While I sit inside, enduring this period of self -isolation, the world outside is shaking with the threat of  coronavirus. During this time, I am finding peace in having a slice of spare time to sit down and reflect.  Scrolling through photos of the last year worth of adventures, I’m overwhelmed with happiness and memories. Perhaps it’s the cabin fever (no cabin, just 4 walls) but it feels like, photo by photo, I’m re-living each viewpoint, each epic sunset, each incredible campsite and campfire meal, each night of stargazing… even if it is from the comfort of my sofa.  I’m excited and anxious for a time when our lives will return to  normal (normal?) and all of this will be distant memory.  Until then,  lets go on a journey through one of my favorite places, Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.  My friends and I set out to explore some new areas of the gorge on my last trip there in mid October; taking on some less frequented trails and scoping out some new and epic campsites.   These three trails were stand out winners for us and maybe some of my favorites on my Red River Gorge list.  Should you wish to take on these trails, I’ve linked some great resources at the bottom to help you plan.  I used a combination of these to map out, navigate and safely enjoy these unmaintained trails in the Red River Gorge.  While you sit on your sofa during this viral quarantine, allow yourself to be transported to the middle of these lush forests, or the top of some impressive rock arches and cliffs during my slideshow of three, stunning and challenging trails in Kentucky’s playground.  Just because we are practicing self-isolation doesn’t mean our imaginations have to stay inside 🙂

1. Eagles Point Buttress 

I would argue that this trail has one of the greatest viewpoints in the park and it worth the challenging climb to get there.  But not only is the finale impressive, the entire hike is a beauty.  The trail follows the Red River’s bank for a good portion. Along the way you will pass some impressive rock formations and caves tunneled into the rocks. One worth making a short detour to is Moonshiners Arch (and cave).  Exploring this when the mid morning light is shining in on the walls is spectacular.  Bring a headlamp to explore the dark nooks and crannies here.  Our fearless leader (me) had researched Eagles Buttress and was equipped with all of the info of this unmarked hike, I set out to guide our tribe to the top.  However I definitely should have gone with the approach… “if it seems too difficult, it’s probably not the right way.”   We took a side trail up towards the rockface at a campsite just past a creek, … a weeee bit (okay a lot) earlier along the trail than we should have.  Although for a while we thought were were on a trail (there were orange tapes on the trees, and some cleared paths), we were most definitely not on the right trai to our desired destination.  About an hour and half of bushwacking, mud sliding and rockclimbing and an agreement of when we would call it quits and turn back, the magic of the gorge prevailed and we magically emerged on the ridge top where various camping spots converge and lead to the Eagles Point Buttress lookout. A side trail from the viewing ledge will allow you to get a peak at Eagles Nest, a large hole in the side of the rock ledge. Use extreme caution on this hike and do not attempt to climb down into the eagles nest. People have died here… so just don’t.  The drop-offs are real and the cliffs unforgiving.   The actual trail we should have taken coming up, could not have been more obvious coming back down.  Word to the wise, do your research and be prepared… more than me.

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2.  Copperas Creek Waterfall 

This is one of those unmaintained trails that everyone seems to know about.  But, surprisingly even in mid October, we only saw a few other hikers along the trail and shared the falls with nobody else.  While we did try (albeit not that hard) to find the side trails to the other arches that exist along this trail, we were unsuccessful.    This was such a magical little oasis in a forest that resembles more of a jungle in a magical land.    The sun’s light reflecting up from the pool, created a moving kaleidoscope of shapes on the back of the cliff wall. There wasn’t much waterfall action coming down from the cliff above but there was enough to make the music of 1000 droplets of water hitting the pool below,  a small but ethereal turquoise pool at the bottom.  This pool was filled with fish.  I mean filled.  It is slightly terrifying as they jumped like mad when you approach the water. Maybe not a place for a magical wade in the pool.  I would rate this trail as an easy hike. Provided you follow the creek (which is easier to do when water levels are low), it should be easy to navigate to the falls at the end.  Nonetheless, make sure to do your research and be alert for landmarks as you go.

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3. Tarr Ridge East

This was one of my most recent favorite trails for a couple of reasons.  A) Nobody was there  B) Boasts some great campsites C) Amazing vistas over the gorge.  While most trails offer a good mix of B and C, very few these days offer a lot of column A.  This is surprising considering how easy it is to get on this trail and how many easily accessed campsites are available. The trail itself is relatively flat and well worn for over half of it. For those who are willing to work a bit harder and also do a bit of bushwacking,  the trail beyond the second look out is a bit unruly and unmaintained.   We didn’t make it to the 4th overlook on this trail because the trail was extremely overgrown and we were running out of time (okay not really, we just wanted to build a campfire and have some drinks)  but the 3rd overlook was certainly worth seeing.  We ended up camping at the 2nd overlook since the campsite there was the best of the lot.  No need to explain, see for yourself.

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H@H Resource Tips:  The best resources for these trails are a combination of the following:

a) Hinterlands Book

b) OutrageGIS Maps 

c) To Red River Gorge Blog Posts

d). Johnny Blue Grass and his amazing YouTube videos are stellar ! Find him at Red River Underground.

What are some of your favorite trails and campsites in the Red River Gorge?

 Please Share ! 

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