By David Shuffett
It was on an ice-climbing adventure in Colorado when I first learned that the stunning Red River Gorge is not just a Kentucky treasure. When I told our guide I was from Kentucky, he smiled and replied: “Oh, Red River Gorge. Love that place, man.”
Even though East-Central Kentucky’s Red River Gorge (commonly called “The Red” or “The Gorge” around these parts) is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, rock-climbing is allowed within its borders. Good thing, too, because climbers are drawn here from across the globe to experience what many consider one of the top 10 climbing destinations in the world.
As the owner of Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals, Ian Teal is an experienced climber himself. I was able to spend some time with him while staying at one of his 60 rental cabins perched atop a mountain at Cliffview Resort, just minutes from the Gorge.
“The Red is one of the top 10 because it has an incredible 2,000 climbing routes with mostly easy trails leading to them,” Ian told me. He quickly added that many of the sandstone cliffs here are overhangs, forcing climbers to think about every single movement to save their energy for the ascent.
“But because the cliffs have so much variation in difficulty and height, families and kids can enjoy climbing here, too.”
The arches are what keep me coming back. The Gorge holds more than 100 natural sandstone arches of every size and shape, with more still being discovered in tucked-away places throughout this massive 29,000-acre canyon system.
You can lose track of all the Red’s impressive designations – National Geological Area, National Archaeological District, National Natural Landmark – and the area also is home to Kentucky’s only National River, aptly named Red River. To cap it off, a National Scenic Byway weaves it way alongside its waters.
Ian says he first fell in love with the Red River Gorge many years ago, when he came down from Cincinnati to visit as a Boy Scout. That love never waned. He later moved here as an adult and began doing his part to promote the area – and help build the local economy – through his cabin rental business and Thrillsville Adventure Park, an outdoor adventure playground offering a ton of mild to wild challenges.
As for me? Well, I fell in love with the Gorge the first time I witnessed the overwhelming beauty of an arch turned amber by the kiss of the evening sun.
The Red is like a mistress born of the earth, so be careful.
She is stunning.
She is seductive.
She is addictive.
And she just may steal your heart and soul.
If You Go
- Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals
60 mountaintop rental cabins with hot tubs, fireplaces and beautiful vistas of the surrounding wilderness.
844-618-3676, 606-668-3272, www.redrivergorgecabinrentals.com
- Thrillsville Aerial Adventure Park
This outdoor adventure park lets you explore the gorge from a new perspective. Climbing walls, cargo nets, zip-lines, tight ropes, balance beams and many other elements will keep you climbing for hours before you zip almost 200 feet back to the ground.
- Thrillsville: The Gorge Underground
One-hour guided canoe, kayak or pontoon boat tour through a maze of underground waterways with special-effect lighting, plus off-road adventure tours in a Hummer.
- Red River Gorge Climbing
Guided climbing trips with gear supplied.
- Red River Gorge Zipline at Cliffview Resort
- Red River Gorge (Gladie) Visitor Center