Before hiking the Gorge please know your limitations.
It is not a playground that you can jump out of in an instant. People die here and are rescued from the Gorge more times than
are necessary. Usually those situations arose from acts of ignorance... I.E. liquor/drugs and high cliffs or a daredevil mentality.
The slightest amount of moisture on the sandstone cliffs makes for a slick situation. Use your head, take a map, take water
and enjoy all it has to offer.
Angel Windows Trail
Distance: ½ mi. round trip
Rating: Very easy
The hike from 715 is popular due to the fact that it
is a very easy walk. The
“windows” are well worth the hike.
Auxier Ridge Trail # 204
Distance: 1-3/4 mi. One way
Rating: Medium difficulty
For views that are unimpeded Auxier Ridge is a “must do”.
Views include: Raven’s Rock, Haystack Rock, Double Arch,
and Courthouse Rock. I prefer to connect this trail with Auxier Branch #203-Double Arch #201 -Tunnel Ridge Road and also
take in Star Gap Arch (unofficial trail). This makes for about a 6.5 mi hike.
Bison Way Trail #210
Distance: ¾ mi (one-way)
Great connector trail to reach the Sheltowee Trace.
Turn left at the intersection and after about 10 minutes you run
into the “unofficial trail” to Indian Staircase.
Once on top of the
Staircase, follow the ridge to the left and visit the Huge Rock
Indian Arch and Adena Arch. You can easily spend
a whole day on
Added plus: Great Fall Foliage viewing area.
Buck Trail: #226
Distance 1-1/2 mi (one way)
Rating: Moderate to Hard
Connector for Pinch-emTight and Koomer Ridge Trails.
Nice ridge top walk from Pinch-emTight down to Chimney Top
Creek. It gets difficult from here. If you are easily winded, the climb from the creek to Koomer Ridge Trail is a gasser. Chimney Top Creek offers a great outdoor experience. Many hikers
choose to camp close to it’s banks. At night you may be lucky enough to hear a wildcat.
Gray’s Arch Trail #204
Distance 1-1/4 mi (one way)
Rating: Easy in…Strenuous out
Gray’s Arch is a must see. It is a huge buttress arch. The
hike in is mostly ridge top walking on a well worn path. The descent to the arch includes several wooden steps (hence the difficulty coming out). Once you reach the last step instead of taking Rough Trail
# 221 to the left, follow the path that goes straight. It will lead you to the arch. Read the note at the bottom of the arch
about the poor fellow who fell to his death there.
Hidden Arch Trail #208
Distance: 2 mile loop
Nice Loop hike from Koomer Ridge Campground.
Lots of steps, both up and down, to and from the arch. Bottom line: If you are hiking Koomer Ridge trail to connect to another…you should take this trail. It is also a must see if you are staying at
Koomer Ridge Trail #220
Distance: 2-1/2 mi
Rating: From campground-easy
Many great loop hikes start from Koomer Ridge Campground. You
need to take this trail to start them. Easy ridge top walk to Chimney Top Creek. Coming back this way
constitutes a pretty lengthy climb. My favorite loop hike in RRG goes as follows: Koomer Ridge-Hidden
Arch-Koomer Ridge-Rough-Gray’s-Pinch-emTight-Buck-Koomer Ridge with an overnight stay on the ridge above Gray’s Arch. I usually rent a site at the campground to A) park my car more safely and B) take
a shower when I’m finished. Parking is however provided free in front of the grounds. It’s just not as visible.
I pitch an old 3 man tent on the site to give the illusion of occupancy.
Pinch-em Tight Trail #223
Distance 1-3/4 mi (one way)
Good hike to ad to make a loop. This is a great connector
to the Rough Trail.
Rock Bridge Trail #207
Distance 1-1/4 mi loop
Rating: medium difficulty
This is a must see arch in the gorge. It actually forms a bridge
over Swift Camp Creek. Along the way stop off to view Creation
Falls. Many use half of this loop to connect to Swift
Camp Creek Trail #219. A large portion of this trail actually has been paved. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying
the beauty. The best time to go is in the late spring and enjoy the Rhododendron in full bloom.
On 2 seperate occasions while hiking Swift Camp Creek Trail I
have encountered hikers who spent an unwanted night in the Clifty Wilderness. It seems they set off to hike the Rock
Bridge Trail but failed to make the left turn back up the ridge shortly after Rock Bridge and ended up on Swift Camp Creek
trail. I now carry a water filter in that area even if I am out for a day hike in the event it happens again. Dehydrated
and exhausted hikers are a lot of fun to lead out of the woods. If you are not sure of where to turn it is just as easy, and
more scenic, to turn around at the Rock Bridge and go back whence you came.
Rough Trail #221
Distance: 8-1/2 miles
Rating: They don’t call it “ROUGH” for nothing!
Very little scenery but still a must do hike. Use this to connect
Koomer Ridge with either Gray’s Arch or Swift Camp Creek. One section I love is the climb eastward
to the intersection of Rush Ridge Trail. You will climb up what looks to be a
runoff to a double-decker rock shelter. You will walk across the second shelf and probably crawl across a small section of
that. You then descend down a log ladder (a log with notches in it). The trail
makes for a great adventure, especially with a full backpack. Remember, they don’t call it “Rough” for nothing.
For the adventurous try some of the unmarked trails that follow the ridgelines that connect to this trail. There are hidden
beauties to be found.
Sky Bridge Trail #214
Distance: 1-1/4 mi loop
Rating: Easy-well worn path
Great views of the Clifty Wilderness, and of course Sky
Bridge Arch. This is another “must see” arch. You will walk on and under the arch. The trip back to the parking
lot is a little tough for some.
Swift Camp Creek Trail #219
Distance: 7 hard and difficult miles
Rating: See above note
Swift Camp Creek Trail lies entirely in the Clifty Wilderness.
As you enter the area you are greeted with the following “WILDERNESS-
We do not guarantee your enjoyment or your return.” Swift Camp is my favorite place to go in the gorge.
It is hard, rough and dangerous. I was told, by a certain Forest Service Legend, that the estimated copperhead population
in certain sections around Swift Camp Creek is 2000 per acre. Watch your step and you may want to avoid rock outcroppings.
Black bears have been spotted often by me and others whom I trust on the western side of the creek. The Forest people
may deny this to avoid a panic but there is now a mandatory food hang in the Gorge. This is a result of the bear attacking
the hiker in 2010. If you want to feel like you are in a jungle without ever leaving Kentucky, I highly
recommend this trail.
Whistling Arch Trail # 234
Distance: ½ mile Round trip
Rating: Very easy
Scenic ridge top walk to the arch and back. One of the many great
sites along hwy 715.
Whittleton Arch Trail #217
Distance: ¼ mi (one way)
Whittleton Arch is a large arch that to me looks as if it is nowhere
near completion. This is a short hike off of Whittleton Branch Trail.
Whittleton Branch Trail # 216
Distance: 2 mi (one way)
Rating: Medium difficulty
This is the first hike I ever took in the Gorge. I was staying
at the Whittleton Branch campground at Natural Bridge
State Resort Park.
The trail led from the campground next to a creek with giant moss covered boulders and a carpet of fern along the way. This
is the one that got me hooked on the gorge. It leads to the connector trail for the Arch. It goes on to KY-15 near the intersection
of Tunnel Ridge road.
Wildcat Trail #228
Distance: 1-3/4 mi (one way)
Rating: Medium difficulty
This trail runs from hwy 715 to Swift Camp Creek Trail close to
the crossing point for Timmons Arch (across the creek and up the ridge). It is mostly a hardwood forest walk until it starts to descend towards Swift Camp Creek. You are now in a tunnel of Rhododendron. It passes
rock shelters and the terrain gets a lot rougher. This trail also lies within the Clifty Wilderness. (Tip) If you turn left onto Swift Camp Creek Trail from Wildcat you will soon cross Wildcat Creek. As you
start to parrallel Swift Camp Creek again turn right down a visible path to a great camping spot.