Everything You Should Know About Slade, KY: The Gateway to the World-Renowned Red River Gorge

Mill Creek Lake
Mill Creek Lake in Natural Bridge State Park is a wonderful fishing spot. Karen Roussel

The small town of Slade, Kentucky, is located right in the heart of the wild Red River Gorge Geological Area. Come explore an intricate network of sandstone cliffs, rock arches, and amphitheaters set amidst a backdrop of lush forest that is otherworldly in nature. Hike to waterfalls and giant sandstone arches or walk along ridges, gazing at the deep valleys and mountains of eastern Kentucky. Slade is perfect for anyone seeking adventure, for families, or for those who just want to spend some time close to nature.

Here’s our insider’s guide of how to best experience Slade.

WHAT TO DO

Kayaking & Fishing 

Paddle the Wild and Scenic Red River and you’ll be immersed in the heart of the rugged Kentucky wilderness, where sandstone cliffs rise from the forest while bright green foliage dips down into the water. The scenery is stunning, and you’ll see plenty of wildlife. Look for turtles, fish, and deer, and listen for nuthatches, warblers, and cardinals.

Rent a canoe or kayak from Red River Adventure and float the 8-mile lower section of the Red River, or arrange a shuttle pick-up service with them if you have your own kayak. Don’t forget your fishing rod, as the river is full of bass.

Families or anglers wanting a lake fishing experience should head to Mill Creek Lake in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, where there is plenty of bass, trout, and catfish.

Climbing 

Get up close and personal with the rock of the Red River Gorge, and see why climbers flock from all over the world to scale these walls. Bring your rope and climb to the top of the forest canopy to look out over dense trees at an intricate network of sandstone cliffs. Over time, water has carved out giant amphitheaters and caves in the rock, making for interesting and impressive climbing.

Even if you’ve never climbed before, don’t leave the Gorge without giving it a shot! Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure offers guided rock climbing and rappelling, no experience necessary. Kentucky Rock and Adventure Guides also offers guided rock climbing as well as classes where you’ll learn climbing basics like knot-tying, belaying, and equipment use.

Hiking

Auxier Ride Trail
For the best panoramas of the Red River Gorge, hike the Auxier Ridge Trail. Troy Martin

The Gorge is a hiker’s paradise, with steep trails leading through an ethereal forest towards waterfalls and ancient sandstone arches. Hike and camp out on the 319-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail for a full wilderness experience or try the Gray’s Arch loop for a shorter hike with forest scenery.

For the best panoramas of the Red River Gorge, hike the 4.2-mile Auxier Ridge Trail, where you’ll meander along a sandstone ridge with the forested hills rolling out below you. As you hike, look west (left) to the next ridge and see one of the double arches peeking out between the trees. At the end of Auxier Ridge, you’ll be greeted by Courthouse Rock and Haystack Rock, rising like giant sandstone monoliths from the lush forest.

Another Slade must-see is the Natural Bridge Rock Arch, which is 78 feet long and 65 feet high, and (according to some geologists) around a million years old. It’s located in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, where a network of trails leads through deep forests with vegetation growing up cool rock formations. Climb on top of the arch for a view of the mountains and ridgelines, and then head a half mile north to the bluff called ‘Lover’s Leap.’ Look back for a full view of the Natural Bridge silhouetted in the dense forest and cliffs. For those who want the view without the hike, see the Natural Bridge from the Sky Lift Gondola.

WHERE TO EAT

Slade has risen to the challenge of providing nourishing meals for hungry hikers and climbers to refuel from a long day of adventure. Miguel’s Pizza serves handmade pizzas with the sauce or topping of your choice, with fresh dough made daily by the owner. Snack on pizza, sandwiches, or salads while you sit outside and dine picnic-style.

The burgers, tacos, and burritos at the Red River Rockhouse—all made from scratch using organic meat—can’t be beat. It’s also one of the few places in the county where you can sit and drink a pint from a rotating tap with local beers. The Sunday breakfasts at the cafe are the best in Slade, and it’s worth waiting in line for the fresh pancakes or breakfast tacos.

The Daniel Boone Coffee Shop, Deli & Trading Post makes great espresso, handmade baked goods, and has a welcoming, homey vibe.

Drink a pint at the Skybridge Station and grab a gourmet hot dog, while you try your hand at darts in this log cabin-style pub. The Station also hosts local music events.

WHERE TO STAY

Cabin in the middle of the woods
Rent a cabin and listen to the sounds of nature as you fall asleep in the middle of the woods. Karen Roussel

Stay close to nature and get a good night’s rest from a full day of exploring at any of the campgrounds or cabins in the Slade area. Natural Bridge State Resort Park has RV and tent spots at the Natural Bridge Campground or Middle Fork Campground. There’s also the Hemlock Lodge with fully equipped rooms with forest views.

If you’re here for the climbing, stay at the campground at Miguel’s Pizza, or at Land of the Arches. Land of the Arches has WiFi and an indoor lounge area.

Lago Linda’s campground has a scenic lake, several fields to pitch a tent, and an indoor common area.

Rent a cabin from the Red River Gorge Cabin Company or Red River Gorgeous, and listen to the sounds of nature as you fall asleep in the middle of the woods. If you want to stay indoors but don’t want to rent a cabin, the top floor of Skybridge Station has a hostel with comfortable beds.

For more activities and events to check out in this outdoorsy town, visit the town of Slade’s website.

Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.