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Hike Kentucky's Scenic Natural Bridge

Updated: Jul 6

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

The Blue Grass State has some really fun places to explore, and nature galore! On my recent visit, I was fortunate enough to check out some of the unique bucket list spots, and I will share the details for your planning.


Hiking Natural Bridge and surrounding scenic spots
It's hot on top of the mountain! Slade, KY

On a recent work trip to Lexington Kentucky, I caught up with a coworker, Sonja who lives locally. She shared her favorite stomping grounds from her childhood, taking me into the Daniel Boone National Forest. Here we entered the Natural Bridge Resort State Park, and hiked the featured Natural Bridge. In planning to experience the Natural Bridge, we also were able to squeeze in a few other of the really cool places all clustered in that one area. I must share that we were excited about our nature day, and Sonja was a gracious host happy to give me the experience through her local eyes.



Our 2.23-mile hike lasted less than 2 hours (an hour and 50 minutes), stopping for all the photos and breathing we needed. While this hike is NOT easy, we made it as less strenuous as possible, stopping to sit on scenic well-placed benches to enjoy the various viewpoints along the route. We gained 500 feet in elevation on our walk. Descending we took a different route, and it's safe to say I felt all the muscles in my legs for days from this amazing route!


**Not to be confused with Natural Bridge State Park located in Virginia, I guess that's why this park has the "resort" added to the title. I mean it is a camping resort, but open to the public and free.


Now you know I love to travel! This was my first visit to Kentucky was a great opportunity for me to explore some uncharted territory. This state is much bigger than I imagined, but I found myself in a unique terrain full of lush greens and rolling hills. My favorite part was definitely getting up into the Red River Gorge and climbing over Natural Bridge. I do love my time surrounded by nature. This was a special treat.


Kentucky is full of beautiful nature and a distinct landscape. They call it the Blue Grass state because of a calcium- and phosphate enriched grass. While I didn't see a lot of blue, I did see rugged wilderness, mountains, hills, fields and really cool geological landmarks. I stayed in the historic Campbell House of Lexington, the Curio Collection by Hilton. This was a place with a lot of character. Older small rooms with tight bathrooms, big closets, and beautiful gather areas around the hotel grounds. I'd stay again as I didn't spend much time in the room and enjoyed the centrally located access to everything. You do need a vehicle in this area to get around, spaces are quite spread out!


EAT We stopped on the way to the park in Slade KY and ate at Miguel’s Pizza. This was a fun stop with lots of outdoor seating in the big, beautiful outdoors. Handmade dough, a variety of toppings and picnic style outdoor dining was the vibe. Pizza was yummy and the gift shop inside was filled with handmade pieces.



Park: We parked in the Hemlock Lodge (Visitor Center).

This is not the way the signs direct, but it is the best way to get to Natural Bridge.

Don't miss - Clean rest rooms and awesome views from the porch overlook!


Gear up: This is a hike where you'll be glad you have a walking stick, extra water, and ChapStick. For us in June: This consisted of hiking back packs with ice pack, cold water/ drinks, snacks, and sunscreen. We put on baseball caps and sunglasses. Happy to use the extendable hiking sticks, as they sure came in handy. Take some photos of the trail map before starting the walk up the original trail.

The original trail head, aka the red line on the map
Inviting trails keep you interested to see what's next

Go: Although this trail is .75 mile, it’s a steep incline. There are a lot of steps and uneven walkways. There are cool things along the way to stop and see. I stopped to see an old tunnel now blocked off, and awesome boulders. We enjoyed the brook running through, birds singing, lush vegetation, and sandstone cave like structures. I asked a few people passing us on their way down if we were almost there, and all of the people who we encountered encouraged us to continue as, “it’s so worth it!”.


STOP: Many times I had to stop and just admire how the rocks had so much personality. Stopping to admire the beauty of creation, erosion, and unique markings we had lots of time to catch our breath. Did I mention how important it is to breathe as you climb the mountain?


Places we explored on this one hike: Natural Bridge, Lover’s Leap, Fat Man’s Squeeze, and Devils Gulch. The unique sandstone formations and geological features are enough to keep you coming back for more, I could have stayed much longer and explore more! (Work schedule did not permit)

 

Located near the Red River Gorge Geological Area, the natural sandstone arch bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. The park features rooms, cottages, restaurant, bar and miles of hiking trails.


Natural Bridge Kentucky
Sandstone design, better known as erosion

Keep Going! Finally, we arrived at the base of the arch as it came into full view, I was giddy with excitement. I should have taken more photos from that initial spot as we did not come back down the way we went up. We climbed the narrow staircase to the top of the archway. It felt reminiscent of Arches National Park in Moab, and I wondered how a sandstone arch was so far out of bounds! However, none of the arches there had a staircase to climb the side! This “Fat Man’s Squeeze” was accurately named. The stairwell was exactly my width, and many had to turn sideways to get through the narrow slot canyon style walls.



Once at the top of the bridge, it seems much wider than it looked from below. However, there are no rails or warnings about the edge. This is where visitor discretion is needed for safety. Staying away from the edge is a great idea.


After crossing over the top, we checked in with our timing and decided we were good to walk across to Observation Point, which would take us right past the sky lift and on to the next awesome viewpoint. This is a short scenic rim trail, where you are no longer climbing but following the elevated around to see the bridge from another post.


This trail is not particularly well marked, and the map was not very helpful. In any event, we relied on Sonja’s memory of hiking previously and she stated, “I hope this is the right way” which turned out to be right!


Around we went to the Lookout Point where the views of Natural Bridge and Lover’s Leap were stunning. Here we checked out you guessed it some really attractive rocks and enjoyed the views of distant lank marks which looked so inviting from this perspective.



 

The Descent: From here we followed another trail down; Devil’s Gulch, which surely earned that name from being a tricky intricate unexpected walk down down down. The steps and woodworking were not all of uniform size, requiring close accurate footing. As we descended the landscape felt drastically different, as we felt whisks of winds, colder current, and the effect of being in a tunnel (it's more like a slot, but cool effect). The dynamic landscape sets the tone for the hike which from start to finish takes you through all kinds of scenery. These are my favorite types of hikes, where you see a variety of features along the way.  

Enjoying the Devil's Gulch trail
Climbing down the climate changed

Sky Lift: For a more relaxing climb to Natural Bridge, enjoy a ride on the sky lift. The ascent begins one-half mile from the park entrance and ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge. Open daily from the first weekend of April through the last weekend in October. No seatbelts, not recommended for babies/ children. For pricing, call: (606) 663-2922.

 

Once we were back at the car, we realized the entire trek was less than 2 hours, and we felt really pleased with our use of time! I was hungry, having worked up an appetite on this adventure!


How our journey registered
Proud of our route and trek

Travel Itinerary and Hiking Tips

How much time do you have?

*Be prepared for stunning views!

*Must have hiking boots/grippy shoes, water

*Download trail maps-NO CELL service

*The majority of the trail will offer shade, however the sunny moments are really sunny!

*When leaving stop by another local hot spot: Turn right onto hwy 77 and you will get to drive through a really neat one-way rock tunnel: Nada Tunnel (info below)


Fun Facts:

~There are 10 hiking trails in the park ranging from .5 mile to 7.5 miles.

~Dogs are only permitted on Whittleton Trail

~Kayak rentals are available Memorial through Labor Day

~Miniature Golf is located at Picnic shelter #1 near the sky lift parking area. $5.00/ person (children under 4 play for free).

~The Sky lift is open daily from April - October. No seatbelts, not recommended for babies/ children. Call for pricing: (606) 663-2922.


For us, this could have been a longer day with more trails, however we had a schedule to keep, and this was the perfect afternoon nature break itinerary! On our next trip we've already picked a few locations to explore, and all of this park is a great place to just BE.


Bonus Stop - Nada Tunnel: When we got back to the car, we did decide to drive through the "Gateway to the Railroad", Nada Tunnel. In less than 10 minutes we had driven through the forest to this historical gem where a tunnel was made in the early 1900's. 13' high and 12' wide, this is a one lane one vehicle at a time place, and I love how the locals know the way to drive it. You carefully drive up to see if anyone else is driving through. If they are, you reverse allowing them the right of way. If not you beep on your way through and be sure to keep your lights on!



Slade Kentucky is actually a hot spot for mountain climbers, hikers and families to visit. Hiking the sandstone cliffs and enjoying the fresh air of the forest are a draw for locals and visitors. In Slade there are a few great places to eat. Miguels was our choice but there in that cut of road were a few other options that all have rave reviews. I imagined my boys here climbing boulders and enjoying getting lost int he woods.


For kids? YES! This family friendly FREE activity offers much for the little ones. The surrounding area was environmentally sound AND economical! Pack a picnic lunch and let the kids explore - but do have a conversation about safety.


Affordability meter: 10/10

On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this day?

With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free, I rate this adventure 10.

Regardless of spending two hours, or the whole day here, it is free. This does not include any food/ snacks or souvenirs. Bring your own picnic and you can make this happen without breaking the bank! Of course, if you camp or stay on site in a cabin, there will be costs associated, and taking the sky lift is a small per person fee as well. I like the fact that you can upgrade the experience as you wish, but do not need to to completely enjoy the day!


While I was here, I also drove up to Williamstown Kentucky (about 40 minutes north of Lexington, where I was staying) to visit the Ark Encounter (click for more details). If you have ever wondered about what Noah's Ark may have looked like - this is the place for you! This is a valuable visit and if you do have children under 10, they enter free and I highly recommend! This day had a high admission price and the more free entrances the better! While in the area, it's definitely a cool opportunity to engulf yourself in wonder, and a spiritual quest. 🚗🚗🚗


Thank you for visiting my site, I'd love your feedback, and favorite things to do!


~Wherever your travels take you, be sure to keep your presence in the moment.

~Enjoy where you are at.

~Be a little flexible with people and their navigation of time.

~Let go of things you can't control.

~Remember to put your people above things, and cherish the memories

~Do things that will make you proud of yourself when you remember the scenario

~Live more, in abundance and walk in your own footsteps

~Go see the places, you may leave them but they will never leave you!


Mz. Savvy



A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip. I hope this makes it easier for your planning process.


Thank you for stopping by today! Please share your thoughts and experiences, we are all on this journey to live and love together. I welcome your travel tips & tricks :-)

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Mossy Rocks at Natural Bridge State Park
Did I mention I love rocks?

I specialize in helping families spend more time enjoying their quality time together and less time having to figure it all out. My four children have been my test subjects of how to plan a great family adventure for many years and now that my youngest is 19, many of my travels are work related, or grandma related! As time has changed, I've evolved but I still LOVE TO TRAVEL, explore, wander, visit, discover, learn and love. Where there is nature, I find my happy place. I use the term single not to emphasize my status but to signify that if I can manage some family fun on a limited teacher's salary with four children, anyone can do it. I am very intentional in how I spend my time and earnings. I plan, research and typically seek out budget friendly ways to enjoy my time, but will occasionally splurge for the right reasons :-)

Happy Travels!!


Devil's Gulch Trail at Natural Bridge
Our walk down had many steps and was a work out!


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