Indian Staircase Loop and Campsite Exploring

 Frog's Head on Indian Staircase Trail

Frog's Head on Indian Staircase Trail

Overview. This is the less traveled way to Indian Staircase, as most will park at Bison Way and hike from there. We opted to take the long way - parking at the Sheltowee Trace Connector Trail parking lot, making our way north to Indian Staircase and looping back on Bison Way and KY-715. While on the unmarked Indian Staircase Trail, we did a bit of exploring, as there are a multitude of backcountry campsites on the route.

Route Type:  Loop
Total Distance:  8.4 miles
Overall Difficulty:  Moderate to Difficult
Purchase OutrageGIS Trail Map
USDA Forest Service Map of Red River Gorge
*This hike is if off trail; experienced hikers only*

Trailhead. Sheltowee Trace Connector Trail parking can be found alongside Red River by turning south on KY-715. [map]

Trail Navigation. From the parking lot, head northeast for a half mile on the connector trail. From here, turn north (left) to cross KY-715 and continue on Sheltowee Trace to approximately mile 4. You'll see a well worn trail on your left with a very sharp turn. This is the southern end of Indian Staircase Trail. Continue up to find the rim of the gorge and enjoy the many great views.

There are myriad trails that you can take once you've reached the top. A good rule is to keep right and follow the most well worn trail in front of you. Eventually, you'll circle around to see Frog's Head and then on to Indian Staircase. You can scramble down the stairs, but be wary, as it's dangerous to say the least. It's also foolish to attempt this during wet weather.

After scrambling down, turn left to continue on Sheltowee Trace. At the junction with Bison Way, turn right (south) and descend to KY-715. It's a short walk from there to the parking lot, but be sure to yield to oncoming cars - particularly at blind curves.

CAUTION - OFF TRAIL. While this trail is found on many maps, it is not an official USDA Forest Service trail. As such, do not attempt this hike without adequate map and compass skills.

CAUTION - DANGEROUS SCRAMBLE. Indian Staircase is steep and the 'stairs' are heavily worn - a bad combination during inclement weather. Do NOT attempt this scramble unless you are physically and mentally up to the challenge. You can just as easily retrace your steps counterclockwise around the rim for a safer descent.

CAUTION - CLIFFS. Many have fallen to their deaths from the cliffs found in Red River Gorge. Be sure to stay a safe distance from cliff edges.

 Map of Indian Staircase Loop and campsite exploration hike

Map of Indian Staircase Loop and campsite exploration hike

 Elevation Profile of Indian Staircase Loop and campsite exploration hike

Elevation Profile of Indian Staircase Loop and campsite exploration hike

 Sheltowee Trace trail sign in Sheltowee Connector parking lot

Sheltowee Trace trail sign in Sheltowee Connector parking lot

 
 Suspension bridge on Sheltowee Trace above Red River

Suspension bridge on Sheltowee Trace above Red River

 
 Looking up at sheer cliffs along the Sheltowee Trace in Red River Gorge

Looking up at sheer cliffs along the Sheltowee Trace in Red River Gorge

 
 An exploded tree along the Sheltowee Trace in Red River Gorge

An exploded tree along the Sheltowee Trace in Red River Gorge

 
 View of the north rim of Indian Staircase Trail

View of the north rim of Indian Staircase Trail

 Box turtle hiking on the Sheltowee Trace

Box turtle hiking on the Sheltowee Trace

 An odd rock formation near Frog's Head on Indian Staircase Trail

An odd rock formation near Frog's Head on Indian Staircase Trail

 View of the south rim of Indian Staircase Trail

View of the south rim of Indian Staircase Trail

 
 Looking down Indian Staircase - make no mistake, it is much steeper in person

Looking down Indian Staircase - make no mistake, it is much steeper in person

 
 Trail sign pointing the way back to KY-715 to finish the loop

Trail sign pointing the way back to KY-715 to finish the loop

 A delicious beer at Sky Bridge Station to cap off a great day before heading home

A delicious beer at Sky Bridge Station to cap off a great day before heading home