A short drive away from where we are staying is an area called the Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a unique feature found more commonly in the western states, a Natural Bridge. It is located in the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. which is one of the seventeen state parks in Kentucky called a resort park because it has a lodge, Hemlock Lodge, within the park. This is one of the top state parks in the Bluegrass State and there were lots of folks visiting on the day we were there..
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest ,the Red River Gorge, at 29,000-acres, is a geologic playground with cliffs, rock shelters, caves, waterfalls, mountain pools and nearly 100 natural arches (the largest concentration east of the Rocky Mountains). However, the best known one and the one that most everyone comes to see is Natural Bridge. The bridge is 65 feet high and 78 feet long and is the largest of the all the park's arches. It is estimated that it took 65 million years for nature to carve this magnificent wonder.
This cool sandstone formation can be reached a myriad of ways. There are several different trails that take visitors to the bridge and there is even a pricey sky lift that can be taken to the top. We chose to park at the lodge and hike the trail called “The Original Trail” up to the top. Although it is a short 3/4 mile of trail it does cover some elevation so it isn’t as easy as it seems. The trail was built in the 1880’s and after about 2/3’s of a mile near the top of the limestone stair steps the trail levels off some. After more than 400 feet of climbing upstairs and following the trail through a dense forest of hemlock, tulip popular, white pine, lots of blueberry bushes and rhododendron we found ourselves beneath the wide span of the Natural Bridge.
From below the bridge there is a trail through a tight “crack” in the sandstone that we took and it took us on top of the natural bridge. We were actually walking on top of the bridge before we even realized it. This is the Laurel Ridge Trail which is an fairly level trail along the rim of the sandstone cliffs. After a bit we walked past the sky lift drop off point which explained where all the people suddenly came from. We kept following the trail until we came to an exposed sandstone cliff we previously could see from the natural bridge. This spot is called the Look Out Point which offered us a panoramic view of the rolling Cumberland Mountains and a unique perspective of the Natural Bridge!
After sitting at Lookout Point and soaking in the vistas we started to head back but decided to take a different return route We did re-track some of the Laurel Ridge Trail until it connected with the Battleship Rock trail. There were a series of stairways built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 taking us down the hills eventually leading us back down to the parking lot. The vegetation along this section of the trail was quite lush and had this trail pretty much to ourselves. We really enjoyed this hike despite the somewhat crowded part on the top of the Natural Bridge near the skyway but it is after all still summer and many people are on vacation…
Before leaving we just had to go see the Nada Tunnel which is known as the gateway to the Red River Gorge. This 900 foot long tunnel on KY 77 was originally built for use by a logging railroad during the early 1900s. A National Register of Historic Place this one-way tunnel is only 12-foot-wide by 13 feet high. This is still a very primitive tunnel where rock and dirt were removed using dynamite, steam drills and hand tools. It is lore that one man was killed in an explosion when he set frozen dynamite near a fire to thaw (not a very smart fellow).