3 days/2 nights/27 miles
Red River Gorge in Kentucky is known for day hiking for the views and natural rock arches and for rock climbing. If you get creative though, you can put together some pretty nice backpacking routes!
When Sarah and I had plans to hike the NCT/MRT loop in Michigan and saw the weather forecast calling for thunderstorms and highs of 40°F we decided to look south. Weather in The Gorge promised 70's and sun. I turned to Caltopo to design a route that would combine some breezy ridge walks with shaded creek side hiking.
Angel Windows to Koomer Ridge Camp - 9.35 miles, 88°F, some clouds
The first part of day 1 would take us from Angel Windows in the east end of The Gorge to Grey's Arch in the west end. This requires an almost complete hike of The Rough Trail, which we found to be easy compared to Linville Gorge, but stacked against the rest of the trails in Red River Gorge it is indeed rough. There are a number of ascents and descents to get your heart rate up. There were some excellent sights along the way too!
There were also a few nice views. We stopped for a snack at this one.
Sarah noticed some beautiful fauna in the area leading up to Grey's Arch including pink lady slippers and these weird yellow/brown things.
After Grey's Arch the trail turns back east. We left The Rough Trail behind and continued onto Pinch 'em Tight Trail and Buck Trail. These sections offered the really flat, smooth ridge hiking we love.
We watered-up at Chimney Top Creek and hiked up onto Koomer Ridge Trail. Sarah, being the intuitive navigator she is, noted a small side ridge on the map and thought there would be good camping there. Lo and behold there was a quiet, private campsite about 1/8th mile off trail. We enjoyed some dinner and drifted off to sleep.
Koomer Ridge Camp to Osborne Bend Camp - 11.14 miles, 87°F, sun
After a quick breakfast of coffee and pop tarts we were back on the Koomer Ridge Trail, which brought us back down to a brief section of Rough Trail and onto the Sheltowee Trace Trail. This part of the hike followed Chimney Top Creek. Flat, smooth creekside hiking all the way to Red River.
Not long into the day we came to a beach area along Red River where we found families lounging, swimming, and jumping in. We spent a good hour here soaking in the sun.
We crossed the Red River on a foot bridge and the trail ascended about half way up a ridge. After a couple miles we spotted Cloudsplitter, one of the most prominent features in the gorge. Of course we'd have to check out the view from up there.
The scramble up to the top was worth it. The wind was blowing and the views were spectacular. I enjoyed it while eating some hard sausage and parmesan wrapped in a tortilla.
The rest of day 2 brought us down around the bottom of a popular day hiking spot called Indian Staircase. It was around this area we found an arch we managed to miss during our last trip here!
Once we left the Indian Staircase Area we entered into the Clifty Wilderness and didn't see another person for the rest of the trip. After leaving Sheltowee Trace Trail and getting onto Lost Branch we watered up at Gladie Creek and hiked up onto Osborne Bend Ridge to camp.
Osborne Bend Camp to Angel Windows - 5.98 miles, 75°F, rain
On both nights of this trip Sarah wanted to camp up on ridges away from water. This has benefits. Not only do you get a nice breeze, better views, and less tent condensation but you also often get cell phone reception. This is helpful when you want to check the weather. Up on Osborne Bend Ridge we had reception and knew there were some storms rolling in overnight. Thankfully their intensity lessened by the time they reached us, but it meant for a wet hike out to the car on day 3.
We made quick work of the 6 miles including 2 miles of road walking and got back to the car after basically receiving a shower courtesy of mother nature.
Red River Gorge is still easily my favorite hiking destination within an easy drive of the Detroit area. It offers so much you can't get anywhere else in the region and has so much to discover and explore. I'm already looking forward to getting back there again.