Exploring Manchester, Kentucky, The Land of Creeks, Rivers, and Swinging Bridges

Manchester, Kentucky, is a little mountain town with a lot of heart and history. It’s surrounded by the beautiful forests and creeks of southeast Kentucky, where for centuries residents built swinging bridges to cross waterways during times of high water and flooding. Today there are other ways around the creeks, but the swinging bridges remain as a tribute to the heritage and natural history of the region. Visit Manchester and discover almost 100 miles of creeks that are perfect for paddling, floating, fishing, or just relaxing. You can also bike or hike over forested ridge lines and through deep valleys, or camp out under the stars.

There’s a lot to discover in Manchester, so here’s an insider’s guide to making the most of your stay.

WHAT TO DO

Kayaking & Fishing

Manchester is home to three distinct river systems: the Goose Creek River, the Red Bird River, and the South Fork River. Collectively, these three waterways provide almost a hundred miles of (mostly flat water) canoeing, fishing, and kayaking. Enjoy the snaking turns of the Goose Creek River just south of town through more than 30 miles of river scenery. Paddle the Red Bird River between the forested banks of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The South Fork River also provides more than 20 miles of flat water, so grab a tube and spend the day lazily floating along. Bring your fishing rod and head out to cast a line on any of these waters, where you’ll find muskie, crappie, catfish, bluegill, and trout.

Some of the most peaceful fishing around is at Bert T. Combs Park and Lake. A non-motorized policy allows you to fully soak up some serenity and solitude. It’s also a habitat for the elusive muskie, so bring your rod to capture one of Kentucky’s finest fish.

Hiking & Biking

Manchester has plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore. Try the River Walk Trail starting at Rawlings/Stinson Park north of town and bike or hike your way along Goose Creek as it meanders through the Appalachian forest. You’ll be following in the footsteps of history, as this trail was once used by Native Americans hunting buffalo and even Daniel Boone on one of his first hunting trips. It passes the Red Bird Petroglyphs, goes by downtown Manchester, and ends near the Goose Creek Salt Works, a re-creation of the old pioneer village and salt works from the late 1700's.

Grab your mountain bike and take off to the Redbird Crest Trail System, where more than 100 miles of trails run along the ridges and through the valleys of pristine eastern Kentucky woodlands. Hiking, horseback riding, and ATV's are all permitted, so keep an eye out for other users.

The Redbird Wildlife Management Area is adjacent to the trail system, with 25 more miles of hiking-only trails. As you hike, listen for birds and keep an eye out for deer and wild turkeys. It’s ethereal and wild, the picture of eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian wilderness.

Explore the Swinging Bridges

The swinging bridges of Manchester are a historical oddity. During times of flooding, they were often the only way to cross over the many waterways and creeks of Clay County. The bridges are based off of early Inca bridges—simple structures anchored on either side of the river, causing them to sway as you walk over them.

The Goose Creek Swinging Bridge is right in Manchester and can be accessed from the River Walk Trail. From Manchester, take KY-11 north toward Oneida, take a detour on Frazier Road to see the Frazier Road Swinging Bridge, and then get back on the highway to pass the Old Homeplace Swinging Bridge and the OBI Swinging Bridge in Oneida. There are dozens of unmarked bridges over the Red Bird River and Sextons Creek, so spend the afternoon exploring unmarked roads to find old, weathered bridges hidden by overgrown forest, imagining what it was like for early pioneers to walk these bridges as their only way of travel!

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Downtown Manchester has a historical, small-town vibe, with a few local eateries worth checking out.

To caffeinate and fuel up for the day, visit the Axis Coffee Shop and Gathering Place and the friendly staff serving craft coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and muffins. For lunch, grab a wrap, a cup of soup or a fresh sandwich, and cool off on a hot day with a couple scoops of ice cream in a waffle cone.

Pat’s Snack Bar is the perfect spot to grab a beer and some burgers after hiking, and El Cazador offers authentic and filling Mexican dishes. 

WHERE TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S REST

Stay close to the trails in Manchester at the Governor’s Campground RV Park near Bert T. Combs Lake. For primitive camping under the stars, camp in the Redbird Crest Trail System, either at the Peabody Trailhead, the Bear Creek Trailhead, or the Sugar Creek Trailhead.

If camping isn’t your style, there are a host of welcoming budget hotels and motels in the area.

Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.