Despite living only an hour away from the well-known geological wonder, Red River Gorge, I had never been for a visit.
So when our friends asked us to join them for a Valentine’s Day weekend exploring the area, we jumped at the opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a romantic adventure seeing new sights by day and being in a cozy cabin by night?
Natural Bridge: A Wonder of Its Own
Our little tribe set out early on the first morning with hopes of hopping aboard the sky lift that shuttles tourists to the top of Red River Gorge’s most popular destination—Natural Bridge.
However, by the plywood covering the ticket-house windows, we quickly determined the lift was closed for the winter. Our way up would be on foot.
Making our way up the nearby Low Gap Trail, we found that the start of our journey would be a steep one. Inlaid, wooden-crosstie steps formed the beginning assent.
Passing two footbridges along the way, we saw several limestone formations. Due to the recent rain and temperature drop, much of our path was covered in an ice blanket of various patterns. Having never been on a winter hike, this frozen fantasy land was particularly intriguing for me.
After .75 miles, the Low Gap Trail merges with the Rock Garden Trail (1.75 miles) which leads directly to the bottom of Natural Bridge. According to the state park’s trail guide, this path is known as “one of the best routes at the park for bird watchers and plant lovers.” Though winter might have given us a different experience from the one referenced in the guide (February in Kentucky isn’t the best time for birding or greenery), that didn’t detract from the beauty.
A couple of benches allow hikers a place to catch their breath and take in Natural Bridge’s imposing view from below. Then, for the full experience, one has to make their way through a narrow rock stairway dubbed “Fat Man’s Squeeze” or “ Fat Man’s Misery.” This is a little tough for one that hates small spaces. Be prepared to turn sideways.
A large rustic gazebo allows those who have made the trek a worthy place for a picnic, or shelter from the sun or rain, before heading across the bridge for magnificent Kentucky views. Picture time anyone?
Just past the bridge, we followed the path to lookout point—where Natural Bridge can be viewed from a landscape perspective. Often this is the shot you will see gracing Instagram or blog accounts, and it’s no wonder, the view is impressive. Head over to my Instagram @critleystravelingcure for my view from the top!
The trek back was faster and also a bit more exhilarating as the ice that graced our morning hike with beauty began melting and crashing down to the ground. It’s amazing how fast you can move when you’re avoiding impalement by icicles.
What to Drink: Daniel Boone Coffee Shop
After a long hike (my friend’s smart watch registered 6 miles walked), a large cup of coffee was in order. Luckily, Daniel Boone Coffee Shop was made to order. The cute little shop was located just off of Natural Bridge Road, a very short distance from the trail head.
A perfect mix of rustic and urban, the shop featured a number of brews (both the caffeinated and alcoholic kind). During our three day’s in Slade, Ky, a raspberry white chocolate cappuccino became my go-to drink, while their Shakelton (coffee blended with vanilla ice cream) proved a yummy treat.
In addition to drinks, sandwiches and pastries, the shop also provides grocery staples to area campers and souvenirs for tourists.
Best of all, the staff was incredibly friendly—even staying open past closing to accommodate our late-night caffeine craving.
Where to Eat: Miquel’s Pizza
The reputation of Miquel’s Pizza preceded our arrival. From friend’s raving about pie selection to the restaurant appearing on AMC’s Ride with Norman Reedus, let’s just say expectations were high.
Luckily, we were not disappointed.
Pizzas are fully customizable with 45 topping options. We were completely overwhelmed by our options and created a Frankenpizza with beef brisket, basil, provolone, mozzarella, olives, peppers and mango salsa. It sounds like a mess, but it tasted AMAZING! Additionally, to honor Valentine’s weekend, pizzas could be ordered in the shape of a heart.
Selections for pizza and salad toppings are made on sheets of paper. A few check marks later and your dream meal is on its way.
A popular location for locals, tourists and rock climbers, Miquel’s was packed. Conversations with frequent visitors revealed this is often the case. So if you venture in, get there early to grab your seat!
According to their website, Miquel’s also serves breakfast, so we will have to keep that in mind on our next visit to Red River Gorge.
One Last Site: The Nada Tunnel
The Nada Tunnel was possibly the site I was most excited to experience. An old railway tunnel in its past life, the 900-foot cavern is located on Kentucky Route 77. It now stands as a one-lane attraction which thrills tourists and photographers alike.
We had a blast at Red River Gorge and can’t believe it took us so long to visit. There are many trails left to explore, and we can’t wait to return. Have you ever seen Natural Bridge? Or have you stood in front of the Nada Tunnel? If so, tell me about your Red River Gorge adventure and where you think I should head to next.
Until next time, happy travels!