Overview. This is a tremendous hike with five arches and up to three waterfalls when conditions are right. On this day, it was a light rain throughout the day with nothing heavy. Coming on the heels of a lengthy drought, the waterfalls were still on the low flow side of things, but the arches more than made up for it! Plus, it was nice drying out for a bit under Copperas Falls and at the arches.
NOTE: The hike to Copperas Falls is on the easy side with multiple water crossings. All the other destinations require steep climbs on unmarked and unmaintained trails.
Route Type | Out and Back
Total Mileage | 6-ish miles (GPS was a joke on this rainy day)
Overall Difficulty | Easy with Strenuous Sections
this hike is unmarked
Copperas Falls is easily navigated; the rest, not so much
Trailhead. Park at the Osborne Bend Parking Lot on KY-715 just west of the one lane concrete bridge. [map]
Trail navigation. Navigation to and from Copperas Falls is easy. The rest of it is not. There are many trails weaving about along Copperas Creek with most of them staying creekside. The trails leading to the other destinations can be difficult to find, but each is firm underfoot from other hikers who have traveled these trails. While it sounds weird, experienced hikers will know a firm bit of dirt underfoot and general vicinity is all that’s needed to guide you. So, are there any turn by turn directions? Not for this one. And take the mileage reading with a grain of salt - it was cloudy, rainy, and near the cliff faces, GPS takes a poo. That said, here is the general guideline for this hike on the map from top to bottom:
Copperas Falls (top)
Sandy Arch & Falls | ~0.2 miles south of Copperas Falls; climb on firm footing that quickly deteriorates as you go; you’ll eventually find the cliff line and pop out next to the arch; this is an unusual arch that isn’t obvious at first sight.
Copperas Arches 1, 2, & 3 + Big Trickle Falls | ~1 mile from Copperas Falls; look for a 2-tier camping area; the trail is to the left of the second tier starting from a deep-ish drainage with swichbacks early before reaching a cliff face; hug the cliff face until reaching the arches; the falls are below on a stupid steep trail; skip it if it isn’t in full flow.
Hopewell Arch | ~1.5 miles from Copperas Falls; recall on your way out the trail was high and east of the creek; when you finally met up with the creek less than a half mile in, there is a drainage; take this drainage just north of a giant boulder across the creek following a trail behind a much smaller boulder across from the drainage; move around the small boulder from the right and find the trail with hardpack underfoot; continue uphill to reach an old roadbed and turn left; continue until you see an intersection with another old roadbed that is a very sharp right; take this up and through some rhododendrons until reaching the cliff face; hug the face and scramble as needed until reaching Hopewell Arch; it cannot be approached from the north side, only from the south along the cliffline.
About these waterfalls. Copperas Falls is generally reliable, but will be a trickle in the dry season from late August through October. Sandy Arch has a waterfall during rainy season AND after heavy rains. Big Trickle Falls is literally a trickle unless heavy rains come through. That said, the arches near the smaller falls are more than worth the effort and are more easily reached in drier months.
CAUTION - Cliffs. Be careful to avoid getting too close the edge of cliffs, as this is the leading cause of serious injury and death when hiking in Red River Gorge.
CAUTION - Poisonous snakes. While the gorge is within the range of timber rattlesnakes, copperheads are the most common poisonous snake encountered. Stay alert on the trail, as snakes are commonly found taking in the warmth of the trail. Give them a wide berth or wait for them to move off the trail.
CAUTION - Bears. Black bears are growing in number throughout Daniel Boone National Forest. Be sure to follow bear safety precautions. [Be Bear Aware by US Forest Service]