Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge

One of Eastern Kentucky’s most visited natural areas is the Red River Gorge. This tourist attraction is known for its sandstone cliffs, rock formations and natural stone arches. In addition to the natural beauty, the area features many hiking trails, overlooks, and historic sites. Plus, the Red River – the gorge’s namesake – runs through the gorge. Canoeing and whitewater rafting is popular in the river.

The area is managed by the United States Department of Agricultural Forest Service as it is a part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Red River Gorge and nearby areas are designated and managed to protect the abundant wildlife, archaeological resources, geological features, and watersheds.

The Red River Gorge is open for year-round use.


East of the Rocky Mountains, the Red River Gorge Geological Area has the greatest concentration of arches. The arches were formed more than 300 million years ago. The arches were formed from sediment, sand, and pebbles that eroded from ancient mountains in the area that eroded and were carried through waterways and deposited as a delta at the edge of a shallow body of water that covered much of North America millions of years ago.

As the years went by and the mountains wore down, the sediments turned to rock and the inland sea receded. Streams then cut through the layers of sedimentary rock, which began the sculpting of the sandstone cliffs.

Today, the area is full of sandstone cliffs, narrow and winding ridges, steep slopes, and deep valleys.

Habitat Diversity

The Red River Gorge is in an area that many different species of plants and animals call home thanks to the varying habitats.

Oak and pine forests live along the mountaintops and various other trees live in the moist coves of the valleys.

Micro-climates exist under the cliffs and rock shelters that form at the base of sandstone cliffs, which benefits the many plants and animals in the area that depend upon these areas for shelter. For instance, bats live in the dark crevices created by the rock shelters. They use this space for feeding, resting and rearing their young.

The Red River Gorge is also home to the white-haired goldenrod, which is a threatened species. This animals if found in the rock shelters and cliffs of the Red River Gorge and nowhere else in the world.


Paleo-Indians were among the first humans to discover the Red River Gorge. These people came around about 13,000 years ago during a time when glaciers covered much of the northern part of the country. They hunted wooly mammoths and mastodons along with many of the other animals found in abundance in Kentucky.

It is thought that these people along with other prehistoric people lived in the rock shelters of the Red River Gorge, which provided ample shelter so that they could have a place to rest after busy days of hunting. In addition to hunting and fishing in the area, prehistoric people were able to feed on the various nuts, seeds, berries, fruits, fungi and plants that still grow in and around the rock shelters.

Because of the evidence left behind by these people, the Red River Gorge, Indian Creek area, and Clifty Wilderness were all designated as a National Archaeological District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Red River

A section of the Red River was designated in 1973 as a Kentucky Wild River. This portion of the river is upstream from Copperas Creek. In 1985, Congress named this same portion a National Wild River.

The Red River’s upper stretches flow over boulders through a narrow gorge lined by cliffs and overhanging rock ledges, mature trees, and thickets of flowers.

Gladie Cultural – Environmental Learning Center

The learning center offers many exhibits that are both informative and interesting to visitors. The cultural heritage of the river – along with its many resources – is highlighted at the learning center. Visitors are able to visit the center to take a rest, ask questions, and learn about the Red River Gorge. Maps, passes, souvenirs, and books are available for purchase at the center.

The center is open from spring through the fall.

Gladie Cabin

The Gladie Historic Site offers a restored log cabin that dates back to the late 19th century when it was used as a post office.

Nada Tunnel

KY 77 offers the 900-foot Nada Tunnel which provides a unique way to enter the Red River Gorge. The tunnel is just 12 by 12 in size and open to one-lane traffic only.

The tunnel is named after the Dana Lumber Company. It was built so that the logging company could haul logs out of the gorge by railroad.

The tunnel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Koomer Ridge Campground

This campground offer camping that is described as semi-primitive. There are 54 sites available for tents and trailer camping (no hookups), toilets, bath house, drinking water, lantern posts, grills, and picnic tables. All sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The campground operates from April to October. Parts of the campground are open year round, but the bath house closes and no water is available during the off season.

Clifty Wilderness

U.S. Congress passed the Kentucky Wilderness Act in 1985, which designated almost half of the geological area of the Red River Gorge as Clifty Wilderness. These lands are managed by the Forest Service so that they retain its natural and rugged terrain.

Hikers like this area because of its many physical challenges and because of its ample solitude.

There are no modern facilities in the area and few signs, so a good map along with solid backcountry skills are necessary for anyone hiking in the area.