Featured image: @mccrearyadventures // @kytourism
If you’re like us, you’ve been counting down the days until you can travel again. Well, the time is here and we know the perfect way to ease back into it… hiking in Kentucky! Outdoors – check! Social distanced – check! Just a short drive from some of our favorite craft breweries and distilleries – check and check! So grab your mask, your best hiking boots and hit the trails…
photo: Kentucky Tourism
The Daniel Boone National Forest is filled with more than 600-miles of trails for hiking and biking, leaving plenty of room for adventure and an opportunity to see something new every time you visit. Within Daniel Boone National Forest is the Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Red River Gorge Geological Area.
1. Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Natural Bridge State Resort Park (located within the Daniel Boone National Forest) has several family friendly trails, which surround the Natural Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in Kentucky. Don’t forget to bring your camera – whether you’re on the bridge looking out above the tree canopies or on a trail below, you’re guaranteed to stumble upon the perfect photo-op! Here are a few trails to put at the top of your list:
The Original Trail
Length: 1.2 miles (out & back) | Skill level: Moderate
The Original Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails to the Natural Bridge. For the history fans… This trail was built in the 1890’s by the Lexington and Eastern Railroad and features a handful of trail shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930’s.
Balanced Rock Trail
Length: 1.5 miles | Skill level: Strenuous
Love a good stair-climbing workout? This is the perfect trail for you. Don’t be fooled by the short length of this trail – Balanced Rock Trail is the steepest trail with more than 600 stairs. Along your climb, you’ll pass by the trails namesake, an impressive sandstone block, just past a small cave. After this point, the trail will continue to get steeper and eventually you will find yourself at the base of the sandstone cliff called Rocky Point. Pro tip: make this trail the downhill portion of your hike if you not much of a climber.
Battleship Rock Trail
Length: 1.2 miles | Skill level: Moderate
Beginning at the Original trailhead, the Battleship Rock Trail has a steady climb, which leads to a wooden bridge and a series of wooden steps. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can brave the rugged staircases, Devil’s Gulch and Needles Eye, which break off between Battleship Rock Trail and Laurel Ridge Trail. Ignore these spurs and eventually, the trail levels out, winding below towering cliffs, leading you to the base of Lookout Point and the underside of Natural Bridge. To access the arch and soak up the breathtaking views, you’ll have to climb a staircase through a narrow crack in the rock called “the squeeze.”
2. Red River Gorge
Adjacent to the Natural Bridge State Resort Park, located within Daniel Boone National Forest, is the Red River Gorge, a destination with plenty of family friendly outdoor adventures including hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing and zip lining. Here are some hikes you don’t want to miss:
Sky Bridge Trail
Length: 1 mile | Skill level: Beginner
Looking for a quick and easy loop with stunning views? Sky Bridge Trail is for you. This paved trail is fully family friendly, which means you can bring your four-legged friend along!
Rock Bridge Trail
Length: 1.25 miles | Skill level: Beginner
Find a stroll that is a little more serene and a path less traveled at the Rock Bridge Trail, which features a rushing waterfall on the way to the arch.
Double Arch Trail
Length: 4.5 miles (out and back) | Skill level: Moderate
The Double Arch Trail begins at the Auxier Ridge Trailhead. This hiking-only trail is open all year long and leads to sweeping views of Courthouse Rock, Haystack Rock and other rock features in the Red River Gorge.
Length: 3.6 miles (out & back) | Skill level: Moderate (unmarked, but very popular)
Copperas Falls is a lush, forest-floor hike with a “choose your own adventure” pathway featuring multiple creek crossings leading out to a quaint waterfall.
Length: 5 miles | Skill level: Moderate
Auxier Ridge is a ridge-line trail with great high up views of the area overlooking many below cliffs and rock faces. Pro tip: be sure to pack a lunch for a picnic with sweeping views!
Koomer Ridge and Greys Arch Loop
Length: 11 miles | Skill level: Difficult
Koomer Ridge and Greys Arch Loop are both great trails showing off what the gorge has to offer including: deep, lush forest floor, creeks and ridge lines with frequent changes in elevation.
photo: Berea Tourism
4. Pinnacles at Berea
Prefer to venture closer to the city? Located just outside of Daniel Boone Forest is the Pinnacles at Berea, where you can soak up sweeping views of the forests below with your four-legged friend by your side.
photo: Food & Wine
Where to eat & drink nearby these hikes:
Fuel up for your big hike with a local, grass-fed burger from Red River Rockhouse, a family-owned café focused on sustainability and sourcing ingredients locally. Post hike, indulge in a well-earned burrito and margarita from La Cabana Mexican Restaurant or a slice of ‘za from Miguel’s Pizza.
The best way to end a day of hiking… craft brews. See what’s on tap at nearby breweries: Dreaming Creek Brewery and Abettor Brewing Company. Still thirsty? Visit Kentucky Tourism’s map of the Brewgrass Tour for more brewery stops in and around Lexington. Or find your favorite golden spirits along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
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