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Red River Gorge, KY


If you’re a 5.13 climber, you already know The Red: home to some of the world’s sickest single-pitch sandstone sport climbs. (The Motherlode crag is called that for a reason.) If you don’t even know what 5.13 means, not to worry: The Red River Gorge Geological Area, along with other nearby sections of the Daniel Boone National Forest, is also home to the highest concentration of natural bridges in the East, class I to class IV paddling on the Red River, trout fishing creeks, two wilderness areas and the 270-mile multi-use Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail.

“It’s a very unique area geologically, biologically – I love the spectacular vistas you get from the ridgetop trails and then the really lush coves when you get down by the streams,” says Tim Eling, recreation forester for the Daniel Boone National Forest. “You almost feel like you’re in the jungle sometimes.”

The area is full of diverse flora and fauna – the end of October is best for fall colors while June sees the magnolias in bloom. The area is home to a remarkable human history as well. After all, this is the former hunting ground of Tecumseh and his Shawnee tribe as well as the Cherokee and frontier settlers such as the forest’s namesake Daniel Boone. Some vestiges of days gone by include the 900-feet-long Nada Tunnel, dug out of the rock in the early 1900s – you can still drive through it – and the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center, housed in a log cabin at a settlement site in the heart of the Gorge that dates back to the 19th century.

Classic climbs range from Bedtime for Bonzo (5.6 trad) to Sunshine and Moonbeam (both 5.9 sport). For a day hike, head to Gray’s Arch, and for a short backpacking trip continue beyond Gray’s Arch Trail to the Rough Trail, which runs the length of the geological area east-west and return on Pinch ‘em Tight Trail. Cast your line on Indian Creek and if you’re an uber-fit mountain biker, you can huff it up from Indian Creek to the ridgetop along the 3-mile Powder Mill Trail.

Where it’s at: About two hours from Cincinnati or Louisville; from I-64 east of Lexington, KY take exit 98 to merge with the Mountain Parkway and travel 33 miles to Slade (exit 33), in the heart of the Red River Gorge

Contact: Daniel Boone National Forest, or (859) 745-3100; some properties in the Red are owned by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition,

Digs: Lago Linda Hideaway provides quiet camping ($5) and cabins ($35-$175), or (606) 464-2876.
You can walk to the trailhead of the overly popular Military Wall from Red River Gorgeous cabins ($74-$118 a night), or (606) 663-9824.

Grub: Miguels’ Pizza is mandatory – for both food and climbers’ culture, (606) 663-1975. You can “sleep” there for $2 a night.

Gear and Outfitting: True North Outfitters provides gear, guide services and even has a hostel ($14 a night), or (606) 668-3745

Cost: To park overnight for backcountry camping, you need a vehicle hang tag ($3 for one day, $5 for three days, $30 for annual tag). You can purchase tags at forest service offices and the gas station near the intersection of routes 11 and 15, just off of the Mountain Parkway.