Updated: Aug 13
Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Red River Gorge is full of challenging, and sometimes confusing, hikes for adventure enthusiasts. The trails in this area are not well marked, if they are even marked at all.
There are several areas to park near the Indian Staircase trailhead, which is helpful, because the closest lot was full. The road to the Gladie Visitor’s Center has several other small designated parking areas, and there are no day use or parking fees.
Our challenge began immediately with a lot of uphill stretches on the trail before we reached Indian Staircase. The shaded walk offered technical obstacles like abundant tree roots and rocks, over cardio-raising, calf-strengthening terrain.
Once we reached Indian Staircase, we tucked our trekking poles away to climb the rock using the foot/hand holds available. As tricky as this sounds, it doesn’t require any rock-climbing skills or special equipment. The rock is at enough of an angle to make it climbable, even in sneakers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get pictures of our climb to Indian Staircase as we’d stopped to help a young woman get her two large dogs to the top. The precipice graced us with amazing sweeping views of the gorge, from rocky outcrops to trees with bright green spring leaves filling the gorge.
After taking a break on top of Indian Staircase, we made our way to Cloudsplitter, stopping at a cave overhang with a little waterfall. From there, we encountered minimal elevation change until getting closer to Cloudsplitter.
Many trails intersect and separate at different points. At campsites, the trails spider off in no less than five different directions, with some of them coming back together, and others going separate ways. We had to backtrack several times after realizing we’d taken the wrong trail. Since we were aware of this, we’d downloaded maps from the AllTrails app for use offline, which helped immensely on the trail.
Unlike Indian Staircase, climbing Cloudsplitter required assistance. Another hiker had secured a strong rope along the rock to help people ascend and descend safely. When we reached the base, we left our trekking poles there so they wouldn’t hinder our climb.
The way up was scary for my tween, even though it was his idea to do the hike in the first place. But with the support of a group of fellow backpackers who’d gotten there the same time we did, we cheered each other on until we all reached the top.
Cloudsplitter offers breathtaking 360-degree views of Red River Gorge. It’s a great place to stop for lunch, meditate, take pictures, or simply enjoy the view.
Our way down from Cloudsplitter felt slightly more difficult than the trip up, but it was great fun. Since we started the trail going counter clockwise (which I’d highly recommend, as it’s easier/safer to climb up Indian Staircase from that direction), our last half mile or so of trail was on a paved road back to the parking area.
The hike from Indian Staircase to Cloudsplitter was challenging at times, easy at others, and made for one unforgettable way to experience the Red River Gorge.
Location: Bison Way Trailhead
GPS Coordinates: 37.8368611, -83.6094444
Length: 5.2 miles
Elevation: 928 feet
Restrooms Available: No
Cell Reception: Minimal to None
Estimated Time: 3.5 hours*
*We spent about 5 hours on this trail, taking pictures, talking with other hikers, and enjoying the views.