Kentucky Scenic Drives: Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

Take a scenic drive through magnificent natural wonders on the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway. From the historic Nada Tunnel to the end of the byway in Zachariah, discover more than 100 stone arches, waterfalls, and plenty of natural beauty. Carved over eons by the Red River, today's gorge is now the site for outdoor adventures.

Cultural Qualities of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

The culture along the byway has been one focused on nature. American Indians resided in this area for thousands of years, living off the land and using the naturally occurring rock shelters as homes. Today, these shelters can be seen along the byway.

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The logging industry brought another culture to the area. The land was used as a profit-making resource, and the remnants of that culture survive today at the Gladie Historic Site and the Nada Tunnel.

Historical Qualities of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

The most important historical aspect of the Red River Gorge area is the impact and development of the logging industry from 1880 to 1920. Once Kentucky was opened up to settlement, people began building in the area. This development created the need for building supplies, such as timber, and as a result, the forest in the Red River Gorge area became a rich resource.

The logging industry enjoyed many prosperous years in the Red River Gorge area, and evidence of that era of history remains today. The Gladie Historic Site celebrates the settlement that evolved around the logging business.

Only the cabin exists today, but more than a hundred years ago the area would have been alive with the busy sounds of a thriving logging camp. The Nada Band Mill is another example of the importance of the logging industry in the area. Located in the town of Nada, this mill was run by the Broadhead–Garret Company, a company that conducted the region's largest timbering effort.

As the area developed into a rich logging region, the need arose for a means of transporting the timber out of the area. Logs were floated down streams and shipped to distant markets by railroad. The railroad was most readily available after 1912 with the opening of the Nada Tunnel. Construction of that tunnel had begun in 1910 and 1911, with two crews working from each side using steam-driven jackhammers and carbide lamps.

Natural Qualities of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

Rich in natural wonders, the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway is a treasure for those looking for stone formations, plant and animal life, and river and wilderness areas. The Red River Gorge Geological Area, a National Natural Landmark, comprises the majority of the byway. Located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge area hosts a unique collection of flora and fauna.

This diverse area has endangered, threatened, sensitive, and rare species of both plants and animals because of the location and glacial history of the area. The presence of 90 percent of the native fauna of eastern Kentucky points out the diversity and stability of habitats in the area.

The main attraction of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway is the abundance of natural stone arches in the gorge. More than 100 natural arches are located in this area. Backdropped by forested slopes, ridges, and cliffs, these arches have been in the making a long time. Around 70 million years of wind and water have made these arches what they are today.

Undeveloped and rugged, the Clifty Wilderness area and the Red River offer you the chance to experience more of the natural landscape of the area. Clifty Wilderness is 12,646 acres of forested slopes, narrow stream valleys, stone arches, rock shelters, and towering cliffs. The Red River is another area that can be enjoyed for its unaltered nature. In fact, the Red River may be inaccessible in some areas because of the natural vegetation, such as hemlocks, or steep cliffs and boulders.

Recreational Qualities of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway can be a recreational destination unto itself. The Red River provides you with some stunning views of water tumbling over boulders and through steep cliffs. However, the river is also a prime spot to go canoeing and kayaking. The abundance of rock formations and cliffs make this byway a first-class spot for rock climbing.

View Enlarged Image Follow this map of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway through the rugged landscape of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
View Enlarged Image Follow this map of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway through the rugged landscape of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The byway travels through a national forest and also Natural Bridge State Resort Park. An extensive trail system, known as the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, runs through the Daniel Boone National Forest. Trails in the Red River Gorge Geological Area also visit more than 100 stone arches. In addition to this extensive system, within Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there are nine trails. Camping, miniature golf, swimming, and square dancing can also be enjoyed at the resort.

The Red River Gorge is one of the nation's special natural areas due to its stone arches, caves, cliffs, ravines and waterfalls. Get familiar with this piece of Kentucky's landscape before you hit the road, and plan out a spectacular scenic, natural and recreational experience.

Find more useful information related to Kentucky's Red River Gorge Scenic Byway:

  • Kentucky Scenic Drives: The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Kentucky. Check out the others.
  • Daniel Boone National Forest: The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway runs through this national forest. Learn about it.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Kentucky? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

©Byways.org Sky Bridge Arch is accessible from a trail that passes over and beneath this interesting rock formation.

The forested hills of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway are interspersed with rocky cliffs and natural stone bridges, offering you a visual treat with every turn. Native trees often tower over the road creating a tunnel-like experience.

Because the byway mostly travels through a gorge that was created by the erosion effects of rivers, the byway is never far from water and wildlife will be more likely to be spotted. If you are in the mood for the unusual spotting of wildlife, at the Gladie Historic Site you can get an up-close view of the resident bison herd.

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Use this itinerary as a guideline to catch the highlights of the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway.

Sky Bridge: One of the best known and most accessible arches of this area is Sky Bridge, 75 feet long and 23 feet high. Sky Bridge's arch features a magnificent view of Clifty Wilderness.

Nada Tunnel: Enter the Red River Gorge Geological Area through the 900-foot Nada Tunnel. Open to one-lane traffic only, the tunnel was hand-carved without any modern technology for use by a logging railroad during the early 1900s. The tunnel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Clifty Wilderness: Within the gorge is Clifty Wilderness, a hardy and untamed area designated as wilderness by Congress in 1985. This 12,646-acre area features arches, rock shelters, and towering cliffs encircling steep, forested slopes and narrow stream valleys.

Gladie Historic Site: Gladie Cabin, a reconstructed log house, is the only structure in the gorge that dates back to the late 19th century.

Raven's Rock and Angel Windows: Raven's Rock offers some of the best views of the Red River Gorge. Angel Windows is another of the most easily reached of the arches.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park: Standing 65 feet high and 78 feet long, the great natural sandstone arch known as Natural Bridge is located in the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This park is nestled within the Daniel Boone National Forest and pampers patrons with lodging, dining, a gift shop, meeting rooms, a nature center, swimming pool, fishing, camping, and hiking. For a different view of the Natural Bridge and some spectacular Kentucky scenery, try the Sky Lift. The 22-minute ride carries passengers to within 600 feet of the sandstone formation.

Torrent Falls and Via Ferrata: Near the southern end of the byway are Torrent Falls and Via Ferrata. Torrent Falls is actually three waterfalls, the highest being 165 feet high and the tallest in Kentucky. Torrent Falls flows over an immense natural rock house. The Via Ferrata is a European climbing system utilizing iron handgrips and footsteps that are drilled right into the natural rock wall.

The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway offers a journey through magnificent geological features. Get rugged and discover the area the Red River unearthed -- including the perfect backdrop for activities such as canoeing, rock climbing and kayaking.

Find more useful information related to Kentucky's Red River Gorge Scenic Byway:

  • Kentucky Scenic Drives: The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Kentucky. Check out the others.
  • Daniel Boone National Forest: The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway runs through this national forest. Learn about it.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Kentucky? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

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