Getting there and getting around Kentucky's Red River Gorge

by Lucas Joel
Monday, February 1, 2016

Fireflies illuminate the evening sky above tents at Miguel's Pizza (right), a great place to camp while exploring the Red River Gorge. Credit: both: Alex Mandrila

Entry to Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge is free. The nearest airports are in Lexington and Louisville, Ky., both about an hour away by car. Cincinnati is two hours away. Having a car is a must for getting to and driving around the Red.

To get there, take the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway to exit 33 for Slade, Ky. Turn right onto KY-11S, and drive about 3 kilometers to reach Miguel’s Pizza, which has a campground out back.

Camping at Miguel’s costs $2 per night, and offers WiFi, cell phone service and warm showers at $1 for every four minutes. Camping is year-round, but the restaurant is only open from March 1 to Thanksgiving. If Miguel’s is full, campsites can also be found at Land of the Arches Campground for $5 a night per person. Cabins are available in the area through Red River Gorge Retreats and other agencies. Miguel’s allows you to cook your own food on site, but their food is worth a try, especially the pizza. Backcountry camping is allowed, but you must be more than 90 meters from roads and trails, and 30 meters from cliff bases. At Gray’s Arch, you must be at least 180 meters from the arch if you want to camp.

You can get to most trailheads by car. All climbing routes entail hiking to the base of the climb; the hikes can range from less than a kilometer and easy to much longer and strenuous. Bring water and food. The best — and thus the most popular and most crowded — time to visit the Red is in fall or spring. In winter, snow is possible. With heat, humidity and insects, summer there can be uncomfortable, but the fireflies might make a trip worth it. Each October, the Red hosts a climbing festival called Rocktoberfest, which can be good for meeting other climbers and for swapping tales, but expect popular walls in the area to be congested.

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