Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is one of our family’s favorite destinations in the US and it’s not just for rock climbers. There’s so much more in the Red!
We’d been dying to get out to experience the beautiful Red River Gorge for so many years and finally, in the Fall of 2021, we made the long trek out to The Red.
Red River Gorge was everything I hoped for and so much more!
I knew Kentucky’s Red River Gorge was an important part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and that it was famous for its rock formations, natural stone arches, forests, and waterfalls. But since I spend so much time in the Rockies, I kind of expected to be underwhelmed. The opposite happened.
Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is GORGEOUS and it has a little of something for everyone. Whether you are a family looking for some easy hikes in the woods, paid excursions that will knock your socks off, or a climber wanting to experience the best climbing in the US, a trip to the Red will be one you’ll never forget.
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Where In Kentucky Is Red River Gorge?
Red River Gorge is located in eastern Kentucky, south of I-64 and east of I-75 and is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
The famous geological area can be accessed by taking the Slade exit 33 (also the exit for Natural Bridge State Park), the Scenic Byway at exit 22, or the Pine Ridge exit 40, off the Bert T Combs Mountain Parkway.
The nearest town is Lexington, 70 miles away, and is great for stocking up on food at Trader Joe’s or Costco. Lexington has a major airport making it easy to fly in and out of.
What City Is Red River Gorge Close To?
Red River Gorge is near the small towns of Slade, Campton, and Rogers.
Average Temperatures in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge
This is an overview of the average high-low temperatures in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge as well as in parenthesis, the average number of days of rainfall.
December through February: 45F-30F (6 days)
March: 60F-38F (7 days)
April: 70F-49F (7 days)
May: 77F-55F (8 days)
June-August: 88F-65F (7 days)
September: 80F-60F (5 days)
October: 70F-50F (6 days)
November: 60F-40F (7 days)
We arrived in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in mid-September and personally, I loved how hot and humid it was. It felt like I was in Costa Rica. However, by the time we left at the beginning of October, it was getting very cold.
What is Red River Gorge Famous For
Red River Gorge, which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, is most famous for rock climbing.
While the Daniel Boone National Forest might not be as famous as the national parks, it is just as beautiful as many of them.
Why Visit Red River Gorge?
If you want to travel somewhere that has gorgeous nature, tons of adventures, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, then you might want to skip Mount Rushmore or Great Smoky Mountains and head to The Red.
What makes Kentucky’s Red River Gorge such a gem is that there is rock climbing, camping, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, adventure marathon racing, ziplining, rapeling, horseback riding, underground rafting, AND a lively music scene, fun events, it’s own unique culture, history, and food.
And let me tell you that the food alone is worth the trip.
Seriously, we camped at this campground and the guys there sit outside for 8 hours cooking ribs on the weekend and the meat just falls off the bones!
Our favorite things about Kentucky’s Red River Gorge were rock climbing, eating barbecue, and pizza and good vibes at Miguel’s. It’s why we will be heading back there this spring.
Things To Do In Red River Gorge
When we first arrived in Red River Gorge, it was very confusing to decipher between Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, and Natural Bridge State Resort since they all three overlap.
Natural Bridge State Park is within the area known as “The Red” and while it butts up next to the specific Red River Gorge Geological Area, when people are talking about Red River Gorge they include much more than just this section.
This map does a great job of helping to orient you with the area.
Here are all the great things to do and see in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge…
Explore Daniel Boone National Forest
Start your Red River Gorge adventure by driving through the famous Nada Tunnel (hwy 77).
Funny story but when we were buying a new truck last year I said we can’t get a dually because I didn’t think it would fit through this tunnel nor the tunnel we often drive in the Black Hills.
You’ll follow this road clockwise to hwy 715 as it goes past Chimney Top, Sky Bridge, and Rock Bridge Recreation Areas. Be sure to check out Creation Falls too.
The road is quite narrow and windy so it is not ideal for an RV.
Next, turn right onto the 15 for a few minutes before turning right again and driving the scenic Tunnel Ridge Road (hwy 39).
This takes you over the Nada Tunnel and to the network of trails to Double Arch, Courthouse Rock, and Haystack Rock.
Driving Tip: Vehicles larger than 12 feet wide or 12 feet tall should enter the Gorge from the KY 715 end of the byway, or from the north side on KY 77. Large vehicles may not be able to pass through Nada Tunnel.
Rock Climbing In Kentucky’s Red River Gorge Is World Class
Rock climbing is what brought us to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in the first place.
The climbing here is truly world-class and with so many climbing areas, it’s really easy to fall in love with The Red.
Between all the jug hauls, overhanging walls that stay dry even when it is raining, and walls with perfect pockets, it’s no wonder climbers from all around the world travel to Kentucky to climb Red River Gorge.
Some of the iconic routes include:
- Banshee – 11c Miller Valley.; Giant iconic huecos that you can sit in
- Air Ride Equipped – 11a Muir Valley. MEGA JUGS
- Amarillo Sunset – 11b Muir Valley; unique fun moves on an overhanging wall
- Mercy the Huff – 12b Northern Gorge; jug, jugs, and PUMP
- Witness the Citrus- 11c, Miller Fork. Long and smooth with clean moves through it all
There are so many different climbing areas in Red River Gorge that we recommend buying a guidebook. There are multiple different guidebooks for this area. If you’re coming here for a sport climbing trip, the locals recommended The Red by Brendan Leader to us which essentially contains the best routes in the Red without so much emphasis on the old stuff or trad climbs.
Muir Valley is one of the best and most easily accessible areas. It does, however, cost $10 a day (or $70 a year) to park here. The benefit though is that there are restrooms and well-marked trails to all the walls.
Other areas like Camelot, require high clearance or at least a willingness to test the suspension and durability of your car.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
If you didn’t come here for the climbing, there’s a good chance you are coming to see Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
Hiking in Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Red River Gorge’s most popular arch, Natural Bridge, is an easy 2.5-mile out-and-back trail to views of, you guessed it, natural rock bridges.
Park at the actual trailhead (not Hemlock Lodge) if you want to hike across the suspension bridge.
If you want to check out the Natural Bridge without hiking, you can pay to take the skylift.
Related: 12 Epic Hikes on the East Coast
We enjoyed driving the entire loop around the park and enjoyed a few other nice hikes including Chimney Rock, Balanced Rock, & Hidden Arch.
Outdoor Activities in Natural Bridge State Resort Park
In addition, Natural Bridges State Resort Park is great for bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and of course, a ton of great climbing.
On the hot summer days, what better thing to do than go to a swimming hole? Park at Mill Creek Lake and follow the stream through the forest to where it dead ends at a beautiful cascading waterfall with a pool.
You can also pay to tour the Natural Bridge Cave.
Camping at Natural Bridge State Resort Park
There is also camping at the park, however, some of the roads are quite narrow and winding for large RV’s that is why I included the RV parks that we prefer down at the bottom of the blog.
Click here to see a map of the Natural Bridge State Park Resort.
Dancing at Natural Bridge State Resort Park
For a Kentucky experience, check out Hoedown Island. There’s square dancing, line dancing and swing dancing every Saturday night throughout the summer. All ages are welcome. Park at Middle Fork Campground Rd and follow the signs to Hoedown Island.
Stay In The Park
For a really unique experience, stay in one of the lodge rooms, private cottages, or 2 bedroom homes inside Natural Bridge State Park Resort.
Kentucky’s Red River Gorge Zipline
Voted one of the best zipline expeditions in America, you’ll fly 300 feet over the gorge, getting a bird’s eye view of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.
Red River Gorge Zipline has 5 lines including 2 side-by-side racing lines and one 1900-foot long line. This is easily the best thing to do in Red River Gorge that costs money. Cost $90-100 per person.
Torrent Falls Via Ferrata
Run by the Southeast Mountain Guides, the Torrent Falls via Ferrata has six protected climbing routes ranging from beginner to advanced in a stunning, U-shaped sandstone canyon.
This is an amazing via ferrata that spans ¾ of a mile of rugged sandstone cliff line, equipped with cables to clip into, and iron hand- and foot-rungs.
We’ve done the Ouray and Telluride via ferratas and loved them!
Note that this one does cost money, you must be 10 years of age, reservations are required, and a 45-minute hands-on orientation is required before you play.
Prices range from $52-56.
Guided Rock Climbing
Southeast Mountain Guides also offer guided rock climbing tours. This is a safe and fun way for you to experience rock climbing in one of the best rock climbing destinations in the world.
Just give them a call and they will take you and any choice of expedition you want, and better, it’s cheaper the more people you have.
Prices range anywhere from $60-215 depending on the number of people in your group and if you want to climb half day or a full day.
Underground Kayaking At The Gorge Underground
One of the coolest attractions in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is The Gorge Underground. They offer boat, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard tours through 100-year-old flooded limestone mines
This is a super safe excursion led by professional guides who have been doing it for 10+ years
For an even cooler experience, upgrade to a crystal clear-bottomed kayak so you can view rainbow trout and other mine secrets right below you.
Another cool option is to take the SUP tour to view the caverns via the glow of your LED board as your guides reveal the mine’s secrets in the dark.
Price: $55-80 per person depending on the tour and day of the week
Mountain Bike The Stanton Trails
The Stanton Trails consist of well-maintained trails that go through hemlock groves and plateaus throughout the canyon. The most popular ride is Big Bend, an 11-mile loop through Campton.
Kentucky Reptile Zoo
Kentucky Reptile Zoo is home to one of the largest collections of venomous snakes in the world.
We’ve seen quite a few snakes while climbing in Kentucky. While we are fortunate to have not seen any copperhead rattlesnakes, they are common in the are and learning more about these reptiles is a great way to add education to your trip to Red River Gorge and keep everyone safe.
Best Places To Eat In Kentucky’s Red River Gorge
We’ve traveled all over the world, including Italy, and have to say that Miguels’s Pizza is one of the best Pizzas in the world. (Warning: after you eat this you will be a pizza snob forever).
Miguels also has a climbing shop where you can get clothing, guidebooks, and gear for all your climbing excursions.
Daniel Boone’s Coffee Shop
Expect a line because this cozy coffee shop in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is popular for a reason. It’s a great place to hang out at or before your epic day of rock climbing or exploring.
They serve handmade pastries. It’s also a great place to buy souvenirs and mementos.
If you are looking for local produce, check out the Frenchburg Farmer’s Market from May to October on Tuesdays 10:00 AM-1:00 PM and Fridays 4:00 PM-7:00 PM.
Best Airbnbs In Kentucky’s Red River Gorge
Best Hotels In Kentucky’s Red River Gorge
Your best bet for hotels is staying in the lodge in Natural Bridge SP. However, if you don’t want to stay in an Airbnb or camp, these are 2 unique options in The Red.
It’s not a hotel, but what a cool experience it would be to stay in this 4 bedroom Red River Gorge Farmhouse with goats on the property!
This cabin in Rogers has its own private hot tub, movie room, and sleeps up to 8 adults.
Yep, the pizzeria is a campground! In fact, it’s Red River Gorge’s most iconic campground, renowned as the meeting hub for all the climbers in the gorge.
You can camp here at Miguel’s for only $4/night!
They have a pretty rad setup with a huge lawn for a sea of tents, basketball and volleyball courts, and an outdoor dining area making it easy to make friends and have a great time.
You also have the comforts of free wifi, hot showers, bathrooms, a dishwashing station, and even laundry.
Note that they do allow RVs up to 25′ but you’re literally just getting to stay overnight in the parking lot plus get access to the tent camper amenities. But there’s no hookups or RV sites.
4 Guys RV Park
4 Guys RV Park in the Gorge is where we prefer to stay when we visit the Red. It’s right off the freeway and located right in the heart of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.
With amenities such as a pool (summer only), playground, basketball hoop, frisbee golf, and other such sports, it does a great job at keeping my kids entertained between adventures.
Plus, there is a lake you can fish on.
Full hookup RV sites range from $30-$40 per night and the sites easily fit large RVs.
Lago Linda Campground
We haven’t stayed here but Lago Linda is another very popular campground for climbers. Located about a mile off the main road, this campground has a more secluded, private setting in a scenic area.
Sites include water, a picnic table, and a fire pit, but no electricity and sewer hookups. Standard sites $20/night for 2 people and each additional person is $5.00 per night.
There’s a large, grassy meadow that provides overflow tent/carcamping. There’s also a nice, covered cooking pavilion with electricity and another covered area that provides additional shelter for several tents.
Lago Linda includes amenities of a bathhouse with hot showers, flush toilets, and wifi.
Callie’s Lake and Campground
Callie’s Lake and Campground is a beautiful setting however, it isn’t as close to the climbing as 4 Guys is which is why we don’t stay here the entire time.
It’s a huge campground with trails, a swimming lake, a playground, and a ton of grass areas for the kids to run around. There is even live music on some weekends on their large stage.
Even if you don’t camp here, it’s worth stopping by for some barbecue. They slow cook ribs and brisket every weekend in the summer.
Camping cost: $10 per person. 12 and under are free. RV sites range from $30-$40 per night
Natural Bridge State Park
The state park has 2 campgrounds to choose from and both are in scenic locations with hiking trails.
Keep in mind that the roads to get into the campgrounds are windy, there’s limited cell service, and they’re only open from March through October.
We hope this guide to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge helps make your trip a fun and memorable one.
Red River Gorge really is one of our favorite destinations in America and we hope that everyone can enjoy the beauty of our wonderful country.
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