The Red River Gorge is Breathtaking
At 120 feet above the ground, exhausted, I stop climbing to rest. My face is just inches from the rock wall and I ask it, “Why am I up here again?” The sandstone does not answer back. As I hang to catch my breath, I ponder my trip in and around the Red River Gorge.
I made the Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Eastern Kentucky my home base for several days of outdoor fun. Since 1926, the park has provided visitors the chance to walk among the wildlife along its 20 miles of hiking trails; and, as the name suggests, the Natural Bridge is the main attraction.
Hike to the Natural Bridge
Noelle, a naturalist at the park, led our group on a hike from the Hemlock Lodge up to the Natural Bridge (one of over 200 stone bridges in the area). Along the “Original Trail”, she pointed-out the various plant life (including the poison ivy – stay on the path), the trees, and the wildlife. Even though the half mile hike was mostly up-hill, it took less than 30 minutes to do.
Upon reaching the bridge (have your cameras ready), you will gasp at the size of it: 65 feet high and 78 feet long. A narrow pathway leads to the top. There are no safety railings of any kind; so, keep your children near you and do not get too close to the edge – it is a 500-foot drop to the Red River! It is a beautiful lookout point; take the time to enjoy the sights.
From the bridge, we strolled around to a viewing area to look back at the Natural Bridge. Only from this point do you fully appreciate the beauty and grand formation that took thousands of years to form through a process called “weathering.” Take more photos, sip from the bottle of water you brought, and hike back down to the lodge at the park.
The park has a sky lift that will take you up, down or both if the hike is too much for you. They also have guest rooms, cottages and camping to accommodate every budget, as well as a huge swimming pool to relax in after your hike.
After dinner at the lodge, Noelle took a small group of us to a nearby bat cave. We did not see any bats unfortunately; they were out looking for their dinner. However, we did crawl through the damp cave, among the spider crickets and salamanders (none of which will hurt you). We got wet and dirty, but we all really liked it.
Wow, there is a lot to see and do here and I have had my fun. However, I am still clinging to this giant rock wall for my life! I am harnessed-in, and there are safety-straps, but it still feels dangerous. “Should I turn back?” The sandstone still does not reply. Drained and tired, I get my second wind and push onward, or rather upward.
Sweat drips from my forehead and my arms shake each time I reach for a new handhold. It becomes more difficult before it gets easier; it feels like I am finally going to make it – and I do. I would have never forgiven myself if I had turned back and gave up. Now with many onlookers, I am satisfied with my accomplishment.
This unique climbing experience is called Via Ferrata. It uses a cable system and iron grips along the way. It is very safe, yet challenging, and has six stages that progressively go from easy to moderate to difficult. The Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure is the first in the U.S. to have such a system. It is great for groups and beginners to the sport of climbing. I really enjoyed the adventure. The staff is wonderful, especially Nicole, who made me feel comfortable with the equipment. They are a short drive from the Natural Bridge State Resort Park and I highly recommend them.
From the Bluegrass to the Red River, I keep finding reasons to visit Kentucky. However, I will have to save my other adventures to this marvelous state for another column.
If You Go …Natural Bridge State Resort Park Info: 606-663-2214 Reservations: 800-325-1710 www.parks.ky.gov Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure 1617 North KY 11 Campton, KY 41301 “Via Ferrata” Season: March 1 – November 30 Open 7 days a week, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 606-668-6613 www.torrentfalls.com For lunch and Internet access Miguel’s Pizza & Climb Shop Slade, KY 606-663-1975 www.miguelspizza.com For more information 877-TOUR-SEKY www.tourseky.com
Michael Dwyer is a freelance writer and travel columnist. Michael writes about happenings in the Rochester area, travels across Michigan and destinations around the world. Contact him at Michael@RochesterMedia.com