was Daniel Boone’s hut has been inconclusive.  The trail descends into a beautiful ravine bordered by neat cliffs.  There is a small side trail to the cave area, which is very large and impressive.  Unfortunately, as with a few of the prominent caves in the area, fences are in place to protect the caves.  Good for preservation, bad for scenery.

Red River Gorge May 2017

This is definitely worth a day hike, but if doing it, I would recommend turning around and returning to the parking area instead of making a loop.  The D. Boon Hut Trail (209) continues down to the creek, which shortly after connects with the Rough Trail (221). It doesn’t take long for the Rough Trail to live up to it’s name, for it is not only a pretty steep ascent to get up to the trail to Grey’s Arch, it also includes some fairly tough terrain.

Rough Trail

Once you hit the main portion of the trail that people use for Grey’s Arch, the trail becomes much easier and wider.  I started coming across other hikers, for Grey’s Arch is one of the most popular attractions in the area (and for good reason).  After taking a side trail to the right which I believe took me near the top of the arch, I returned to the main trail and descended (after some stairs) to the really neat cave adjacent to Gray’s Arch and the path up to the arch.

A great example of how you can spend a lot of time climbing around and exploring the many neat attractions in this area.  After doing that, I walked up to the base of Grey’s Arch, and spent quite a bit of time admiring the awesome formation and chatting with a few people hanging out there.  This is truly a can’t miss destination if you are touring Red River Gorge.  Additionally, the rock formations and different types of surfaces are best here.

Grey's Arch

I tore myself away from Grey’s Arch and continued down the Rough Trail to the creek level.  This was another beautiful area, with an abundance of Hemlocks which make it seem to be what I would imagine Sherwood Forest would be like.  As like all trails here, after the creek you end up ascending straight up to the next ridge level, which most likely will be a trail intersection.  Additionally, the ridge tops typically have 100’ of sandstone on top, so you get great rock formations and caves when you are near the top.

When I reached the intersection with the Rush Ridge Trail (227), a hiker recommended an off-trail promontory that had a great view, which I leveraged for my lunch spot.  When I returned to the Rough Trail (221), the next section was definitely the “roughest” of the trip.  You can tell this is not as widely used as the other trails, and there was quite a bit more scrambling required.

Rough Trail

Yes, that was part of the official trail.  Again, descending to the creek level, I loaded up on water.  If you are camping on a ridge, you will need to take advantage of when the trails drop to the creeks, for I didn’t encounter any available water sources on the ridges outside a lingering puddle here and there.

As you climb to the top of the next ridge, I was looking for the trail that went off to the left to Hanson’s Point.  I started realizing at this point when you started to see the large sandstone cliffs and caves, you were getting close to the top of the ridge, and sure enough, when I reached a clearing, the trail was to the left.  These are “unofficial” trails that are not maintained, and it appears they are working very hard to limit the access to this trail, as it was very, very tight through a young, thick stand of trees with dozens of fallen trees across the trail.

Trail to Hanson's Point

You come across three different large campsites along the way.  I was considering camping in the area this night, but given the forecast of rain overnight and in the morning, I did not feel like hiking back through the tight trail and climbing over the trees in the rain, so I figured I would just visit.

After reaching the last big campsite, it gives you the opportunity to go to the Pinch Em Tight Gap overlook (hidden trail to the left) or to Hanson’s Point (to the right).  Another group of young adults came up while I was resting there and headed to Hanson’s Point, so I went to Pinch Em Tight Gap.  It was an even tighter trail, and there were several times I was wondering if it would continue, but eventually you end up along a very narrow ridge just above the gap with excellent views over the valley toward Chimney Top Rock/Hanson’s Point.

Red River Gorge May 2017

I headed back to the campsite, and then headed down to Hanson’s Point.  The ridge juts out into the open for 150’ or so and is only about 20’ wide, providing an excellent 300 degree panorama.

Beginning of Hanson's Point Ridge

The view was stellar.  I can’t imagine a better one in the park, and it would be amazing at peak in the fall. From left to right:  Pinch Em Tight Gap, Red River valley, Indian Staircase, Chimney Top Rock, Half Moon Arch area.

IMG_5306

I enjoyed the view for quite a while, and then tried to find the Ledford Arches per the toredrivergorge.com site.  The trail was not discernible, and my bushwhacking via GPS skills are not that good, so I couldn’t find them.  Knowing that I still had a couple miles to go (and dozens of trees to climb over), I gave up on the bushwhacking and headed back to the main trail.  I will save it for another trip.

Once back on the Rough Trail, it was a few hundred feet before it joined the Sheltowee Trace Trail for a mile and a half as you descend down to the next creek.  After a few easy creek crossings (and leaving the Sheltowee Trace Trail), there was supposed to be a campsite off to the right.  I saw a trail, and a campsite too close to the main trail, however I didn’t see where there could be one beyond.  This was a little disappointing since I was very tired at this point and didn’t want to hike much further.  I continued down to the trail to the intersection with the Koomer Ridge Trail (220), crossed the creek on the Rough Trail, and found a really nice site on the ledge above the trail to the left.

Campsite near Rough Trail and Koomer Ridge Trail

It was 5pm and there was plenty of easy wood to gather to have a nice fire and relaxation pondering the excellent trip and fascinating area.  I also did a lot of planning for a quick and dry packing in the morning since I assumed it will be raining overnight and when I woke up.  The rain started about 11pm, and fortunately, stopped at 7am when I arose.  It was a quick three mile hike up to Koomer Ridge and to the Koomer Ridge Campground.  A bit wet and slippery with the overnight rain, and a surprising number of large puddles blocking the trail once you reach the ridge level.

After stowing away the gear in the car, since it wasn’t raining, I hit a few other of the attractions in the area.  Angel Windows and Whispering Arch were short walks and smaller arches, but worth seeing.  Sky Bridge is a really neat view, from both above and below, however is a bit disappointing with the once-developed asphalt path and graffiti on the rock surfaces.

View under Sky Bridge

I wanted to cap the trip off by hitting the Gladie Visitors Center and read up more about the area and geological history, however it was closed!!!  A disappointing end to an otherwise great trip.  Maybe next time!

Complete photo album from the trip:

GPS track for the first day of the backpack loop (3.3 miles).

GPS track for the long second day (12.6 miles that includes a lot of exploring).

GPS track for the last day of the backpack loop (3.0 miles).

 

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