For being located in Ohio, the Red River Gorge in Kentucky is well known as a primary backpacking destination. It is surprising that it has taken me 10 years into my backpacking career to finally take an overnight here. I have visited the area one time, 20 years ago for a couple short day hikes. While I recall the area as being neat and somewhere to come again, my everlasting memory is of the first time my son, Matthew, at age 18 months, took his first real hike:
This is one of my all-time favorite pictures. We hiked down to the halfway point of the trail (I am going to guess it was Rock Bridge), and let him out of the backpack to stretch his legs. He refused to get back in the carrier, and walked back to the car (just under a mile?) on his own. The start of a lot of hiking with us in his youth!
Red River Gorge is known for the tremendous amount of sandstone rock formations and caves, especially the approximately 100 arches throughout the area. There are many short, intersecting trails to the highlights, which make it a perfect destination for numerous day hikes. In reality, the layout doesn’t offer itself greatly for my type of backpacking journey – a long walk (at least three days) that doesn’t overlap and hits several highlights along the way. It does seem like it would be great for setting up a base camp somewhere on the interior (near Hanson’s Point or the Sheltowee Trace/Rough Trail section?), and make several day trips from there.
For this trip, I waited until I had a good three-day weather window. My plan of attack was to drive the 3.5-4 hours down to RRG first thing in the morning, do the Double Arch-Auxier Ridge loop for an 8-10 mile day hike, then drive to a trail head and do a two-night loop that included the Rough Trail. I ended up parking at the Koomer Ridge Campground and did a clockwise loop of the southern trails up to Rough Trail, eventually returning on the Koomer Ridge Trail. My overlap goals were successful, as I only backtracked on a few miles of trails.
The weather was great for the first two days, the scenery beautiful and exploration opportunities plentiful. I definitely can see myself making this area my “go to” location for a close backpacking site. You can read about the places I hiked from either the Double Arch-Auxier Ridge Day Hike or Rough Trail Loop Backpack blog post entries.
A few notes:
– Several of my side hikes were found and explained in fairly good detail at https://toredrivergorge.com, an excellent introductory site for hiking and backpacking the area. He has a Top 10 Secret or Hidden Hikes in Red River Gorge that helped with a few sites I visited.
– The Red River Gorge trail system is identified by a three digit #. For example, 221 is the Rough Trail. I will include the numbers in my descriptions.
– There are plenty of PDF trail maps online, but I recommend purchasing at least the outrageGIS.com version of the area if you are going to do any of the un-maintained trails or seek a campsite. I purchased mine at the convenience store in Slade when I arrived.
– Verizon service was actually pretty good on all ridge tops. Unfortunately, you also hear road traffic, especially from the trails closest to the Mountain Parkway.
– The complete photo album is available at: https://flic.kr/s/aHskZPCNcD