I promised myself I would not share the nitty-gritty details of the gorge’s secret trails so that those who wish to stumble upon a secret and amazing place could do so by their own accord. I do want to share my top 5 favorite trails which I had the pleasure of hiking during my latest trip here. How to find them? Well that’s up to you 😉
Some are the official marked trails, some you will have to work harder to find. There are dozens of amazing trails in the park, so planning a great adventure may seem overwhelming. So I thought the least I could do for my happy hiking readers was to share a few of the gems that I visited and why I liked them. In my last post, I shared a couple of top-notch resources that will help you in your endeavors for unlocking the hidden trails in the gorge.
Most of the main trails in the gorge are part of a loop system which is convenient for creating a longer backpacking trip if you wish to do so. Side trails diverging from the main trails add some great challenges, avenues for private campsites, extra adventures and fewer crowds.
The unmarked trails are not terribly difficult to find using the resources I mentioned before, but it takes a bit of forward planning to know where you want to go before you get there. The hardest part of the trip will be picking which of the many awesome spots you want to check out.
So here they are (in no particular order): My Top 5 Red River Gorge Trails
1. Indian Staircase and Rock Shelter
Access from: Bison Way Trailhead. Unmarked trail off the Sheltowee Trace
Difficulty: Some difficult hands and feet scrambling up the staircase section, requiring some very basic rock scrambling techniques. Many steep drops offs.
Why I loved it: A steep scramble up the staircase section is a challenging feature that leads to excellent views around every corner of the trail along the ridge.Interesting rock formations have been worn into the sandstone. We named this one poking up, Todd the Toad (because it looks like a toad.. simple as that).
I would recommend including a side-trial on this hike to an expansive rock shelter, definitely worth checking out. Tread carefully as the endangered white-haired goldenrod grows in here.
2. Double Arch / Auxier Ridge Loop
Access from: Double Arch Trail/ Auxier Ridge Trailhead. Marked and Official Trail
Difficulty: There is significant elevation loss and gain in and out of the gorge and along the ridge. Some moderate hands and feet scramble in a few sections but no technical sections. Several sets of stairs.
Why I loved it: Experience the many layers of the gorge: the jungle-like gorge floor, the arid ridge walk along wizards backbone, and the transitions in-between. Great views of double arch from across the gorge at wizards backbone. Double arch is an interesting feature that allows you to stand inside and look out over wizards backbone from where you came. A truly interesting perspective.
For an extra (but dangerous treat) you can find a trail via some obvious steps (carved into the rock by Daniel Boone himself) found near the side of the arch. This will put you directly on top of the arch on the ridge above and will give you some unobstructed 360 views of the gorge.
3. Cloud Splitter
Access from: Bison Way Trailhead – Unmarked trail off the Sheltowee Trace
Difficulty: This was the most difficult scramble of all of the hikes I undertook in the gorge, made more difficult by poor weather and slick rock.
Getting from the base of the rock face to the top of cloud splitter is tricky but not impossible if done carefully. This requires some rock scrambling and sections where hand holds are few and far between.
Why I loved it: For the challenge, obviously. Once you reach the rock section up to the top, there is no obvious path so the trail becomes a choose your own adventure. Choose Wisely. The views from the top of cloud splitter were spectacular. You feel like you are literally on top of the world here.
The gorge looks different at every angle from the trop. The day I was here I was literally splitting the clouds as the mist wafted up around me.
4. Rock Bridge Loop
Access from: Rock Bridge Road and Picnic Area/Trailhead. Marked trail. Loop.
Difficulty: Significant elevation changes in and out of gorge on the loop, but trail was wide, occasionally paved and well maintained. Very easy and family friendly. Some stairs.
Why I loved it: Another trail that shows the diversity of the gorge. This is a short, quick and easy loop (and obviously popular). It too felt different from the other trails in the gorge. The rock bridge area is ultra tropical looking. The river it spans appears green from the reflection of the mossy rocks and trees overhead.
Don’t miss the beautiful waterfall (Creation falls) around the corner from rock bridge. The peaceful silence of the woods on this trail in combination with the landscape is relaxing and magical.
5. Star Gap Arch
Access from: Double Arch Trail. Unmarked side trail.
Difficulty: Considering the amount of people we saw who were also asking where to find this arch, navigating to this spot is obviously difficult. There are also a couple of tricky, but short scrambles; down being easy, coming back being more difficult since hand holds are minimal.
Why I loved it: I felt truly blessed to experience this arch. After spending some time in the afternoon roaming random side trails in search of this arch, I found a couple who were also searching for star gap. After several failed attempts, we ran into another local couple, who with some encouragement and prodding, agreed to take us to the trail to access Star Gap Arch. Come to find out, all of us were standing on top of the arch and needed to access a side trail to get under the arch. Had it not been for this great couple, we may not have been able to experience this beautiful spot. The couple told us that at sunset the sun filters in through the trees and casts breathtaking shadows and colors on the arch. This would be a great spot for a picnic lunch overlooking the gorge. I give this a ten because of its secretive hiding spot. I would love to come back and camp at the site atop this arch someday as well. Happy arch hunting 🙂
Unfortunately, some of the more popular unmarked (and marked) trails are showing obviously signs of wear and tear: trash, toilet paper, fire pits and campsites galore (some directly next to the trails). If you plan on enjoying one of these incredible spots, I urge you not to be the jerk who ruins these places for others; please practice leave no trace camping.
What were your favorite trails in the Gorge. Do you wish to share? Or do you wish to tuck those trails away as your own happy secrets ?