Escape to what has been described as “the best-kept family vacation secret” east of the Mississippi. East-central Kentucky is home to the Red River Gorge National Geological Area, Natural Bridge State Park, and the Daniel Boone National Forest. Spend the sunlight hours outside hiking through immense forests and exploring the variety of natural stone arches and bridges. By night, relax by a fire roasting marshmallows and sipping on the adult beverage of your choice right outside your luxury private cabin. Keep reading for bourbon virtual tour suggestions.
IN THIS ITINERARY:
Travel Tips and Practicalities
Many rightly are familiar with Utah being the Land of the Arches. Kentucky is lesser-known with the second-highest concentration of natural arches and bridges in the U.S.A. This underappreciated dense wilderness is characterized by diverse plants, a variety of wildlife, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, natural bridges, and canyons. The ~29,000 acres of the Red River Gorge National Geological Area is located in east-central Kentucky. Much of the Red River Gorge is situated in the thick woodlands of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Red River Gorge is adjacent to the Natural Bridge State Park spanning ~2,300 acres.
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Red River Gorge is roughly an hour drive from Lexington, Kentucky; 2 hours from either Louisville, Kentucky or Cincinnati, Ohio; and 4 hours from either Nashville, Tennessee or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
For those driving from Nashville, consider allotting sufficient time to stop at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and tour the world’s longest known cave system. Pre-covid-19, advanced reservations were strongly recommended as tickets sold-out quickly due to limited space. Covid-19 limitations make it more important to book ahead to ensure a spot on a tour through the cave.
Where to Stay
Cabins in Red River Mountain Development
Retreating to a secluded private cabin nestled in the woods in Slade, Kentucky is an idyllic place to stay during your outdoorsy Kentucky adventure. The cabins are rustic and cozy with all the modern amenities making for a pleasant stay. The development’s optimal location on the side of the mountain slope ensures privacy and seclusion while also being conveniently located across from the Red River Gorge and only a short drive from the Natural Bridge State Park.
The cabins come in various sizes for different group sizes while sharing many common traits that make this an excellent retreat for all travelers, especially for families. The Beary Nice Chalet is a 2-story cabin in the Red River Mountain Development accommodating a group of 6. It has 2-bedrooms plus an open loft with a queen bed, 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, hot tub, fire pit, electric fireplace, and a spacious outdoor porch with a porch swing.
Other comparable cabins, include A Wild Turkey Roost, Firelight, Mountain Retreat, Mountain Sunrise, and Beary Secluded. The cabins are affordable, especially if sharing the space with family or friends is based on the cabin’s occupancy size. Said cabins accommodate groups of 4-to-6 persons, and the base rates are presently listed as ranging from ~$149-$239 per night (as of December 2020). Knot a Cabin is presently the largest cabin in the development, and thus more expensive, but accommodates 12 persons. Peruse these and other nearby cabins on VRBO.
You can even stay in a luxury shipping container!
Winetraveler Tip: If at all possible, plan your initial arrival at the cabin during daylight. The driveway is steep and narrow and may be tricky in the dark if unfamiliar with the path.
Winetraveler Tip: The luxury cabins in this development are excellent for anyone wishing to somewhat get off the grid. For those looking for a spot to work remotely and rely on high-speed internet, this may not be the place for you. If you require high-speed internet, confirm its reliability before selecting a cabin. As stated on at least a few of the listings in this development (as of December 2020), the internet “service is designed for email, Facebook, and surfing the web. Any kind of streaming such as movies, videos, Youtube, gaming, etc. cannot be utilized.”
Red River Gorgeous offers adventurous treehouses, family-friendly treehouses, and dome treehouses. The Tradewinds Treehouse features a private bathhouse, a hot tub, and even a slide.
Guestrooms or Group Lodging
For travelers not wishing to rent an entire cabin, Cliffview Red River Gorge offers guest rooms. Cliffview also has group lodging available. Cliffview’s two mega cabins have 11 or 12 bedrooms, respectively, along with a full kitchen, two hot tubs, a game room, and a home theater. These group lodges look perfect for hosting corporate retreats, family reunions, weddings, or other larger gatherings when the time comes. At a present starting rate of $1,199, that’s ~$109 per room if you have enough family/friends to split the cost.
Hemlock Lodge offers private balcony rooms at the lodge along with cottage rentals. Search for more nearby lodging options here.
Things To Do
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy activities such as hiking, canoeing down the Red River, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking through underground caves at Thrillsville Adventure Park, zip-lining over the gorge, bird watching, fishing (with a license), rock climbing “the Red” as it is known to ardent climbers around the world, as well as a host of other recreational activities.
Hiking Red River Gorge
The USDA identifies nearly 70 miles of hiking trails in the Red River Gorge. It’s the home to more than 100 arches in the midst of dense forests and cliffs. Click here to access USDA’s Red River Gorge brochure, which includes visitor information, and a list and map of the official trails. Hikers of all abilities will be able to find the trails best suited for them. The trails generally range from short ¼ mile trails to 7.5 miles. The Sky Bridge Trail (#214) is one of the most popular and accessible. Double Arch (#201), Auxier Ridge (#204), Gray’s Arch (#205), Princess Arch (#233), and Chimney Top (#235) are just a few other popular trails to consider.
The more adventurous hikers can scope out less traveled trails, which may require more advanced navigation skills and receive less foot-traffic. Before embarking on these trails, download the trail from the All Trails app, or pre-download something comparable. Some trails may be more difficult to follow and a clear path is less easily distinguished. The use of a trail navigation app not only helps find the desired spot, but it also helps ensure hikers stay on the trail avoiding the formation of new trails, which helps minimize traces of their visit. The hike to Hopewell Arch, a double-window arch, is one option.
Hiking Natural Bridge State Park
The Natural Bridge State Park offers hiking trails ranging from ¼ mile to 7.5 miles. The most widely known place in the park is the namesake of the park, Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge is quite literally a large sandstone rock bridge that is 65 ft. high and 78 ft. long. Visitors can walk underneath Natural Bridge and along the top of it. It can be accessed via a convergence of trails. For those visiting from April through October and prefer an easier and more relaxing way to Natural Bridge, take a ride up the Sky Lift that brings you within ~600 ft. of Natural Bridge. Here is a map of Natural Bridge State Park trails.
Winetraveler Tip: The top of Natural Bridge is fairly wide, but be cautious (especially those traveling with young children) as there are no guard rails and it’s a far drop.
Other attractions that may be of interest include the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, Red River Museum, and Hollerwood Park with 2,500 acres of valleys and ridges for off-roading adventurers. Summer visitors may experience clog, square, and line dancing at Hoedown Island. Pass through the 900-ft. long Nada Tunnel, known as the “Gateway to the Red River Gorge,” which was built as a logging tunnel between 1910 and 1912.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Tours & Virtual Tours
Taste the flavors of Kentucky Bourbon along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail either by extending this itinerary by heading near Louisville or Lexington, or tasting the bourbon privately from the comfort of your cabin or home.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of 18 bourbon distilleries where visitors can tour, learn, and taste: Rabbit Hole, Angel’s Envy, Old Forester, Michter’s, Evan Williams, and Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville; Jim Beam in Clermont; Heaven Hill, Bardstown Bourbon, and Lux Row and in Bardstown; Maker’s Mark in Loretto; Wilderness Trail in Danville; Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg; Woodford Reserve in Versailles; Town Branch in Lexington; Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, and Green River in Owensboro.
Search Total Wine’s website to find the location closest to you with the bourbon of your choice in stock. Recent Total Wine searches located bourbon from nearly all of them. Many of the distilleries’ websites (links above) also include resources for you to search by location to find their bourbon at the store closest to you.
One of the most popular bourbon tour options we’ve recently seen has been through Travel the Trail. Customize a trip along the bourbon trail with highly-knowledgeable and friendly guides.
At least a couple of the distilleries are offering virtual tasting tours. Bardstown Bourbon has put together a free virtual 360 tour of their distillery (bourbon not included). Rabbit Hole is offering private virtual tastings for a limited time giving “you the chance to sit down for a private tasting with one of [Rabbit Hole’s] expert tour guides as you sip your way through [their] lineup of one-of-a-kind whiskeys.”
Have fun and mix it up. Browse through the extensive list of cocktail recipes provided by Old Forester, Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Lux Row, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Town Branch, and Bulleit. There’s a recipe for every season, occasion, and tasting preference with classical recipes like maple old fashioned and a classic Manhattan, refreshing punch cocktails, Bloody Mary, sparkling cocktails, soda-cocktails, mint julep cocktails, tea cocktails, winter cocktails like warm cider, classic hot toddy, or hot buttered bourbon, and dozens more.
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