Updated 09.01.2019: We often talk about our love of exploring our National Park system, but there are so many incredible state parks across the USA that deserve attention as well. State parks make for fantastic travel destinations, not only for their lack of crowds seen at the more popular national parks, but also for their enjoyable hiking and camping options. So, put on your hiking boots because today’s guest contributor, Suzan L. Jackson from Book by Book, is taking us hiking through Kentucky’s beautiful Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
You don’t have to travel to Utah to see sandstone arches! Visit Natural Bridge State Resort Park in the Red River Gorge area of eastern Kentucky to explore this beautiful and unique landscape in the East, with over 200 natural arches within a 10-mile radius, plus cliffs, caves, and gorges. Natural Bridge State Resort Park is located within the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky, adjacent to the Red River Gorge Geological Area. Both parks offer a wide range of scenic natural features and plenty of fun activities.
The main attraction at Natural Bridge is the 65-foot tall and 78-foot wide sandstone arch that it is named for. You can get to the top of the arch in two ways: via the sky lift, a ski lift-type ride to the top, or along any of several hiking trails to the top. The sky lift is a pleasant, easy ride with beautiful views as you head up to the top of the mountain. You can even have it both ways and take the sky lift up and one of the hiking trails back down.
Once at the top of Natural Bridge, there are many other hiking trails from which to explore the area. Along many of the trails, you will find other, smaller arches, as well as caves and unique rock formations among the trees. You can also start a hike from the ground level, near the lodge. With over a dozen hiking trails of various lengths and difficulties to choose from, you have lots of options for exploring this unique area and all of its natural beauty.
Besides hiking, the park offers plenty of other activities. Cool off with a swim in the pool or rent a paddleboat, canoe, or kayak to explore the 60-acre lake. The park is also an ideal location for birding or fishing. In addition, many ranger-led activities are available every week.
The park is also host to several special events during the year. Every Saturday evening at 6:30 pm, from May through October (October 22 is the last one scheduled for this year), the park hosts the Natural Bridge Hoedown, a popular tradition for over 45 years! An experienced square dance caller leads participants through Appalachian square dancing, line dances, two-stepping, waltzes, polkas, and more. December 10, 2016, is the park’s annual holiday celebration, The Holidays at Hemlock Lodge, with decorations, visits with Santa, and special holiday meals.
The park has two campgrounds, plus offers lodging in Hemlock Lodge or one of the park’s cabins. Hemlock Lodge has 35 rooms with private balconies and is open year-round. Visitors can enjoy meals at Sandstone Arches Restaurant, which features classic favorites as well as some Kentucky specialties.
If all of that isn’t enough to keep you busy, the Red River Gorge Geological Area is just across the road from Natural Bridge State Park and offers more opportunities for unique, scenic views and outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and more. Besides a being a designated Geological Area, Red River Gorge is also a National Natural Landmark and a National Archeological District and is on the National Register of Historical Places. The Red River Gorge area features its own camping facilities, with the Koomer Ridge Campground.
Enjoy a leisurely drive along the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway or hike along any of dozens of trails. Don’t miss the expansive views of the gorge and rock formations from Chimney Top Rock, easily accessible off the Scenic Byway on the Chimney Top Road, with an easy 15-minute walk along a paved trail. For a short (but challenging) hike to beautiful rock formations, arches, and caves, try the 0.2 mile (one way) Whistling Arch Trail.
I was excited to discover this unique geological area filled with so many parks and recreation areas. I had no idea there were sandstone arches in the East! If you enjoy outdoor activities (or just want to enjoy a scenic drive, a sky lift ride, or a nice meal or dance), consider exploring Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Red River Gorge Geological Area – adventure awaits!
More Southeast U.S. hiking adventures:
- Try these hiking adventures in Tennessee.
- Enjoy these Shenandoah National Park hiking trails in Virginia.
- Go hiking on Pilot Mountain near Winstone-Salem, North Carolina.
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