The amount of incredible things to do in Red River Gorge is staggering but as someone who has been to this area more than once, I want to show you 21 places you need to see and the list will include the top hikes, attractions and more.
Furthermore I will also show you how to navigate to each of them and you will be able to plan an awesome itinerary to explore Red River Gorge, whether it be for one or several days. Let’s get started!
Quick information on Red River Gorge:
- Name: Red River Gorge Geological Area.
- Location: Kentucky, specifically within the Daniel Boone National Forest territory.
- Things to do: Scenic drives, hikes, arches, overlooks, kayaking, camping, waterfalls, etc…
- Can you do a day trip to Red River Gorge? Yes!
- Family friendly place? Yes.
- Are there places to stay at in Red River Gorge? Yes, camping, lodging and hotels are available there (details below).
- Rating: 5 out of 5.
- Recommended place to visit? 100%! Red River Gorge in my opinion is in my opinion the best nature spot to explore in all of Kentucky and this post will show you why.
Here are the 18 best things to do in Red River Gorge:
- Drive through Nada Tunnel.
- Explore Gray’s Arch trail.
- Kayak on the Red River.
- Do the Red River Gorge Zipline.
- See Natural Bridge.
- Do the sky lift at Natural Bridge.
- Check out Gorge Underground.
- Do the Creation Falls hike.
- Hike to Hopewell Arch and 2 other arches.
- Explore the Red Byrd Arch.
- Bike riding.
- Rock Climbing.
- Check out Whittleton Arch.
- Explore Shelf Waterfall and swimming hole.
- See Sky Bridge Overlook and arch.
- Hike to Copperas Creek waterfall.
- Explore Thrillsville Adventure Park.
- Check out Star Gap Arch.
- Hike to Auxier Ridge.
- Tunnel Ridge Road lookout.
- See Chimney Top Rock.
How to properly explore this area: Use this Red River Gorge map
The best way to explore Red River Gorge is by doing a loop drive around it and while unfortunately there isn’t a single road that does this, I’ve indicated how to do that on the map above. You will basically be driving around and inside Red River Gorge following 4 roads:
- Road 77, aka Nada Tunnel drive (this road goes through the northern end of Red River Gorge).
- Road 715, aka Skybridge Road (this road goes through the eastern end of Red River Gorge).
- Road 15 (this road goes through the southern end of Red River Gorge).
- Dirt roads (these are more remote drives within the Red River Gorge that take you to amazing spots too).
- Road 11 (this road is a further southern drive through Red River Gorge, but is not connected to the loop).
The first 3 road above basically make a triangle loop drive around Red Red River Gorge while the 4th drive will take you through numerous other attractions and spots to see further south of this region. With the exception of 1 attraction on this list, the others (21) are all accessible within these roads.
1) Drive inside Nada Tunnel:
On road 77 in Red River Gorge.
This is one of the most iconic parts of Red River Gorge. It is a long tunnel that is only big for one lane, meaning you may have to let other cars pass that are coming from the other end if they get in before you do, but the experience of driving inside Nada Tunnel is awesome. I would just recommend keeping your windows closed as you do it because many cars will be honking inside the tunnel to let others know it’s occupied and if you’re inside the tunnel while that happens, it’s an excruciating noise with the windows open.
2) Hike to Gray’s Arch:
It’s on one of the dirt roads in Red River Gorge, near road 15. Here is the trailhead to Gray’s Arch.
Gray’s Arch is a gigantic natural bridge/arch you hike to and in my opinion, it’s one of the best hikes in all of Red River Gorge. You will first need to be on the dirt/gravel road that you access from road 15, and then you’ll drive on it for about 10 minutes before you reach the Gray’s Arch parking lot.
From there, you will hike about 1 mile to Gray’s Arch which is a relatively easy hike until the last 100 feet as it does incline a lot to reach the base of the arch. But overall this is one of the largest arches I have seen not just in Red River Gorge, but in most of the south east states. The only ones that really match it’s size are the Natural Bridge arch (one of the other spots on this list) and Twin Arches which is further south in a region known as Big South Fork.
3) Kayak on the Red River:
Anywhere on the northern side of Red River Gorge (on road 715).
Kayaking or canoeing through Red River Gorge is another awesome way to explore this amazing terrain. Ideally you should have your own kayak, but there are rental areas that I’ve seen. One in particular is Red River Adventure. That rental area is right off road 715.
4) Check out the Red River Gorge Zip line:
Off road 11, way south of Red River Gorge.
This attraction is a great way to get amazing views of Red River Gorge. This place isn’t just a zip line attraction, but there is also an obstacle course, so there’s a lot of fun things to do here for just about anyone.
5) Check out Natural Bridge:
Off road 11, very close to the main Red River Gorge area.
I’ve explored this area twice. It’s a really beautiful and gigantic natural bridge with a short, steep hike to reach it. There is also a hike at the top to get great views of it from the distance and nice overlooks of Red River Gorge overall. And just as well, you can walk over the top of the natural bridge too.
6) Take the Natural Bridge sky lift:
Located right off road 11 or you can elect to hike up to Natural Bridge and take the ski lift down.
A lot of people who choose not to hike up to Natural Bridge can elect to just take the sky lift to the top which is the same area you will reach if you were to hike Natural Bridge. The fee I believe is about $17 for 2 rides on the sky lift but overall, it’s a very scenic experience and an easier way to see the same Natural Bridge.
7) Explore the Gorge Underground attraction:
Off road 15 too, about 5 minutes south of Natural Bridge.
This is a cave kayaking attraction in Red River Gorge that is very fun to explore. There’s different lighting in the area as well as a scenic experience that’s very different than most of the other activities you can do in the area.
8) Hike to Creation falls (and see Turtle Back Arch):
Eastern most end of Red River Gorge. You have to start at Rock Bridge trailhead to this hike.
This is one of the few waterfall hikes inside Red River Gorge that you can do. It’s about a mile long hike to a relatively small waterfall, but there is a swimming hole area with a cave next to it, making it a scenic experience. At the same time you can elect to do a different hike that starts from that trailhead to the beautiful Turtle Back Arch.
9) Do the Hopewell Arch trail (2 other arches on the hike):
North eastern end of Red River Gorge.
This is a trail where you can see up to 3 different arches. I personally hiked to the first one, which is Hopewell Arch and that actually involves having to take a side trail while heading up to the other 2 arches. Hopewell Arch is about 1/4 miles away from the trailhead and is a beautiful hike to try. You can then go back to the main trail and continue to see 2 other arches (Double Deer and Snow Arches).
10) Hike to find Red Byrd Arch:
Located further east of Copperas Creek.
This is a difficult hike where it’s also easy to get lost in the woods. To get there you actually have to drive on a different road that isn’t part of the main loop (road 746), then get back into Red River Gorge from the east, then take a 2-3 mile hike to find this arch.
I wanted to do this hike, but read that’s best to use Alltrails to do it because it’s not well marked or easy to navigate, but is worth doing if you’re experienced because there is a double arch attraction at the end of it worth seeing.
11) Red River Gorge camping spots:
There are several camping areas throughout Red River Gorge. Here are some:
- Woodstock campground (south eastern end).
- Whittleton Campground (off road 15).
- Natural Bridge campground (right by the Natural Bridge hike).
- Daniel Boone Campground (close to Slade KY).
What about cabins and lodges in Red River Gorge?
Yes there are plenty there too, and most of them are around the Slade area and off road 11.
Honestly I couldn’t find any spots right inside Red River Gorge for glamping.
It’s really no surprise that camping is a popular activity in Red River Gorge and there’s a lot of variety meaning besides camping spots you can stay at, there are also lodging, cabins, motels and RV areas you can stay at throughout this area.
12) Bike riding around Red River Gorge:
Anywhere on the 4 main roads, specifically the first 3 (for the best experiences.
Bike riding is another awesome activity to try within Red River Gorge. It might be difficult to go on the more gravel roads unless you have a mountain bike, but the 3 main roads that form the loop are perfect for this.
13) Rock climbing spots at Red River Gorge:
Most of the popular rock climbing spots in this area in the northern side of Red River Gorge (by road 77). They include:
- Phantasia Wall.
- Haystack Rock.
- Courthouse Rock.
Rock climbing is also very popular and there are tours available if you’re not experienced or don’t have your own gear.
14) Explore Whittleton Arch:
The trail starts at Whittleton Campground which is across the road from Natural Bridge state park.
Not only is this a short and beautiful hike to an arch, but there is also creek crossings, cave areas and just overall amazing rock formations that you’ll pass throughout the hike. It’s another very scenic hiking trail inside Red River Gorge worth trying.
15) Hike to Shelf waterfall (swimming hole also available):
Off road 11, between Natural Bridge state park and the Gorge Underground attraction.
This is a lake with cascade waterfall that’s easy to spot off road 11. You can go inside this area, relax for the day and go swimming here too.
16) See Sky Bridge Overlook (another arch hike too):
Off road 715 (Sky Bridge Road).
This is probably the easiest hike in the entire Red River Gorge area. You’ll drive on road 715, and find the trailhead here. You’ll then take a short (less than 1 mile) loop hike to Sky Bridge overlook and find the arch there too.
17) Explore Copperas Creek waterfall:
At Copperas Creek trailhead which is off road 715 (where you can kayak from).
This is a very beautiful waterfall hike that is a few miles long. The waterfall is about 50 feet high and there are also cave areas (and even a swimming hole) around the area.
18) Check out Thrillsville Adventure Park:
Off road 11, very close to Slade.
This is basically the same type of attraction as Gorge Underground where you can kayak through an old mine, except it’s less colorful but just as amazing. There is also an obstacle course here too that’s great for kids to check out.
19) Hike to Star Gap Arch:
Not far from Nada Tunnel. You will start the trail near Branham Cemetery.
This arch isn’t as large as many others I’ve covered so far, but it’s still a scenic hike and awesome place to see overall. If you’re into arch hiking, I would include this one on your list when you explore Red River Gorge. The hike is about 2-3 miles in and out.
20) Do the Auxier Ridge hike:
Technically it’s right above Nada Tunnel but access to it starts from road 15.
This is an awesome overlook hike you can do by following Tunnel Ridge Road (the same road which takes you to Gray’s Arch) to it’s end. This is another 2-3 mile hike (in and out) that takes you to another iconic Red River Gorge overlook.
21) Tunnel Ridge Road lookout:
Also off the same road which takes you to Auxier Ridge, but it’s very close to Gray’s Arch.
There is no major hike here. It’s just a beautiful overlook right by the road you can check out. I’d recommend seeing this place around sunset if you can (and/or when you finish other hikes and attractions in Red River Gorge).
22) See Chimney Top Rock:
Access is from road 715, but you have to drive on a gravel road for awhile from road 715 to reach this place, then hike about 1/4 miles to the overlook.
I think out of all the overlooks in this whole area, this might be the most famous. I checked it out on my first visit through Daniel Boone National Forest (where I also explored Red River Gorge for the first time too) and I loved it. It’s best to go here around fall or anytime during sunset in my opinion.
Updated Red River Gorge map (with every spot above listed):
This map shows estimates as to where each spot is located. I would recommend you use Google maps (or a trail app) when you travel to each spot though. This is just to give you an idea of where each spot is located within Red River Gorge.
Other questions about Red River Gorge:
Is Red River Gorge worth visiting?
Yes! Red River Gorge is an incredible area in Kentucky worth seeing as there are many arches, hikes and many other activities to do.
What time of year is best for Red River Gorge?
In my opinion it’s best to visit Red River Gorge in May, October and November as there are less people there and the colors of the water and leaves are at their peak.
What town is closest to Red River Gorge?
Slade is right by Red River Gorge, but there are also Stanton and Clay City that are about 10 minutes away.
Does Red River Gorge have waterfalls?
Yes, 2 of the best waterfalls in Red River Gorge are Creation Falls and Copperas Creek waterfall.
How long does it take to drive through Red River Gorge?
Without stops, you can drive a whole loop around Red River Gorge in about 30-40 minutes.
A quick note about a Red River Gorge in Ohio:
I see a lot of people mistakenly think that there is a Red River Gorge in Ohio and in reality they are actually thinking of Hocking Hills State Park which in truth looks a lot like Red River Gorge, but just to be clear, there is no Red River Gorge in Ohio, just Hocking Hills.
Another possible place people may mistake Red River Gorge for (also in Ohio) is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is another entirely different place.
Truth be told, all of these places are incredible but Hocking Hills and Cuyahoga Valley is much more family friendly and has way larger crowds. Red River Gorge is better for more remote hiking and exploring, although it can be very crowded there too.
Overall Red River Gorge (in Kentucky that is) is an incredible place to visit and I hope these 22 spots help you plan an awesome trip there! If you have any questions about checking this place out, let me know!